Building a Personal Retreat

October 18, 2020
Posted in Tools
October 18, 2020 Zach Parcell

Once you get into the working world, it’s quite common to have the annual retreat. You and your teammates head to some off-site location and work through some new concepts and do some planning for the next quarter or year.

Key Takeaways

  • Change your scenery, find a new place for the day
  • Have a goal in mind, short and long term
  • Do something fun as well, you need the break

Doing this on a personal level can be just as effective, if not more. The personal retreat was something I introduced to my life two years ago and has certainly showed many benefits. Building your own personal retreat needs a few key parts with a series of optional additions.

Frequency of the Personal Retreat

I’ve always done a one-day personal retreat. I could see a two-day approach work quite well, but when time is hard to grasp, start with the one-day event.

Doing this once a year is likely not as frequent as it should be. At the very least you should aim to do this once every six months. The scope of the retreat is the next six months ahead of you. In my experience, I’ve found the quarterly retreat to be best. This plays a bit into the 12-Week Year concept, but also allows a perfect length of time to focus on. With only three months ahead of you, you can really dig into some detail for each coming month.

Goals for the Day

Before you begin your one-day personal retreat, have a set goal in front of you. This helps you stay focused. If you are doing this quarterly, you have three months in front of you to focus on. From smaller projects to longer term projects, you can easily hit both.

If you have a short-term project you want to complete in the coming weeks, spend time doing some personal project planning and laying things out so you don’t have to waste energy trying to figure it out as you go. This certainly doesn’t have to be work related either. If you have a new hobby or just a fun side project that you’ve been putting off, this is a great time to plan things out. You’ll soon realize it is easier to start than you realized.

When it comes to longer term projects, start with a status report to find where you currently are and where you’d like to be in three months. Break that down into easy to digest chunks and soon you’ll have a roadmap in front of you.

One important thing to remember is to really keep your mind fluid and flexible here. As you get started, another whole idea might come to mind. Explore that a bit. No right or wrong answers here. The whole concept is to block out the day-to-day parts of your life for 24 hours and focus on you.

Do Something Fun

A great personal retreat can’t be just about work or personal project planning. Work something in there for you. A little something fun. Get a massage in the morning, go see a movie in the late afternoon, or go browse a favorite store (treat yo’ self). If it makes you feel good, then book a little time for that.

This is designed to be a day to be productive, but also unplug a bit from the day-to-day routine. You mind and body benefit from a little change.

Location is Key

Part of flavor of a good personal retreat is a great location. Your budget likely doesn’t cover a hotel suite or private office space for a day. You have plenty of options to choose from, though.

My first suggestion is to get out of town. You don’t have to travel far, but head to a different city all together for the day. Factor in the travel time, but a little drive is also nice to help clear your head.

Once you have found a locale, finding an actual venue for this personal retreat is key. If there is a local co-working space and the budget allows for it, a one-day pass can be a great solution. You have a place with reliable internet connection, access to some refreshments, and bathrooms.

If a co-working space isn’t an option, you can’t go wrong with a great local coffee shop or even a series of restaurants. Grab breakfast, get a little work done, and then go hit that “fun” thing you planned earlier. Grab a little lunch and grind out the afternoon for a bit before either heading home or to a place for a little dinner.

A cheaper option is always a local library. Plus, it will be nice and quiet. It isn’t the sexiest option, but it sure is effective.

The last place that I’d recommend is your home itself. Travel might be tough or you have a great home solution. It can certainly work, but I find this a bit harder to focus. You have a couch, a kitchen with food freely available to you, and plenty of distractions. You can get some good work done here, but your brain still thinks you’re at home. Highly recommend finding a new venue for the day.


You don’t need a giant white board or the huge tear-away sheets of paper for a personal retreat, but a few key items are needed:

  • Computer, laptop, iPad, etc…
  • Notebook and a few pens
  • External battery pack (don’t forget to charge it)
  • Headphones

You don’t need much, but this will also help you remain focused on what is actually in front of you for the day.

Personal Retreats in a Pandemic

At the time of this writing, we’re still in the middle (hopefully, near the end) of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Many restaurants are closed, dining is restricted, travel isn’t appealing, etc… It isn’t the most ideal situation for a personal retreat.

I still feel this is do-able, though. If the weather allows it, do it outside in a city park. Setup shop for the day, plan things out, and make it happen. Even make it a half day if that is easier.

While not ideal, you can easily do this at home. Rearrange the furniture in a room, set up a little workstation for the day, order your favorite delivery, or whatever else you can do to break up the “I’m a home” vibe.

It’s About Focus and Planning

The idea is providing your brain with something different from the typical day and allow yourself the space to focus on you. This can be personal, professional, or a mix of both. Plan things out and stick to the plan. Then, after three or six months, do it again.

Look back at where you wanted to be and get a sense for reality has placed you. Learn from that, make some adjustments. Without even seeing the true data though, it’s safe to say you are further along now than where you started. Congrats, you have momentum. Now, keep going.

Zach Parcell

Zach is a 35-year-old midwestern husband, father, son, gummy bear loving, digital communication professional. Zach has spent endless hours researching lifehacks, strategies, resources, tools, examples, and more in order to be a better person in the office and at home.

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