Personal Retreat experiences


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.


Thanks @ChrisUpchurch for sharing your experience.

I think this thread is becoming a mastermind group :smiley: I’ve been learning a ton from all the comments so far!


FWIW I fully endorse this approach :slight_smile:

People are ultimately motivated by 2 things:

  1. Avoidance of pain
  2. Pursuit of pleasure

Generally, avoiding pain (staying alive!) is a stronger motivator which is why I suggest addressing the lowest areas first. But if nothing is causing you to say “ouch!” then shifting to something else that is highly important is the way to go :smile:


I know this is becoming a bit … but I really have to get around to doing this. Keyboard Maestro Field Guide launches next week. WWDC a few weeks later. I’m going to checule a retreat in June, after all that.

There. I’ve said it.


Happy dances all around for this group!!!

I underutilize KBM & cannot wait to dig. Same thing with BetterTouchTool. Thanks to you, Hazel grooves along!

Yes, please rest after - you deserve it!