Updated on 08.26.10

A Long Weekend Retreat

Trent Hamm

Rhonda writes in with a great idea for how she’s going to spend her Labor Day weekend:

I’m planning on using my 3-day Labor Day weekend as an at-home retreat (I live alone) to do some short- and long-term planning. I’m about 10 years away from retirement and want to review ‘Your money or your life’ and ‘What color is your paracute? for retirement’ over the 3 days. Other than church and walking the dog, I don’t plan to leave the house.

Other than those givens, I don’t have a real clear agenda for that time. I also am unsure about what resources I should have at hand; I’m planning on:
*notebook & writing tools
*latest statements from Social Security, pension fund and retirement account

Any ideas for how to take the greatest advantage of this time?

I think a weekend retreat is almost always a great idea. It gives a person (or a couple) time to take care of tasks that have been neglected, spend serious time thinking about goals, and developing plans for achieving those goals.

I like to spend at least one weekend a quarter doing this type of “retreat,” both for my own personal life and for my professional work, too. At my last “retreat,” I decided to self-publish my next book (which is still a long way off) and made a few tough personal decisions. I also spent some time reworking some of my approaches and goals for being a good parent, and I took care of several projects around the house.

Such retreats really reinvigorate me and set me moving forward on the things that really matter to me. I consider them a key part of my own life.

Having Your Own Retreat
What exactly do I mean by a “retreat”? To put it simply, a retreat is simply a block of time set aside to focus solely on you. The goal of a retreat is to get your life as on track as you can possibly get it.

Usually, this means focusing in on a particular area of your life that feels out of whack, determining what exactly you can do in your own life to fix it, and coming up with a specific plan for achieving that. It also means refreshing and renewing yourself so that you can actually attack that specific plan that you’ve developed.

A weekend works really well for this. The time spent between Friday afternoon and Monday morning includes two full days and three full nights of sleep, which provides plenty of time to think about goals, refresh yourself, and move on from there. A three day weekend is a great time for this because the third day of the weekend is perfectly left for the first steps towards implementing your new goals.

Things to Do in Advance
Rhonda’s got the right idea for a retreat like this. The key thing to prepare for such a retreat is not the set agenda. Instead, you should be focused on the problem you want to solve and have plenty of tools on hand – not for solving it, but for coming up with a good plan to solve it.

So, in Rhonda’s case, she has books on the topic, writing tools, her laptop, and statements for her finances available. I’d probably also suggest that she has a good overall picture of her current finances as well, including debts and significant assets.

When you plan ahead for your own retreat, focus on the problem you wish to solve and think about the materials you’ll need to come up with a solution for it. A computer will likely help, as will a notepad and access to reference materials and books. Make sure they’re all available to you – a library stop or two will probably help.

Three Keys
The biggest keys to success for a retreat don’t revolve around coming up with the perfect plan. Sometimes it’ll all come together – at other times, you’ll just be happy to move forward on your thinking about a particular situation.

The real key is to refresh yourself so that you’re capable of moving forward with whatever plans or ideas you come up with – and to have a clear and sound mind while considering these things.

Thus, I consider these three steps to be absolutely essential if you’re considering such a retreat.

Minimize – or better yet, eliminate – interruptions. Turn off your cell phone. Turn off your computer. Turn off your television. Only turn these items on when you have a specific need for them. Otherwise, focus on the tasks at hand and don’t let these things constantly interrupt your workflow and thought process.

Get plenty of sleep so you’re well rested. Start doing this throughout the week before the retreat, but focus on it during the retreat. Don’t set an alarm and go to bed when you actually feel tired. The goal is to not feel exhausted during the retreat and to come out of it with as much energy as possible so you feel ready to tackle whatever outcomes you decide upon.

Eat healthy for two days beforehand (and during the retreat, too). Similar to the appropriate amounts of sleep, a healthy balanced diet for the days before the retreat (and during the retreat) will enable you to think better, maintain focus, and sleep better as well.

Remember, the key is to bring mental focus to the weekend and end the weekend with plenty of energy to tackle whatever plans you create.

Key Outcomes
So, what should you create?

It really depends on you. Ideally, you’ll come out of any such retreat with at least some specific actions to take. I suggest shooting for the following things.

First, come up with some number of defined, written goals. Hopefully, you come up with more than one. A good goal can actually be clearly measured (“I will lose 50 pounds” versus “I want to lose some weight”) and can be broken down into smaller steps (“I can lose 50 pounds if I lose one pound a week this year”).

From there, come up with specific plans for reaching those goals. Write these plans down as well. Define each step in the process with as much detail as you can muster. Try to break it down into small enough steps that you could accomplish a step in a week – and also figure out how you’ll accomplish at least the first few steps in great detail.

If you leave a “retreat weekend” with these two things accomplished (and you’re also well-rested and you’ve got a better understanding of your situation), the retreat has been a great success.

Good luck!

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  1. valleycat1 says:

    Rhonda – I’d also recommend having a clear picture of your current budget or spending patterns on hand, so if you get to the point of knowing what you want your retirement to look like & how much (if any) additional $ you’ll need, you’ll be able to immediately get to work on deciding how you can squeeze the budget to find the $.

  2. chacha1 says:

    I would also recommend, not setting a *schedule* per se but setting a timer! Work in blocks of time and then take breaks to do something else, like declutter your closet or pantry, or just sit in the yard.

    I’ve found it just doesn’t pay to spend more than two hours at a stretch on a mentally-taxing project unless I really get in the zone. And you can always just keep going if you are (in the zone that is).

  3. Maureen says:

    Buy chocolate!

  4. SavingFreak says:

    I have gone to the trouble of finding a spot where the cell phone and internet are not an option. For a time this is a great break from the normal grind and really allows you to concentrate distraction free.

  5. Kevin says:

    It might be a good time to go over your insurance coverage, too, to make sure you’ve got enough (or maybe you’ll discover you’ve reached a point in your life where you have more coverage than you need).

    You could also gather up all your utility bills for the past year and review them to make sure the values you’ve assumed in your budget are still in the correct ballpark as your actual utilization.

    I think what you’re planning sounds like a fantastically productive use of some extra “found” time. :)

  6. Jody says:

    I would also figure out what chores around the house need to be done and get them done before retreat weekend: grocery shopping, meal prep, house cleaning, laundry, lawn mowing etc. All of the things that will either suck time away from your ‘retreat’ or distract you when you are trying to focus.

  7. GayleRN says:

    I have gone on cmping trips with this in mind, being in nature and out of my usual environment is refreshing. It also means that I pare down to essentials and don’t have undone chores staring at me. I find it easier to think sometimes while I am walking outdoors.
    Great idea for when you are feeling stuck in life or can anticipate some big change such as retirement.

  8. Steve says:

    I intend to do something like this soon; I want to take a weekend (or perhaps just a day) and lay out my goals for the next year and find a way to make them happen.

  9. Beverley says:

    WOW – what perfect timing! I’m using my 2 days off next week to go to a R&R retreat away from home to get some thinking and planning time. Your hints and suggestions are very welcome. Thanks you all.


  10. DivaJean says:

    Labor Day is always a staycation for us- the last drive towards getting kids readied for school. Plus, in our neck of the woods, the NY State Fair makes any sort of road travel hellish (and the fair is very expensive!).

    We sort through clothes, size up hand me downs, clean out the pantry and kitchen (makes lunch making easier), clean out hall closets and check out coat situations, etc. Big project with 4 kids! We also clean up our back yard and put summer toys away.

  11. reulte says:

    Wow – this is a really great idea! I second Jody’s suggestion of having everything already done so you don’t procrastinate by saying “Oh, those dishes really need to be washed”.

    I’d also suggest that you have a small treat for yourself at the end of the weekend.

  12. friendlyfire says:

    Great concept & good tips, EXCEPT, from my perspective, why a *holiday* weekend?

    Let me say upfront I respect Rhonda’s right to schedule her retreat how she pleases.

    I may be reading too much into it, but this plan has the tone of virtuous martyrdom – y’know, piously focusing on personal finance while most of America kicks back and enjoys the traditional last long weekend of summer.

    A long weekend to me means fun & relaxation – which can be equally healthy & refreshing. I’ll be kayaking, swimming, bbqing, sometimes alone, sometimes w. friends & neighbors. (I live alone too). If the sun don’t shine I like to read, write, cook, and spend time w. my pets. And plan my next outdoor adventure, kayaking 15 miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline w. friends.

    for a financial retreat weekend (or similiar serious goal) I’ll pick a normal two day weekend…when rain or snow is forecast LOL

    and btw Happy Labor Day to all! take a break from your labors, do something that brings you pleasure, it need not cost money :D Try something new, stretch your boundaries. Use it to live life fully.

    When you are dead no one will care that you took holiday time for a financial review. But you may well create memories for yourself and others by enjoying the holiday.

  13. Ajtacka says:

    Thanks for this idea, it’s great timing. We’ve literally just got back from our big summer holiday, my boyfriend will be spending the weekend on a 48 coding marathon, and from Monday I’m facing the beginning of a new era of my career – freelancing. This sounds like a great idea to do with the weekend, even if I’ve missed the sleeping and eating well beforehand steps. :)

  14. Anne says:

    I’ve done these and it’s a great idea.

    My two cents: Don’t feel like a loser if your retreat is short. As long as you accomplished your goals, have a clear picture of your situation, and have concrete next steps, you’re good.

    There sometimes isn’t a lot to do when you’re in your 20s with no plans to buy a house or have kids :)

  15. Pat Chiappa says:

    Such a great idea. I call that kind of retreat an ‘offsite’. Smart companies invest time and money in their management staff by whisking them away from the day-to-day work environment to an ‘offsite meeting.

    By changing their employees’ surroundings and providing time away from the office, companies create a setting where communication flows, creative thinking is encouraged, achievements are acknowledged, strategies are implemented, and plans evolve for a successful and profitable upcoming year.

    So why not take a tip from smart business leaders and give yourself (or with your partner) the time within a creative setting in which to map your future together.

    Would love to read Rhonda’s follow-up

  16. Rhonda says:

    Wow, I’m amazed! I was away from the computer all weekend and came back to find this! I really appreciate Trent featuring my question and all the thoughtful replies.

    I’m especially pleased to hear that going into the weekend without a concrete agenda is not such a bad thing. ChaCha, I love your idea of setting the timer and breaking up the ‘brain work’ with some physical activity. There are always plenty of little house projects that I can spend 30 minutes on for a mental break. It’s sort of like at work, I can be wrestling with a problem and as soon as I walk down the hall to the restroom, an alternative will appear!

    Will definitely have the current spending plan, insurance info, utility bills, etc. close by; most of that is on the laptop already.

    My cell phone is off most of the time anyway, and I’ll let the landline go to voice mail. Staying off the internet will be the hard one to deal with, but may try to use the timer idea for that as well.

    FriendlyFire – I recently had a wonderfully relaxing vacation up in Wisconsin, so I don’t feel like I’m giving up an opportunity to do something fun with Labor Day; thanks for thinking of my mental health, though! 8)

    I’m cooking extra during the week, so that I won’t have to worry about fixing meals, and laundry is normally done by the weekend. Getting extra sleep might be a problem, but will do my best.

    I had already asked a friend to come over Monday night for one of our semi-regular pizza nights; that’s my ‘treat’ at the end. And Maureen, chocolate (and coffee, my two weaknesses) is always on hand. 8)

    After the weekend, I’ll sent Trent a report on how it went.

    Thank you, Trent & everyone – this made my day!

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