A colleague I recently had dinner with heads up leadership development at a major corporation while testing the waters with her own private consulting. She admitted that it had just dawned on her that there are only 168 hours in a week.
No wonder she felt exhausted.
Between work responsibilities, deadlines, family obligations, and screens vying for our attention, it seems that there aren’t enough hours in the day. There is no more free time, only unscheduled time that we wind up filling with the white noise of social media scrolling or Netflix binging to decompress from our frenetic lives. Our precious time is eaten up and our focus diffused before we even realize it.
Our attention is perhaps our greatest asset and one of the determining factors of truly fulfilling work. Yet, in what some experts call the “attention economy,” attention is a rapidly dwindling resource.
The danger here is that, without consciously shaping our days and focusing our attention, we can quickly slip into a reactionary mindset that leads to overwork, underperformance, and burnout. Despite your best efforts or grit, your productivity or multitasking mentality, you may find yourself lacking the time, energy, or focus to pursue meaningful and nurture truly innovative ideas.
So, what does it take to redirect our focus to the projects that really matter and feel fulfilled?
The truth is, sustaining momentum is difficult. But you do not have to be an uber-focused, superhero creative or enterpriser to flourish and advance your projects. Sometimes you simply need to unplug and take a step back.
When you’re feeling untethered from your sense of purpose, overwhelmed by anxiety, or creatively blocked, it may just be time for a deep dive retreat.
Why Less is More
Current research shows that when it comes to pursuing deep, purposeful work, less is more. A 2017 survey called Project Time Off found that 78% of managers felt time off improved their employees focus while 70% said it renews their commitment. What’s more, employees that took advantage of their vacation days reported greater overall happiness, while those who forfeited time off actually performed worse than their vacationing colleagues.
Of course, a vacation is different than a retreat. In both, you withdraw from everyday life to recenter and replenish all your dispersed energy and attention. The key distinction is that with a retreat, you set intentions related to your personal or professional growth, and you put conscious effort into fulfilling those intentions.
While “corporate retreats” have gained popularity in the past few years, the concept is nothing new and wildly successful Business Artists have used this tool to their advantage. The famed Michelin-star chef Ferran Adria closed his restaurant, El Bulli, for 5 months out of the year to simply experiment with new restaurant concepts. Every seven years, Stefan Sagmeister and his entire New York City-based design firm take a full year off from work to incubate and experiment. Larger corporations like Google or the manufacturing giant 3M take a different tack and give their employees 15-20% free time to pursue their own creative projects. It’s this freedom to experiment that we have to thank for Gmail, Google maps, scotch tape, and sticky notes.
Retreats are necessary for the creative mind to have uninterrupted time to wander, tinker, and ultimately move great ideas into action. By stepping outside of our daily routines, we can refresh our perspective and implement new rhythms that help us make meaningful progress amidst the competing demands of our lives. But what makes a “successful” retreat?
How do you keep from overbooking that creative time with too much ambition on one hand, and from leaving your time too unstructured on the other? How do you keep yourself on track without overscheduling?
Again, it all comes down to your intention: the structure and nature of your retreat will vary depending on what you’re hoping to accomplish. However, in my experience, there are three core principles to planning any retreat.
1. Get away from home and work.
Distancing yourself – physically and mentally – from your daily life stressors is the single best way to shift your focus inwards. You don’t have to go far, and it doesn’t have to be an expensive resort. It’s better that it’s not. Your destination just has to be different from your day-to-day, and someplace to support you in exploring your heart’s work.
An added benefit is that unfamiliar lands light up unfamiliar parts of your creative mind. When you visit another place, you almost instantly light up your wonder eyes because of the geographical and cultural newness.
2. Plan everything ahead of time.
Try to plan for all the logistics of your retreat well in advance so you don’t have to spend time thinking about what to eat for dinner. Of course, some spontaneity is good in a retreat, but the less opportunity you give your mind to wander (note: not daydream!) the more you’ll be able to focus on your deep work.
Each morning of your retreat, sketch out a rough outline for the day. This should not be a rigid schedule, but rough guidelines to give your day directionality. You want to let time stretch and your mind expand so you can open yourself to wondrous insights and opportunities.
3. Stay purpose-led.
When our work becomes too routine, we tend to shift focus from finding our flow to checking off a to-do list. This is essentially treating your work like a job. Take advantage of your retreat as an opportunity to shift your perspective from the to-dos to the what-ifs.
In planning for your retreat, ask yourself what you would like to be doing with your days if money weren’t a factor. Pay attention to what activities, work, projects, or questions make you feel most alive. Then, take a walk with these inquiries. Spend five minutes every morning for the next week writing your responses to these queries. Doing so lights up your curiosity and sense of wonder.
During your retreat, establish practices that help you tap into this wonder well: take a morning walk, journal for an hour, practice yoga or meditation. Whatever activities you choose, be mindful and pay attention to your sensory experience so that you can better tune into this sense of wonder and delight long after you return home.
Making room for the work you love is important for every visionary, business owner, or creative. Even if you’re feeling tired, unmotivated, or dissatisfied, you can set aside time in your week, month, or year for your passion projects. Who knows? Maybe a purposeful, and playful retreat can give you the nudge you need to advance your deep work.
Ready to put these principles into action?
Whether you are entirely new to retreats, or would like to join a creative pack of peers in one, I invite you to join me from August 2nd to 6th at Wild Rice Retreat on Wisconsin’s gorgeous Chequamegon Bay for a 5 day deep dive retreat.
In the company of other creatives, entrepreneurs, parents, professionals, and leaders at the state of the art center, you’ll shine a light on what’s blocking your potential and integrate wonder interventions. Get ready to experience how a new set of daily practices can momentarily dissolve habitual patterns of perception, open your mind with surprising delight, and train you to glean fresh insights to daily, spiritual, and creative challenges.