This week we’re away on a writing retreat. By which we DO NOT mean, “we’re on a corporate weekend away with a bunch of strangers wearing name tags and doing team mindset exercises”. Nor do we mean, “we paid thousands of dollars to stay in treehouse cabins and do early morning aerial yoga and guided writing sessions” (although that does sound kind of awesome).
No - the retreat we’re on is entirely our own creation. Well, to give credit where credit is due, it was largely organised by our friend Milika, but the point is that this is a handcrafted, DIY-type deal, not a mail order writing retreat in a box.
We’ve taken 5 days out of normal life to get away from home, get rested, and plan for the next phase of our business without distractions - all in the company of our favourite people, with exactly the things we want to eat and drink and a daily timetable that includes all the things we want to do, and nothing we don’t. Does that sound like something you'd want to do? Well, you can!
If you’re a small business owner or solopreneur, your work life (contra to those awesome instagram flatlays of your workspace you’re putting out) can be kind of lonely and uninspiring. Long days trying to work from a home office or in a coffee shop, going hours without talking to another adult and wondering, with nobody to bounce ideas with, if the thing you’ve been working on today holds any water at all.
This is why we recommend refreshing with a retreat week or weekend a few times a year. You can totally DIY a solo retreat, but if you usually work alone, there’s something really special about gathering a group of like-minded people to make sparks with for a few days.
In our experience, these getaways have such a positive impact on our mental wellbeing, our creativity and ultimately our business, that we now consider them anchors of our work calendar. It might feel like the kind of thing you’d never do, but it’s so easy - and so worthwhile - that there’s no good reason not to give it a go.
So how do you do it? Here are five elements to consider when designing your own retreat:
1. The Goals
Depending on you (remember, it’s YOUR retreat) you might want to set very specific goals for your retreat time. This could be a list of tasks you want to tick off, a certain amount of content you’re going to create, or a new offering that you want to plan out.
Or maybe just getting away and spending some time working on your business or creative project - however much time that ends up being - will be enough. Maybe your goal will be to come back feeling more rested and excited about your business than when you left.
The most important thing is that everybody who comes on retreat is on board with similar goals, or at least that everybody’s goals can fit in together and not distract others from achieving what they want out of the retreat.
2. The People
Choosing the right people might be the most crucial aspect for the success of your retreat. You need to pick people who will ‘get’ it - who’ll be on a similar page with the aims for the retreat, respectful of the way you like to interact on holidays (do you need a lot of alone time? do they like to clean up immediately after meals?), and, ideally, who understand your business or creative endeavour and have something to offer in the way of feedback, support or stimulation of ideas.
Do you have friends who run their own businesses or side hustles? Contacts you’d like to collaborate with? Or just people in your network who you think would be interested in a group getaway? Be brave, and ask them if a retreat is something they’d be into.
Eight attendees feels like a good maximum number for us (it’s about the limit for how many people you can fit in the one discussion, or seated around the same dinner table). But if you’re super extroverted and love a crowd, more people might work for you, if you can find big enough accommodation. Fewer people can be fine too - we’ve been on a couple of successful working weekends where it was just the two of us.
The people you choose don’t have to be in the same business as you, or even in any business at all. It’s more important that they’re happy to respect the rhythm of the retreat. This week we’re joined by a couple of non-writing friends who are working on uni stuff or just relaxing quietly, but who still ‘get’ the core business of the retreat well enough to participate supportively in some of the activities.
3. The Location
It’s important to get this right. These are our top tips for picking the perfect retreat location:
It has to be far enough away and/or isolated enough that you feel like you’ve really ‘gone somewhere’.
It might seem silly to fly or drive far away, but it makes a huge difference to your mindset if you feel like you’re totally removed from normal life. Distractions melt away and you can look at your life and business with fresh, outside eyes. The place we’re at this week is less than an hour’s drive from home, but it stands alone in the middle of green paddocks (we basically can’t see any other buildings) and there’s no wifi (okay, we brought our own, but we could turn it off).
It has to have good spaces for different purposes.
You don’t want to get away from the world only to find you can’t get away from the people you brought with you. Going on a group holiday, even with people you love and know well, is packed with opportunities to get on each other’s nerves. Pick a large holiday home with a few different spaces for people to hang out in, or book adjacent apartments or a group of cabins. This way, when it’s time for personal reflection (or napping), everybody can get away to their own space.
On the flipside, you obviously need a good communal space where people can gather for group activities, meals and so forth. So, for example, renting individual rooms at the same hotel isn’t going to work unless one of them is a giant penthouse that you can all sit around in at the same time.
It has to be nice.
The feeling you’re going for is more luxury and serenity than your daily life, not less.
(If you're curious as to where we personally hold our retreats, feel free to ask us.)
4. The Structure
We’re fortunate enough to know our retreat-mates very, very well, and we work and play with them on a regular basis. So our retreat timetable has evolved organically out of an understanding of what serves everybody’s creativity the best.
If you’re starting from scratch, here are some things to consider:
How much downtime do you need? Remember, when people get away from their normal routine they tend to crash. Don’t start early in the morning or expect people to work hard after dinner. Leave space for naps. Seriously.
How much individual work time will be helpful? It’s great that you’re all there to bounce off each other, but you also want to leave room for people to work on their individual projects so that they can go back home feeling like they’ve accomplished good things for their business. Don’t pack a schedule full of group activities from morning til night - include ‘free time’ or sanctioned times for people to work alone.
What do the participants have to offer? This week, we’re taking turns to run a group session on an area of our own knowledge or interest, from critiquing a poem to how to increase your daily happiness. Maximise the talents of the people who are coming and ask if they could each run an informal workshop or facilitate a group activity that’s in their personal zone of awesome.
How tight should you make the schedule? Depending on the personalities of the people coming, it might be a great thing to specify strict start and finish times for each activities, or to keep it looser. For our group, we prefer to divide the day up into zones and just vibe when to start and finish those zones by mutual agreement. Again, this only works because we understand each other and ourselves well.
For reference, our retreat schedule looks like this:
Yes, we err on the side of making it like a holiday, but we still get plenty of constructive work done.
(If you still have no idea what kind of structure is going to work for your group, Kamina’s 'Design Your Dream Life in a Day' workbook has a section on designing your ideal day that might be really helpful here. You could even get the participants to all send you their idea of a dream day before you work out the timetable, to get a feel for how everybody prefers to spend their time).
5. The Practicalities
Don’t let stuff like ‘who washes the dishes’ or ‘what do we eat’ ruin your retreat vibes. It doesn’t matter how you organise this; just set your expectations in advance so that retreat will run as smoothly as possible. You might want to organise catering or agree that you’ll all tidy up the shared space at the same time each day. We have a shared spreadsheet with a cooking roster and who's responsible for bringing what. (Our list of essentials includes board games, barrel aged gin, a coffee grinder and two actual puppies).
Your plan will look different to ours; just do whatever you need to do to create a low-stress, holiday feel, so you can focus on relaxing and creating.
Have you guys ever designed your own working retreat? Would you?
You can follow ours this week over on instagram.
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