Why Personal Retreats Matter and How to Make Them Effective

Why Personal Retreats Matter and How to Make Them Effective

Work environments are often so fast-paced that there is no time for deep reflection in a typical week. But the reality is that you can’t grind away and expect to find time to work on the long-term health and trajectory of your business or career at the same time. 

Our minds, not just our bodies, must rest. We all need space to think and reflect in order to tackle business challenges with fresh eyes and a revived outlook.

Afraid you’ll miss too much if you leave work for a couple of days? You might miss a lot more in the long run if you just hammer away without thinking about what or why you do the things you do. Bill Gates famously took a “Think Week” every quarter, and legend has it that one of these retreats resulted in Microsoft changing direction and betting on the Internet.

Get the Most from Your Retreat

Several years ago, I started taking 48 hours away every quarter. I have continued doing this because these retreats have been a game-changer in my business and in my personal life. I am the type of person who has a million ideas swirling in my head. If I wait longer than three months to go away, my work becomes scattered and unproductive because I am trying to do too many things at once. And my personal life also suffers because I feel stressed that I’m not accomplishing enough at work.

Here are some tips on how to structure a retreat that has worked for me:

A cabin in the middle of nowhere, completely disconnected
  1. Disconnect completely:
    • No email, no social media, no texts or phone calls (okay, you probably will want to check in on family, but minimize communication as much as is reasonable)
  2. Remove yourself from your regular environment:
    • Do not do this at your home or office. You don’t need an off-the-grid log cabin in the woods, either. Just find a place that feels remote for you.
  3. Set an intention or goal:
    • Make it high level and keep an open mind. For example, your intention might be to explore new avenues for revenue—and then allow your mind to wander.
  4. No chores allowed.
    • Bring meals and drinks so you don’t have to cook or clean. I found that packing microwaveable meals and healthy pre-made snacks, as well as drinking only water, kept me going. On the other hand, if cooking is your way to relax and unwind, then do what works for you.
  5. Bring books, pens, and paper:
    • Just brainstorming or just reading the whole time can get stale. When I get bored reading, I brainstorm. When I get bored brainstorming, I read.
  6. Set aside time shortly after you return to jump into your Action Items.
    • If there are a lot of tedious tasks on your Action Items, ask yourself – how much is my time worth? It’s probably worth a lot, so consider handing off some of those tiresome to-do’s to one of VEA’s experienced virtual executive assistants. You’ll then be able to spend your time where it provides more value.


When you get back, your vision for what needs to be done in the grand scheme of things will be crystal clear. However, be careful not to switch gears too much from one retreat to the next. For example:

Q1 – Your focus is on how to empower employees to do more things that they are passionate about at work.

Q2 – You switch your focus to social media brainstorming.

Q3 – You change your focus to billboard ads and abandon the social media growth, and any idea of helping your team feel more excited about their jobs has all but been abandoned.

Not only will this jumping around drive your team nuts, but you won’t follow through with any of your plans. That is why it is crucial to take Q1 to focus on your overall goals for the year. Every other retreat should be designed to ensure you are not drifting too far from those goals, assess what is working, what isn’t working, and quadruple down on the positives.

Is 48 hours away too daunting?

The Challenge

Take 48 hours away to rest, recharge, and re-focus. If you are not sure where to start, utilize my structure below and tweak it to what fits your needs.

On your drive home and over the next few days, assess what worked and what didn’t during your time away. Review your notes and start to put your findings into action. Ask yourself if next time you need to be a little closer or further from home. Maybe 48 hours is too short and 72 hours is ideal. My suggested structure is a starting point. Ultimately, there are no rules except to do what is right for you.

The most important thing to do when you return is to execute on your strategy. If you need help with goal setting, creating KPI indicators, or executing your marketing plan, check out our Goal Tracking Worksheet.

The Structure: Here is what my personal retreat looks like

Puzzle pieces to illustrate how to piece together your time away

I take about 48 hours. I leave after my childrens’ bedtime on the first day. I set up and work for two hours before going to bed. The next day I brainstorm from 8am to 11pm, and on the final day I stay focused until 4pm before driving home.


Away from home and work, completely disconnected. My retreat location is only an hour from home, but it feels worlds away. It’s only a five-minute walk from the ocean,and every night I go and watch the sunset.


All meals are packed and I only drink water. This keeps me from having to take time out to prepare something. I just pop my meal in the microwave, wash the container out in the sink and continue on. I also try to drink at least one glass of water per hour. If I’m feeling cooped up, I sneak away to a coffee shop for a quick break.


I bring three books, my day planner, and countless pieces of hole-punched printer paper. Notice how my computer is not on that list? I do bring my phone so I can download a long playlist. Then I shut off my data and wifi to completely focus.


Post-Retreat. When I come back, I have more hours in a day (in part, because my EA takes over a lot of the tasks I have identified are not a valuable use of my time). I am firing on all cylinders, and operating with total clarity about what I am trying to accomplish. I find this motivational sprint fades within two months or so, just in time for my next 48 hours away

Follow us on LinkedIn for more time-saving tips, and let us know what your retreat looks like or will look like.

Also, check out our blog posts on “Push Your Business to the Next Level” and “Goal Tracking” to help with casting your vision for the next quarter.

If you have any questions or need some help with setting up the structure of your retreat, contact me directly at [email protected]

Derek Burbidge

Manager of Sales & Marketing