Many leaders are quick to plan retreats for their teams. They readily recognize the importance of stepping away from day-to-day work and bringing the team together to build relationships, learn new skills, and solve problems together. What most leaders don’t do is plan a personal retreat. One that allows them to get away, without distraction, and think deeply about their work.
Some have been doing this for years. The Netflix docu-series about Bill Gates, Inside Bill’s Brain, introduced us to “Think Week” – a twice yearly solo trip he takes to a secluded cabin to read and think.
I personally know of a leader who “gets away” two times a year for 3-nights each time. We’ll call her Kim (not her real name). Kim goes to a nearby city and rents a small house or condo. This is time for her to think, plan, write, and rest. She recently told me about her experience.
“Hands down, I am a better leader for my team. I come out of this time with new ideas and creative ways to tackle problems. Also, I’m able to not just define strategy but I’m able to articulate the strategy in a compelling way. Much better than if I was trying to do this in fits and starts throughout a month or two.”
Thinking deeply about work enables leaders to identify new and different ways to achieve goals. Cognitive science gives us some insight into why this happens. “Neuroscientists have discovered that solitary, inwardly focused reflection employs a different brain network than outwardly focused attention. When our mental focus is directed towards the outside world, the executive attention network is activated, while the imagination network is typically suppressed. This is why our best ideas don’t tend to arise when our attention is fully engaged on the outside world.” (Greater Good Magazine, 2016) Kim was reaping the benefits of inwardly focused attention.
For some, this may sound too good to be true. Taking a personal retreat could seem self-indulgent and unrealistic. So, I asked Kim about that. Here’s what she said:
“I had those worries too, but a colleague encouraged me to just try it. After that first get-away I realized that rest and solitude was also helping me to be a better spouse and parent. I could reflect on who I am and who I want to be for the people in my life. Also, I love that I’m showing my kids that investing in personal growth is not selfish, rather it is something that makes us better, all around.”
Focusing on the benefits and outcomes of a personal retreat might be enough to sell more leaders on doing it. It’s not just about the potential to develop a robust strategy, think innovatively, and problem-solve. It’s also about modeling to others (our teams and “our people”), that focusing on ourselves maintains our wellbeing so that we live a better life.
Leaders most certainly want that for others. But they also need to want it for themselves.
Keep in mind, it doesn’t have to be a multi-day getaway at a hotel or rental. This can also take the form of a dedicated half-day at a local park. A “personal retreat” can be designed exactly to your needs and life. The point is to carve out time for yourself.
How To Get Started
Taking a personal retreat, no matter how long or where it is, requires some planning. Here are a few tips.
If you can, find a weekend to get away. If that’s not realistic, look for a block of time and reserve no less than 4 hours, but an entire day is better. Remember, this is a “retreat” which means to get away or withdraw. Time is required to do it in a meaningful way.
Minimize distractions as much as possible. Create a plan so that all “your people” (boss, colleagues, and family) know what you’re doing and may only reach you in an emergency.
Don’t over plan your time. The goal is to let your brain wander a bit, tapping an inward focus. Going for a walk or listening to a podcast can inspire your thinking. Or, make a short list of topics you want to explore and bring articles with you to read.
Bring a journal or plan to take notes and capture your insights. You won’t be able to act on everything you think of, so you’ll want them saved somewhere. Jot down what worked during this time to inspire your thinking and also what didn’t.
Plan and schedule your next retreat.
The toughest part about taking personal retreats is just doing it the first time (or granting yourself the permission). The first step is often always the hardest. But once that path is paved, who knows what you'll do or who you will become? The possibilities are endless.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.