Ready for a break? Take a long weekend retreat.

Labor Day Weekend provides a great opportunity to recharge yourself and do some serious thinking. Here are tips on how to get the most benefit from the time.

Rebecca Swiller / The Christian Science Monitor / File
A visitor enjoys the late summer seashore at Brighton Beach in New York in this file photo from Sept. 2003. Shutting off your cell phone, laptop, and pager frees you to focus on whatever you've decided to devote your retreat time to.

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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