Personal Retreat experiences

I recently did my own personal retreat, based on @mikeschmitz’s course. I wrote about the experience on my blog and I thought folks in the Focused forum might be interested:

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of a personal retreat ever since I heard Mike Schmitz talk about it on Free Agents a while back. He described how he goes off on a “retreat” every three months to review, think, and plan. While I was interested, the discussion on the podcast was kind of barebones. When he announced that he put together a video course I jumped on board pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it came along at a very busy time for me, with the holidays and some travel for work, so I didn’t get a chance to actually do the course until late January.

After watching the videos, I was very eager to put this into practice and wanted to get started right away. While I wanted to take advantage of this burst of enthusiasm one obstacle was finding a location on short notice.[1] Mike emphasizes not doing the retreat at home or another familiar (and distraction-laden) environment. He also maintains that to give the retreat the attention it deserves, you really need about eight hours, especially the first time you go through the process.

Doing it in the great outdoors was appealing in concept, but probably not in practice in January. I had all sorts of ideas for fun and interesting locations (traveling to a distant city, doing it on a long-distance train trip, etc.) but most were too expensive or required too much lead time. I looked into renting an office or conference room for a day, but that whole process seems unreasonably difficult.[2] In the end, inspired in part by CGP Grey, I just got a local hotel room for a couple of nights.[3]

Preparing for the Retreat

To get ready for the retreat I watched the course videos a second time and took copious notes. If I had one suggestion for Mike, it would be to beef up the workbook to include more of the prompts and advice from the videos.[4] There’s a lot of good stuff that didn’t make it into the workbook.

I also listened to an episode of The Productivity Show where Mike talked about his personal retreat practice. This predates the personal retreat course, so some aspects aren’t really as developed, but I still found it useful.

After dinner the night before the retreat I packed up a change of clothes, pens, pencils, and notebooks, along with the course workbook (both printed and in PDF on my iPad). I also assembled some food and drinks so I wouldn’t be distracted by needing to find a restaurant for lunch.[5]

One of the first things I did after checking in was put my iPad into Airplane Mode and my iPhone into Do Not Disturb (with a strong vow not to open it up and look at it until after I was done with the retreat). Since part of the point of making this, a “retreat” was to avoid distractions, I figured that it would be good to start detaching from my usual diet of digital interactions the night before. Cut off from my usual digital feed, I made an early night of it.

The Retreat

The next morning I hit the hotel fitness center and their complimentary breakfast before settling down in my room for the retreat.

Mike based the personal retreat idea off of some of the concepts presented in the book The 12 Week Year. I’d read the book, and I liked the concept, but I found it hard to implement. The core of it seemed like a good idea, but it had some extraneous stuff around it. The Personal Retreat course is a lot more focused.[6]

Based on what he said on the Productivity Podcast and Free Agents, Mike started doing quarterly personal retreats because he’d had trouble implementing his 12 Week Year goals. It’s intended to provide time to look back at the past three months and ahead to the next three. However, it goes quite a bit beyond just quarterly planning, encouraging you to take a look at your values and long term aspirations and so your plans for the next three months are taking you where you want to go in life.

Core Values

The retreat starts out with the big picture: defining your core values. Mike has some excellent questions to get you thinking about these. I answered all of them, then went back through trying to pick out the common threads by tallying up how often certain things got mentioned and making a mind map of how related ideas clustered together.

I’m usually more of a digital guy, but I made a last minute call to do this on paper in a Field Notes Steno Book, rather than on my iPad.[7] Instead, I used the iPad to display my notes (including all of Mike’s prompts and questions). I did this using iA Writer’s focus mode. It highlights one line by graying out everything else, so it helped keep my attention on the particular prompt I was working on.

I ended up listing my core values as short sentences starting with “I am…”. Mike recommends 4-7 core values. I picked 5, but I did cheat a bit by making some of them compound (two related values, like “I am a writer and teacher”).

Between each exercise, I spent a few minutes walking around the hotel to clear my head.[8]

Where are you right now?

The next exercise focused on the question, “Where are you right now?” It involves an inventory of your commitments and responsibilities and assessing your satisfaction in different areas of your life. I’ll be honest, I didn’t find that this provided quite as much insight as some of the other exercises, though that may just be a product of what my particular commitments are and where my life is right now.

Designing the life you want to live

In contrast, the exercise on designing the life you want to live really grabbed me. Mike has created some great prompts to get you thinking in detail about what you’d like different aspects of your life to be in the future. I almost had too much fun writing about a day in my life five years from now. I probably crammed way more stuff in there than could realistically be done in a day (maybe next time it needs to be a week in the life of my future self).

Retrospective - Accomplishments

From the future, we turn to the past; the next exercise involves looking back over the past three months and listing your accomplishments. I was a bit skeptical when Mike said to allocate 1-2 hours for this, but it did take me over an hour and I filled two and a half pages of the Steno Pad with accomplishments. Not all of these are earth-shattering by any means, but they’re all things that moved the ball forward in one or more areas of my life (making a presentation for work, writing a blog post, etc.).

Thinking of all of these was difficult, but I found a few things that helped. I started by just brainstorming, but when I ran out of steam trying to remember things off the top of my head I looked back over my calendar to see what I’d been doing for the past three months and perused my blog to see what I’d posted there. What really helped was the gratitude journal I’d started keeping after taking Shawn Blanc’s Focus Course. Rather than being a full journal, this just involves writing down one accomplishment and two things I’m grateful for every day. Many of those daily accomplishments are too small for the personal retreat list, but others were large enough to make my quarterly list or prompted me to think of related things that should be listed. One thing I found was that in many cases, the daily accomplishments represented incremental progress on more significant accomplishments that did belong on the quarterly list. I may want to start calling out those bigger things explicitly as I go along, rather than waiting until three months later.[9]

Retrospective - was What you’re going to change

After a break for lunch, I started up on the second half of the retrospective: thinking about what things you’re going to change. Mike has a nice, structured way to do this involving looking at what went well and what could have gone better and what lead to these outcomes. This, in turn, leads to the three critical questions: What should I start doing? What should I stop doing? What should I keep doing?

For me, this process mostly lead to practices, rather than commitments, which I’m not sure is what Mike had in mind (looking back it’s a bit ambiguous). However, it worked for me, and I think the outcome has been very useful in terms of reinforcing good behavior, discouraging things that are hindering me from accomplishing my goals, and brainstorming ways that I can do better.

Setting your goals

The culmination of all of this, the core values, where you are right now, designing the life you want to live, the retrospective, comes in setting your goals for the next quarter. Mike recommends no more than three goals, and if you’re doing this to the first time, limiting it to even fewer, just one or two. I ended up picking two goals, and I kind of cheated a bit since my first goal, “Spend my time more intentionally” is kind of a cross-cutting issue that affects all sorts of areas. My second goal for the next three months is to write more.

Mike talks about how your goals should be connected to your core values and vision. I actually found it worthwhile to write out for each goal which core values it supports and how and which pieces of my 5-year vision it connects to. I also noted how each goal connected to things I said I should keep doing, start doing, and stop doing. For my time goal, this ended up being quite the task, since how I manage my time ends up touching so many other areas that I filled two and a half pages of my notebook writing it all out. The process really reinforced how being more intentional with my time could have a significant, positive impact on my life.

Another thing Mike emphasizes is breaking each goal down into milestones and daily habits to help ensure you actually accomplish it. The goal is the “what,” the milestones and daily habits are the “when” and “how.” Neither of my goals were all that amenable to milestones, so I didn’t set any. They are ripe for daily habits, however.

For spending my time more intentionally, my primary habit is going to be time blocking every day.[10] This is something I’d been doing last year, but I’d kind of fallen off the wagon. After I stopped time blocking it felt like I wasn’t being as productive with my time, which is part of the reason I’d like to start up again.

Essentially, this time blocking practice involves writing out a schedule for each day, saying what I’ll be doing and when. That way I know what I’m supposed to be working on at any given time. It keeps me from having to make a decision of what to work on in the moment and makes it less likely that I’ll fail to decide and end up diddling around on the internet.

Of course, things come up, and there will be times when I have to adjust on the fly.[11] That’s why my second habit to spend my time more intentionally is to do a post-mortem every day and look at how I actually spent my time compares to how I’d planned to spend my time. Did something unexpected come up? That’s fine; is it something I could account for in the future or is it something truly unexpected? Did something take longer than expected? That’s ok; how can I do better at estimating how long this sort of thing will take? Did I just blow off the schedule? That’s not really ok.

When I’d been doing time blocking last year I just did it for my working hours. This time around I decided that I’ll be applying it to my entire day. That doesn’t mean I’ll be working 24/7 though. One of my regrets about frittering away my time is that when I look back on how I spent my recreational time I spent a lot of it in ways that I don’t really value (primarily frittering it away on the internet) rather than recreational activities that I value more (reading, playing video games, watching good TV shows). I’d like to change that and blocking time for specific types of leisure is a way to do it.

For my goal to write more, my only habit is to write every day. It doesn’t matter what. Could be fiction, non-fiction, a blog post, a novel, anything. Just as long as I’m spending some time every day moving the cursor.[12]

To track my progress towards these goals, I’m going to track how many days I time block for, how many days I do a post mortem, and how many days I write for at least 30 minutes. I’m not going to track how much I write, or how many days I stick to my schedule. The goal for the next three months is simply to do these things consistently.

The other aspect of goal setting Mike talks about is looking at your commitments for the next three months and seeing what might interfere with accomplishing your goals. I wrote out my commitments, using the list I developed back in the second exercise, looking through my calendar, and thinking about what else I had coming up. It’s a long list, but a manageable one. In addition to making sure it wouldn’t interfere with my goals, getting these commitments out of my head and onto one sheet of paper was also valuable in and of itself.

Executing the Plan

The final exercise is to plan your ideal week. One of the biggest obstacles to achieving these kinds of goals is not setting time aside to work on them. The ideal week exercise allows you to plan out when you’ll work on your goals for the next 12 weeks. Of course, not every week is ideal, but this at least provides a starting point.

Obviously, this complements my goal of spending my time more intentionally and the time blocking habit quite nicely, so I kind of went whole hog on this exercise. I abandoned my paper notebook and went digital, breaking out the Numbers app on my iPad[13] and using it to block out an ideal week in 15-minute increments. I set aside time for writing every morning, time for planning out the following day, and time for doing a post-mortem on the day every evening. I also made some other adjustments from how I’m currently spending my time (notably, a lot less time on the internet). Everything got color coded as well. Like I said, I really went whole hog.

As a reward for all this effort, I made myself a nice dinner (baked boneless buffalo wings, one of my favorites) and sat down with a drink and the latest episodes of The Grand Tour.[14]

The Results

I feel like my first personal retreat has been an incredibly useful experience, one that will pay dividends going forward. Of course, where the rubber meets the road is actually going out and implementing these habits and achieving my goals. We’ll see where I stand in three months.

In addition to the quarterly goals and planning, the retreat also helped with some deeper insights. Defining my core values and imagining the life I want to live five years from now are valuable beyond just setting goals for the next three months. Listing out my accomplishments from the last three months was encouraging. For a time in my life that I didn’t feel was very productive I actually accomplished quite a bit.

One thing the retreat helped me realize is that I have a “teacher” itch that isn’t really getting scratched right now. That’s not something I can really remedy in the next three months; rather, it’s something to work on long term (for now I’m going to try to scratch it by writing more).

As I mentioned earlier, I’d read The 12 Week Year and while I liked the concept, some of the other stuff in the book kept it from really grabbing me. Having done the personal retreat (and gotten so much out of it), I feel like I should try rereading the book and see if there are aspects of it resonate more with me now.

One other thing I learned from this retreat was that not looking at the internet when I had my phone out for some other reason was surprisingly hard. It wasn’t even a lack of willpower so much as thoughtlessness on my part. As soon as I was done with what I’d gotten my phone out to do (check my calendar, log some food or exercise, etc.) my thumb just instinctively just went to Safari, Reeder, or Spark. I’m a bit disturbed by just how automatic it was, but it’s a problem outside the scope of this personal retreat.[15]

Changes for Next Time

I’m definitely doing this again in three months. While it went really well this time I can already see some tweaks, I want to make. For one, I think that I’ll make taking stock of commitments for this quarter a separate exercise of its own, one that comes before goal setting. That way I can take these commitments into account when setting my goals (or change my commitments to accommodate my goals).

Of course, I’m anticipating that there will be differences just because it will be the second time through the process. This is one thing I wish Mike covered a bit more in the course, though I can see why it’s mostly geared towards first-timers. Next time I’ll already have definitions of the core values and vision of my future life (though its probably worth going through the exercises again to see if there’s anything I want to change). I’ve scanned my notes from the retreat and stashed the notebook where I’ll hopefully be able to find it in three months, so I’ll have all of my material from the first retreat available for reference. Of course, the big change will be assessing how well I did on my goals and the associated habits for this quarter.[16]

One thing I’d like to change between now and then to make the retrospective easier is to do a better job tracking my more significant accomplishments as they happen, rather than having to try to remember them months later.

Something that I won’t change is doing the retreat on paper. That worked really well; it helped keep me focused and slowed me down a bit (in a good way). I did realize about 3/4 of the way through that I need to leave more blank space in the notebook as I write so I can go back and add things that I think of later. I guess I’m too used to doing stuff digitally where it’s easy to insert content in the middle of what I’ve already written.

While the hotel room worked out well, I may consider some other options that more advance planning (and warmer weather) might make possible.

Concluding Thoughts

Doing the personal retreat was a really great experience. It’s already paid off with some great insights, and I think it’s going to continue to pay off over the next three months. I’ll definitely be doing it again.

I really want to thank Mike Schmitz for developing the Personal Retreat course. The way he’s structured the retreat works really well, and it includes some great prompts and questions to really help you get at things that can be hard to pin down, like your core values and a vision for your future. I’d definitely recommend the course and the practice of regularly doing a personal retreat.

[1]: Hopefully next quarter around I can set things up further in advance.
[2]: Most of these places don’t even list their prices online, making it hard to tell if it’s even a reasonable option. In this day and age making someone interested in buying your product submit their contact info as a sales lead and wait for someone to get back to them is awful.
[3]: Check-in and check-out times mean that if you want eight uninterrupted hours in a hotel room you really need to stay for two nights.
[4]: It would be nice if the videos were downloadable.
[5]: I’d booked a hotel room with a kitchenette, so I had a decently sized fridge and cooking facilities.
[6]: Or is that Focused?
[7]: In retrospect, I really wish I brought one of my Panobook notebooks. It would have been perfect for this.
[8]: This made me glad I went with a hotel room rather than the cabin at one of the state parks I’d been considering. It was 18 degrees this morning, so going out for a walk would have meant getting all bundled up every time.
[9]: Around this time it started snowing outside. I’m really glad I didn’t decide to do this outdoors.
[10]: @MacSparky sometimes calls this “hyperscheduling,” though I don’t really like that term.
[11]: As @MacSparky puts it, “A calendar is a soup rather than a puzzle.”
[12]: This post is a down payment on that habit.
[13]: This is the first time I’d really dug in to Numbers on iOS since they revised the interface. It’s really quite good.
[14]: There’s no better contrast to all this deep thinking than a good dose of Clarkson, Hammond, and May.
[15]: This does have me thinking about Cal Newport’s new book Digital Minimalism, which seems like it would be on point.
[16]: The work I’ve done on this post means I can check the writing habit off for today.


So has anyone else done a personal retreat? If so, how did it go?

I have not done one, but am planning to soon. I also picked up Mike’s course. Enjoyed the write up and look forward to seeing how it works for you.

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I’ve done many isolated retreats – 1, 5, 7, up to 30+ days – but never without a human guide. I would think there’s a tendency to listen to the voices inside one’s head and try to define success by looking in the mirror. That’s not a criticism, just a possible danger.

Thank you for this feedback. I have been looking into the same idea, but your description gives me the template that I need to make this a reality. Did your family have any issue with you wanting to go off on your own? I can see how that might be a discussion to have with your significant other.

Single, no kids, in my case.

I’ve had a project “Plan how to do a personal retreat” on my someday soon list for what seems like forever. However, I’ve not been able to make it happen in amongst the farm work. However, I had planned to attend a 2 day forum this past Friday and Saturday. I don’t like to drive at night so I was going to carpool with a friend who could drive us home each evening. Sadly on the Thursday he came down with a nasty illness and in the short time I was unable to recruite another driver. I had to forgo going to the Friday portion of the event but I was able to get a hotel room for Saturday night. I figured I’d drive down for the all day Saturday, stay overnight then drive back. My husband was able and willing to do my share of all the chores so I could attend.

Saturday was totally full with the event (and an aside I wond 3rd place in the nvention Convention for my LambTracker program, prize was $125 :slight_smile: ) What with all the snacks and good food (it was a farming conference Food and farm Forum) I didn’t need dinner so when I got back to the hotel I started looking at some of my year end lists and thinking about the next quarter and the next few years. It was partly prompted by one of the breakout sessions on how older farmers can work leases, herd shares and other innovative ways to transition farms and farming knowledge to younger people. Anyway I went to bed with my mind on longer term goals and plans. Woke up at 1:30 am and decided that since I was by myself and wouldn’t wake up anyone else I’d just get up and start writing down my ideas. I didn’t want to put in my contact lenses so I only had my glasses that don’t work for reading off my computer screen . By default I was forced to take all the notes on paper. I ended up filling 8 full 8 1/2 by 11 pieces of paper with notes, ideas, thoughts, concerns, goals and more in the 2 hours that I stayed up. Without any of the prompts or info you had I ended up following much the same path you did. I started with values and my previously written personal statement of purpose. I made a few notes on changes I wnat to make. I didn’t write down much for where we are right now but I did add a few paragraphs of stuff in that section. Next I started dreaming and brainstorming the life we want to live. This ended up being the largest amount of stuff I collected. For accomplishments I used a prompt from a GTD Connect webinar I had just attended, "What’s the most important contribution you have made? I tried to put one in for most of my areas of focus. My take on the change part was the prompt “What important contribution do you want to make?” and again I did one for every AOF. Goals are always hard for me and I was just starting to edit and get to those when my brain went off into the weeds and down into 3 pages of projects and actions that I need to do as part of year end cleanup.

Now I haven’t done the rest of the retreat stuff but I really felt good at how much I got done instead of tossing and turning trying to sleep in a strange bed!

Based on your discussion and my experience I think I may have to invest in the Personal Retreat course. It seems like it would be really helpful. And then make sure I actually find a way to really DO the retreat!


Thanks for this review @ChrisUpchurch. I did my retreat this week too, so thought about sharing my experience as well. I’ll make some references to your post, and hope that’s ok!

It’s very interesting how some parts of what you describe resonate so much with my own experience, and some others I’ve interpreted slightly differentely.

I’ve taken some notes from your post to implement next time (hope there’s no copyright in them :grinning: ).

So, here’s a brief summary of my experience:


Given my family affairs, I couldn’t go out of town for a couple of days. Instead I booked a room in a business school where I can go as alumni. It worked great. This room has whiteboards, coffee/water, snacks, it is distraction free, and it’s not very busy (in this particular building they run executive courses either at night or during weekends).

I watched @mikeschmitz’ s videos a couple of weeks ago and took good notes on paper.

I was totally commited on doing it all on paper, so printed out the course materials which I brought with me together with my handwritten notes, a bunch of post-it notes and pens of various colours.

I totally agree with @ChrisUpchurch:

If I had one suggestion for Mike, it would be to beef up the workbook to include more of the prompts and advice from the videos. There’s a lot of good stuff that didn’t make it into the workbook.

On the day

I took the underground and jumped off a few blocks before the building, and walked to the place (grabbed a coffee on the way). It was a cold morning which worked well in helping to pump up my levels of energy.

I estimated how much time each one of the major steps (core values, wheel of life, etc) would take me. As I went throughout the day I wrote the actual time down for each step. Not only it helped me to plan the day (estimates) but it also gave me a very good indication of how much time I need for the next time. I missed my estimates by 1h30 which is not too bad :grinning:

My estimates were 5 hours and it took me 6h30 in total. I got short of time on the day, and so finished the sections “setting of goals” and "planning the perfect week"in the next morning at home when no one was around. That was ok though.

Step by Step

As expected, defining my core values was the most challenging part. I know what these are but it’s a whole different story when you need to write them down and make a “story” out of them. I came up with some though.

The post-it notes were already paying off. It’s a brilliant way to organise ideas.

I found @ChrisUpchurch idea of defining these as “I am…” a great one and, I might even try doing it this way next time.

For now, however, I’ll leave the 5 that I’ve defined as “core values/life commitments” (e.g. create a positive impact, with small but regular actions, on those that are important to me).

Where are you right now

I actually enjoyed doing this exercise. I used the categories that Mike suggested which resonate with me. I’ve given a value to each one of them and in the margins I wrote why I was giving such score. This proved useful for later in the day. (@mikeschmitz, another suggestion is to have some space for note-taking)

Designing the life you want to live

For this one, I went to the white board. I started with a big line (timeline) and wrote where will I live, when tasks will happen, what job will I have, etc. It was literally 24hrs of my day in 5 years time. The only differentiation I did, was for weekend tasks where I would write next to the “weekdays” tasks (e.g. waking up times are different :wink: ).

I really had fun doing this one. I found Mike’s message “visual first, reality next” very helpful…and also be descriptive!

With the whiteboard full of remarks everywhere, I went back to the paper course materials and wrote it all down, as a story, in a couple of pages.


I like @ChrisUpchurch suggestion to focus on your last months and go through calendars, etc. Will definitely implement this next time.

I’ve looked back a few years rather then just three months. It was useful to understand what did I accomplish and to define what to start, stop, and keep doing but maybe I could have gone into more detail had I focused on the past few months.

Setting your goals & Planning the perfect week

This was the one that took me the least time because I had done my yearly themes & goals already early in the month. Thus, I have an idea of what I want to achieve in the immediate future. I just had to ensure that what I was writing as my 3-month goals were aligned to my yearly ones. The downside of such approach is that I might be biased by the latter and overlooking something. I think for this quarter will do, but will definitely keep this in mind.

Planning the perfect week was also an interesting part of this retreat. I used blocks of 1 hour but I was surprised to see how I could actually have “Daily themes” throughout the week.

Final notes

I had high hopes for the outcome, but it surpassed my best expectations. Going through this exercise of thinking, writing it, telling a story, and make sense of it all is such an eye opener!

And again, I agree with @ChrisUpchurch:

there will be differences just because it will be the second time through the process. This is one thing I wish Mike covered a bit more in the course, though I can see why it’s mostly geared towards first-timers

I think the next one might take 4-5 hours as some of the definitions won’t change drastically (e.g. core values definition).

After going through all this, I’ll just revisit the course videos again to check whether I did it all in the right way. If not, I’ll adjust next time. After that, it’s time to work towards my goals!!

Thanks @mikeschmitz for putting the course together!!

PS - I’m planning to do something similar but much shorter with my wife in regards to our family.


Wow @ChrisUpchurch, thanks for the detailed feedback! Based on your suggestions, I will update and expand the workbook. I tried to keep it as short as possible so it wasn’t so intimidating, but I love the suggestion of including the prompts. I’ll also have a thought about a process for repeat personal retreats. Personally, I review my my values and vision but they usually don’t change them, then complete the Wheel of Life, Retrospective, Goal Setting and Planning Your Perfect Week.

@AFC I’ll also put some more space to take notes.

I love hearing about the clarity people get from implementing their own personal retreat - thanks for sharing!


Great write up @ChrisUpchurch and @AFC. I’ve been interested in the concept since I heard the original Productivity Show podcast and plan on doing one this spring after my busy season is over. You guys have convinced me to go for it. Now I just need to find a good location.

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Thanks for sharing this, @ChrisUpchurch. I have never done a personal retreat, but reading about your first one brings back pleasant memories of my early days of going all-in on Getting Things Done almost 15 years ago. I’d never heard of The 12 Week Year (or Mike’s course, for that matter), but it’s not difficult for me to imagine how I could benefit from such a thing. I hope you’ll write more quarterly updates on how your practice of this develops and the benefits you get from it.

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OK This is a stupid user error question but… I got the course, listened and watched all the videos as an overview and now I want to go back and watch them all again. I’m stuck in a loop where they are all complete and I cannot get them to replay. Clicking on the go arrows does nothing in either the sidebar or on the screen. The first time through there was a large video window at the beginning of each lecture with clear play, pause and stop buttons. Second time through I get just the lecture title but nothing I can actually play. Some of the menus and buttons also overlap or are unreadable. Mac running Sierra and using Safari f it matters.

That’s strange… I have no trouble going back and repeating lessons on my Mac, also using Safari. I just tried it in another Teachable course too (@MacSparky’s OmniFocus Field Guide). This page doesn’t seem to address your issue specifically, but maybe it will help:

If you’re still having trouble, there’s a couple of things we can do:

  1. Reach out to Teachable, or
  2. Send me some more info (screenshots, etc.) and I can contact them for you.

If you’re looking for a quick resolution, reaching out to Teachable directly is probably the quickest. But I’m happy to help you get to the bottom of this!

I’ll look more into this tomorrow. FWIW I have the same problem with MacSparky’s courses too. Just tried that I hadn’t gone back to them to look at them again so I didn’t know it was a site issue not a course issue.

It definitely sounds like a Teachable issue with your browser/OS combo then. Sorry, I wish I could be more helpful!

Morning report. Both sites working fine on laptop running High Sierra. Tried reboot and clear caches etc on browser but no joy. I’ll tackle it again later today. Have a lot of other stuff to do this am.

Can confirm here’s working fine too. Have gone through the course for the second time yesterday, and it worked fine here.

Mac or teachable account issue perhaps?

Moved to laptop so back in business. I too would like a lot more of the prompts from the course in the workbook. I prefer reading to hearing so having nearly everything written down in the workbook would help me.

I find that so much of my support material for a retreat, things like my calendar, my current areas of focus, goals, plans, all my wishes are in electronic media that I could not cut the cord completely. What I find I like about paper is that I can scribble faster than I can type so I can almost keep up with my brainstorms. Going through the course again while reviewing my notes from my version was very useful. I am now going through all my notes to incorporate them into my Omnifocus/DEVONThink GTD ecosystem.

I am going to plan on a more extensive version with a real off site at my normal equinox quarterly review.

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I had my 2nd retreat this past weekend and still same reaction: WOW!!

Although I’ve followed the same steps and spent, as last time, 6h30 hrs away from everyone and everything (ie tech), there was an additional benefit this time: I could see (and compare) progress (I really like the wheel of life exercise!!)

I used a lot the whiteboard to brainstorm and then pen/paper to write it all down. Talking out loud helps, makes you think, laugh and sometime get furious to yourself (“how did I not noticed that before” type of reaction).

I do have to thank @mikeschmitz to bring the personal retreat onto my radar and for his excellent course & materials.

Next one will be July… until there I have goals to achieve!

PS- just finished reading Atomic Habits before the retreat, which helped me with the goals section!


My Second Personal Retreat

I got a ton out of my first personal retreat back at the end of January. It helped me define a long-term vision for my life and had a significant impact on how productive I’ve been during the past three months. Now that three months have gone by it’s time to do it again.

For my first personal retreat, I decided to go whole hog and follow @mikeschmitz’s recommendation to do it “off-site,” away from home. I found a lot of value from getting away from familiar, distraction-laden environments. Back in January, I rented a hotel room for a couple of days. While the hotel room worked well, I thought I had a good chance of getting good weather this time of year and reserved a cabin at a local state park for two nights.

Preparing for the Retreat

Ahead of the retreat, I reviewed all my notes from Mike Schmitz’s Personal Retreat Handbook video course. I also finished up rereading The 12-Week Year (which I was reading for my Masterminds group).

I brought all of my notes from the last retreat but deliberately decided not to look at them ahead of time. Since I’d be at the state park cabin, I packed plenty of food and drink and a sleeping bag, along with my usual tech gear.

Last time I had made a last minute decision to do the retreat on paper, using a Field Notes Steno Book I had in my backpack. I liked the analog experience, so this time I planned for that in advance. I brought a Studio Neat Panobook notebook. I’ve had the Panobooks since the original Kickstarter, but I haven’t used them much because they seem too nice for just day to day use. The personal retreat seemed like an excellent opportunity to put them to work on something ‘special.’

I headed out to the cabin mid-afternoon on Thursday. After a stop at a local grocery store for some supplies, I enjoyed a nice dinner. I finished rereading The 12 Week Year while waiting out some rain showers then took a nice walk at sunset.

The Retreat

After breakfast and an early morning walk, I got started on the retreat.

Core Values

The first exercise is to define your core values. Rather than starting by reviewing what I’d written at my first retreat, I decided to go through the exercise from scratch. I thought it would be interesting to see how consistent my responses were. After all, core values should represent things that don’t change radically every few months.

Mike’s course has a great list of questions to help prompt you to think about what you value. After going through these, I opened up my notes from last time and compared them. They weren’t exactly the same, but I covered a lot of the same ground. I ended up keeping the same set of core values, but I refined the wording a slightly, merging two of the values together.

This time, rather than walking up and down the hallway of the hotel between exercises, I was able to get out and spend a bit of time enjoying the park by taking a short walk (I saw a trio of wild turkeys).

Where Are You Right Now?

The next exercise has you list out all of your commitments and rating your satisfaction with different aspects of your life. I found my responses were fairly similar to last time. The numeric values differed (it seems like I had been more willing to assign extreme ratings back in January) but the areas that had been highest continued to be highest, and the ones that had been lowest continued to be lowest.

Designing the life you want to live

Next up was an exercise involving thinking about your life five years from now. The Personal Retreat Handbook has a nice list of prompts to help you think about what you want your life to be like in the future. This is one exercise I really dove into at the previous personal retreat; I did the same this time.

The course asks you to write about a typical day in the life. Last time I did this I ended up with a tremendously overstuffed day to fit in everything I wanted to write about. Since being insanely busy is not one of my ambitions, I decided to do a week in the life this time. That allowed me to fit more of what I’d like my life to be like at a much more realistic and relaxing pace.

The Retrospective - Major Accomplishments

After another break, I came back for the first part of the retrospective, listing your major accomplishments. I’d been making an effort to track my accomplishments better over the past 12 weeks, so this went a lot more smoothly than it did the first time. I was able to fill an entire page in the Panobook in fairly short order. Even before this exercise I felt like I’d had a productive quarter, but seeing everything listed out definitely drove home how much I’d gotten done. It was a very heartening experience.

The Retrospective - What you’re going to change

After lunch, I did the second half of the retrospective exercise, looking at what went well and what could have gone better during the previous quarter. While there were a lot of things I feel I did well, there were also quite a few areas for improvement.

Setting Your Goals

Finally, where the rubber meets the road. This time I set three goals, rather than the two that I set at my first retreat: one health-related, one around learning a new skill, and one around improving my task management. The skill goal, in particular, is also more ambitious than my previous goals.

One area where I part ways a bit with Mike is his suggestion that you concentrate your goals on the areas you rated lowest back in the “Where are you right now” exercise. The health and learning goals are actually in two of the areas I rated most highly. They’re highly rated because both areas are very important to me, so even though I’m doing well in them, I felt like I’d get a lot out of pushing them even further.

Rereading The 12 Week Year helped clarify the difference between goals (what you’re trying to accomplish) and tactics (how you’ll go about achieving that goal). These were somewhat muddled together in my first round of goals. This time they’re more clearly defined.

The other thing that rereading the book led me to change was to take a more quantitative approach to some of these tactics. I established leading indicators for all the goals (essentially how much of the time I’m performing the tactics compared to how often I said I would). Two of the goals have lagging indicators as well (real world numbers that the tactics should move the needle on).

One important aspect this time around was assessing my existing commitments for the quarter. I’ll be traveling for two full weeks, plus a few additional weekends. Recognizing this lead to some weasel wording in my tactics and indicators saying I’ll do them “when I’m not traveling.”

Executing the Plan

After a break, I picked up with the last exercise of the day. The main activity in this exercise is to create your “ideal week.” Last time around I dove into this, spending a lot of time creating a color-coded numbers spreadsheet laying out my ideal week. The spreadsheet was still mostly good to go, so this time I just tweaked it to accommodate some stuff related to my new goals.


With that, I finished my second personal retreat. I took another walk and made dinner (boneless buffalo wings, which is turning into a tradition on these personal retreats). Then played some Stardew Valley and binge-watched The Tick.

The next morning I enjoyed the state park a bit more, then packed up and headed home.


I feel good about my second personal retreat. It wasn’t quite as revelatory as the first one, but that’s really an experience you can only have once. I got more out of the retrospective this time around (and I think I’ll get even more out of it next time, with more ambitious goals and better-defined tactics). The goals this time around are much more ambitious. I’ll need those well-defined tactics to help achieve them. Come July, we’ll see how I did.