Ep #80: Plan Your Own Working Retreat

by | Podcast

Do you ever feel like it’s just too difficult in the throes of your day-to-day to get the really exciting creative projects done? You know, the ones you have been dreaming about creating for… well, maybe years?

Whether it's writing a book or actually stepping into thought leadership in the way you dream of or sharing your story in a much bigger way and being of service to others, whatever that big thing is that you can’t seem to find the time for… it’s meant to happen! That’s why you keep dreaming it up.

It can be hard in the regular day to day of life to create the time and space to really tap the creative energy that allows you to do justice to a big project. I know that for a lot of my clients, this is a real struggle – it has been for me, too – and it might be something you struggle with too.

There really is nothing like making time and space to finally dive into that big creative project you keep putting off, writing that book or just listening in for what’s next in your work and life,

So in today’s episode, I'm sharing with you why I take 4-6 working retreats each year, exactly how I make time for them and how I plan for the most productive, richest experience possible. I hope this episode will inspire you to plan your own working retreat!

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • Hear what a working retreat is and why turning inward into your business is important
  • Discover how I manage to make time for 4 – 6 working retreats per year (plus why this is so vital to my business!)
  • What exactly I do during a working retreat (from arrival to close of the retreat – a play by play ?) 
  • Hear how I pick my working retreat location (and why it doesn’t have to cost a lot – and simple can be good!)
  • How to get your spouse or partner onboard with you taking a working retreat
  • How to plan a working retreat for yourself to complete your own big project

Listen to the Full Episode: 

Full Podcast Transcript: 

Welcome to The Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you're on a mission to make a difference in the world with your message, you are in the right place. I'm Michelle Barry Franco and I'm thrilled that you're here. Hello, hello. My Thought Leadership friends, I'm traveling again and I have the ultimate rig going on right now, so if you follow me on Instagram or on Facebook, I will absolutely have a picture of this posted in our highlights. I have the microphone inside of a toaster that is of course unplugged on top of this basket that holds like sugar and other things. In this, I'm staying in a suite and so there's this little kitchen and I'm tucked into a corner so that I can get this podcast done because I have a deadline and I owe this podcast to my amazing podcast team and so this is how we do it, right?

We do what it takes to get it done. So today I want to talk with you about doing what it takes to get big projects done. I want to talk with you about working retreats, and I'm going to say a little bit more about that in a minute, but first you know what's coming, right? Just a quick check in would love it and appreciate it. If this podcast is helpful to you, if you've enjoyed it, would you please head on over and give a rating and review on iTunes or Spotify, whatever listening app you love to use. It's just so helpful. Having this podcast rise up among all of the options out there, and I know that there are people out there right now who have a message they want to share, they want to change lives with their story and their expertise, and they're looking for tools and tips and strategies and inspiration and we have it here.

Thank you so much for spending a moment doing that. Today. I want to talk about working retreats for a number of reasons. The first is I just came back to my suite after my final round as the host for the Author Incubator Red Carpet, which has been a beautiful partnership that we've had for the last six months. I love working with the authors and one of the things that comes up often when the audience, so we have this live stream audience that asks questions of the authors that we share with them while they're on the red carpet. It's a fun part of the red carpet book launch process and so many of the questions come around to basically how did you get your book done? In fact, in the introduction for the red carpet events, we talk about how 90% of Americans say they want to write a book and yet only 3% actually deliver on that dream for.

And I think underneath all of that, whether it's writing a book or actually stepping into thought leadership and the way you dream of or sharing your story in a much bigger way and service of others, whatever that big thing is, it is hard in a regular day to day life to create the time and space and really tap the creative energy that allows you to do justice to that project. And I know this isn't true for everyone, by the way. So you might be the kind of person who just systematically can get things done each day. You know, there are people out there I hear who can, you know, write for a half an hour every day or even 10 or 15 minutes a day. And when they do that over time, they do it consistently every single day. And ultimately they have their book, their anthology, all their blog posts, whatever it is they're creating.

That is definitely not how I work. And I know that a lot of my clients, this is a real struggle fitting in the big projects. So it is the big projects. Yes. But it's also, you know, toward the end of the year, which is, it's middle of December. As I record this, this time of year, I know I turn inward around my business, around my life and I ask questions about just sort of how did it go this year and what are some of the things that I didn't get down that I actually do want to get done, but I fell off my radar. Of course I find other things that I thought I wanted to do that I decided not to do and that's perfectly fine, but it is kind of a wrapping up loose ends. Looking deeply at what the year has been like. I do this also periodically throughout the year.

Maybe you do too. Sometimes it's just spontaneous meaning it just kind of arises and I realize that I've been sort of doing a bunch of stuff that's easy, but not necessarily on my priority list. That's another time when I tend to turn in and just go, okay, what really matters to me right now, and when that happens, I usually discover that I'm having difficulty fitting in the bigger, more creative projects of my heart and soul. The ones that I know really need to rise up that I want to rise up the most, but they just need more spaciousness. That is when I plan a working retreat, I usually take probably four to six sometimes a little more working retreats a year depending on what I'm working on. When I wrote my book, I probably went on maybe three or four working retreats within an eight week period, so that is separate from the other working retreats I took throughout the year, but I did that because for me, I am a burster.

This is what Angela Lauria calls those of us. Angela Lauria by way is the CEO, founder of the Author Incubator, which is, I wrote my book through the Author Incubator and I love this concept and I think it really helped me frame the way I do big projects and these kinds of highly creative projects. Some of us are bursters and some of us are, I can't remember what the other term is, but we're more systematic so some people can just spend 10 minutes a day on something writing their book or crafting their talk or working on their story of transformation and then figuring out where they're going to share it. That doesn't work as well. For me, as just turning all my attention and focusing my energy and when I do that, I'm able to tap deeper places in me of things I want to say and ways that I want to create a project that I just can't seem to tap in my day to day life.

So that's why I created a working retreat. When I tell people that I take working retreats, I am shocked at how often I get questions like, wow, what do you do on a working retreat? Or how do you even do that? Or I wish I could do that. I'd wish I could figure out how to do that. It strikes me as kind of funny, honestly, and I think this is just because I've done them for so many years because for me, a working retreat, it's like if I had a headache, let's say, which I don't get very often, but if I have a headache, for me, the only thing there is to do when I have a headache is to go into my bedroom. If I can close all the drapes, make it as dark as possible, climb into my bed, put my face against my cool pillow case, and just rest in the darkness for a little while.

So that's what a working retreat feels like to me. It feels like I have a headache and so I need a solution to my headache and to just push through or try to work or pretend I don't have a headache, makes no sense to me. Now, of course, sometimes I can't go into my bedroom right then. Right? I might be in the middle of a client session or I have a deadline that I'm meeting and so yes, I need to wait a little bit, but I have my plan in place and I know what I'm going to do and that's really how working retreats work for me too. I noticed that I have a problem. I have this project, I'm not working on it. I know that I need more time and space, so I need to put the plan in place for the working retreat that I know will help me get where I want to go.

Get to what's next. So that's first of all, it's sort of this mindset. I think I am going to go on a working retreat. It's like the best solution in the world and I've tried all different kinds of them and I've done them all different ways. So one of the first questions I'm going to talk with you about how I plan these working retreats and then I'm going to tell you what I do on my working retreats cause these are the questions I get most often. My hope is that you'll be inspired to plan one for yourself and when I say working retreat, actually you can do any kind of retreat you want. It could just be a personal retreat and you could call it a creative retreat. Then what you decide to do for the content might shift, but you'll see that what I'm going to share with you, it doesn't really matter what the content is and really you're going to design it your runway.

Maybe just hearing mine will give you just enough of a picture that you can create your own. When I first started taking working retreats, it was probably in 2009 or something, maybe 2010 and in my early ones what I would do is I would house it so I had a couple of people, I think the first one happened kind of spontaneously. We were talking with a woman who went to our church I believe or was part of a some kind of a community group that we were involved in and she said she was going to be traveling out of the country and she needed someone to take care of her house and she had someone covering a certain portion of that time, but she needed three days covered or four days covered. I just had this thought and I knew she had this beautiful house in Sisters, Oregon, which is just about 20 or 30 minutes from our house.

When we lived in Bend, Oregon. I thought, Oh my gosh, wouldn't it be so amazing to spend some days inside that beautiful house getting some of this work done that I've been thinking about. I was working on a website. I was really working on new branding, which by the way, I was doing a lot of back then over and over again. Anyway, so I said to her, I'd love to take care of your house. It was kind of all spontaneous and so it worked out beautifully for her too. She had all these gorgeous plants that she needed taken care of, which brought me a great deal of anxiety at first because I don't take care of plants very well, but since I wasn't bringing my family with me, that was the only thing I needed to do. The plants were in good care, but I stayed there.

She had this gorgeous sunroom. I mean the whole house was beautiful, but she had this gorgeous sunroom where I set up my computer and it rained. I remember a couple of days and it put her pattern on the glass panes was just a really amazing experience and I got so much content created for my website, web copy. I remember I created a couple of videos from there. So that was really the beginning of my working retreat experience. Soon after that we had some good friends who also have a very cool house with a hot tub overlooking this beautiful view in Redmond, Oregon. So again, it was about 30 minutes away and our friends Manta and Dave were going out of town. They needed someone to take care of their cats and I remember offering to stay there. Having had such a great experience with the previous house sitting and their daughters, so beautiful.

Sequoia and Aurora left me little notes like there was a note with a treat on the dining room table. There was a note on my bed just telling me to have a lovely time in their home. It was just really sweet, but I got again, beautiful work done. In fact, at that retreat I knew that I wanted to move into the corporate space with some training, some presentation skills training, but I really couldn't figure out what I wanted it to look like and it was an absolute beautiful experience. I just mapped out all my offerings. I mapped out that whole website and that was really the start of the corporate arm of my business. So that was really fun and exciting. Since then, I've been on many, many working retreats. Some of them have been house trades and shares. I did one at the beach and Oregon and at Manzanita we did a house swap with our house in bend.

So there are a lot of ways to do this where you don't have to spend a lot of money in the more recent years just for simplicity's sake. Because we've been able to do it, I will just rent a place, I will find a space. For me, it's important that the space be beautiful and warm and inviting and I want it to be at least 45 minutes to an hour away from my house. I've done a few were actually traveled to it, but usually I connect those with a speaking gig or a workshop or conference that I'm going to and then I'll add on a couple of days. But if I just need a working retreat and I'm doing it from home, I found a few places that I've gone to multiple times about 45 minutes to an hour from my house. So it's far enough that I feel like I'm in a different place, really cozy, but there's something really cool about knowing where the grocery store is, knowing about the space and how I'm going to set myself up.

That has also been very cool. So as you decide to make working retreats a regular part of your life, then maybe you'll want to pick out one or two that you use for the comfort and ease of it. When I wrote Beyond Applause, my book Beyond Applause, Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking. When I wrote that book, I wrote almost all of it at this sweet house in Sebastopol, California. I would just contact the owner of the house, Molly, who is an absolute delight and just say, Hey, is your space available? She had this converted, I think it was a garage, but it was so beautifully converted. You can't tell what it was before, but this beautiful space that had a little kitchen at and everything, and she'd get it all ready for me and leave me alone. We'd say hi to each other in the beginning as I was coming in and unloading the car.

Sometimes we'd say goodbye, but otherwise I really just got to turn inward and turn toward my project. So there are a lot of ways that you can create this experience for yourself. Make it easy, make it beautiful, think about the things that matter most to you, and then make sure you have those there. I'll tell you about what I do the time while I'm in a working retreat, you may organize yours entirely differently. Really, I never planned this. It just has ended up to be essentially what happens. So here's how it goes. I decide I need a working retreat. I look at my calendar and I find a block of time that I can clear out or that I miraculously have available. That's within the timeframe that feels right to me. I'm not talking four or five, six months out. If I know I need a working retreat, I know that I probably need it relatively soon.

So I'm willing to move some things around. So I will go find really I want three full days. I definitely want two nights because I want one full day totally situated in the space. One of the advantages of having a place that you go to regularly, like I had in Sebastopol, is I can just write to Molly and say, Hey, is your place available on these dates? Is it alright if I arrived somewhere around 10 or 11 in the morning and then I'm going to leave between one and three on the third day and she knows I'm going to do that. I always offer to pay extra for the extra time. She's usually lovely about it. Iif it doesn't matter, sometimes she has someone coming in and she has to say, no, I have to get out earlier, but the nice thing about having a relationship is that she already understands that that's the way I create these retreats and does what she can to accommodate and it's just a beautiful experience all around having that ease in place.

But I've also done lots of these at hotels and you know, you'd be surprised how often they'll let you arrive early and they'll let you stay late if you just ask, and I ask all the time. So I can tell you it's very common that they say yes. Occasionally they have an extra fee for it, then you'll have to decide if you think it's worth it. Sometimes for me, I feel like it's worth it because I can get a bunch of extra work done. First of all, I find the time on my calendar, I block it off on my calendar. Of course I talk to Jim because we have a whole house to care for and children to care for and I make sure that he's okay with that timing. He's available to be at home with the girls that whole time. There isn't anything he's absolutely needing me for or we just might need to make extra arrangements to have someone else help with driving of the girls or whatever.

So that part's pretty easy. Again, he's used to this now and it does of course help to have a partner who's supportive of this kind of thing, but I've heard from clients over and over again that it never even occurred to them to plan this much less have the conversation with their partner, whoever they're sharing either business with, or home life or both. That conversation often went way easier than they expected. When they explain what this is about  what the outcome would they expect the outcome to be from taking this time. We block the time, make the arrangements at home. When the day comes, I pack myself up, I bring all the things I need. I really think that over because I don't want to have to go out and buy a bunch of stuff like headphones that I forgot or any number of things and I've certainly learned my lesson.

I don't know if you follow me on social media, you may know that I forgot my laptop and iPad on my most recent cross country business trip. So you don't want those kinds of things to happen.  I make a list. I make sure I plan, what do I really want to do and I'm on this retreat. I mean sometimes I'm bringing, if I'm driving to the location, like the big post it note paper so I can hang it on the wall. I bring color markers, I bring everything I think that I might want. I bring my podcasting equipment so that if I'm inspired and I have something I want to share on the podcast, I can do that. I even bring some backdrop stuff if I think that I'm going to want to shoot some videos. So it's good to just think about what kinds of things you want to do when you're on the retreats so that you can bring the right supplies.

So I will plan for and pack myself up. I of course bring lots and lots of books and I often don't read most of them but I have them for you know, reference or in case I'm inspired to pick one up. I almost always bring a big stack of books with me. I always bring coffee. I often bring my favorite coffee mug cause to me that is just pleasure, but I love drinking out of my favorite coffee mug and then I head to the retreat. I arrive, I unpack everything. I lay it all out. Now sometimes if I know where I'm going, I will actually go to the grocery store first so that when I arrive I know that I can just settle in. I love settling in. I'm definitely a nester so when I go to Sebastopol for example, I go to the Whole Foods which I know where it is and I buy things that I know I want to have for dinner.

I buy things that I know I'm going to want to have for breakfast, for snack the next day and often lunch too, although sometimes I end up going out anyway so I'm not required to leave for any kind of an errand for a long time. I unpack everything at the place I settled in, I lay out all my work and I've often brought a folder with all kinds of random things that I haven't had time to look at. I lay it all out. Usually on the bed and then I turn on a romantic comedy and I just play that romantic comedy in the background while I get myself organized and situated and prioritize things. It may not be a romantic comedy for you. Maybe you want to turn on great music, maybe you want to watch a different kind of movie or turn on a different kind of movie in the background.

Maybe you want to play a light podcast, but really what this initial phase is about, it's just arriving and I noticed that I just want to arrive with a levity and an ease for me having a romantic in the background, usually one that I've seen before, you know like You've Got Mail or The Proposal and my very favorite movies, so I'll play one of those. It's super familiar to me, but it just feels like a bit of delight as I enter into this new time and space and then eventually that movie ends and I'm usually kind of absorbed in my prioritizing anyway. It feels really good. This part of the process feels really good because I'm often looking at things that I haven't had time to just wrap my head around, you know, ideas that I've written down for podcast episodes, different blog post ideas, people I want to interview, client ideas that I've been meaning to share with them but haven't and I have all these like random slips of paper and everything, so it feels really good to just kind of see it all there.

I make a list if I feel like it, of all the things that I think I want to do, but absolutely for me a working retreat is not about grinding, it's not about hustle, it's definitely not about checking off a list. It's about giving myself the time and space to see what's most alive for me to see what most wants to and needs to be done in my work and in my life. That's one of the beautiful things about it, but this process where I look at all my stuff, it seems to just sort of set me up for letting it all go because that's really what it is. Then I can just go, okay, I know what's there. I feel like I've been holding all those things in cash. You know like on your computer when your computer's trying to keep all the screens up at once.

I feel like that's how my brain is working a lot in business and in my life as a mama and a business owner and a friend and a wife and you know all these roles that I play. So just having the chance to kind of look at those things honestly and then say, okay, I got those, I'm going to set them to the side. Then I'm able to really access the bigger questions and my own curiosity about these exciting projects. The book that I'm writing or the new iteration of an offering that I have, whatever it is that's showing up. This is really when I start the good work, I just dive in, something rises up and I start writing about it, or sometimes I go for a walk right away with my headset because for me talking is easier than writing. I'll put my headset on and my iPhone and record straight into my voice memo and I'll get the ideas down.

I come back, I immediately upload those thoughts and ideas to rev.com I'll put that in the show notes. That's a transcription service that's so they don't have to write everything down because for me that's a lot easier, so that's sort of like the first part of it. It's like this blossoming, okay, let's start this project and see what's there. What do I want to say? Sometimes a framework comes out at this phase, like when I was writing my book, the first thing I did was map out my outline and then had my outline to use as a guide. Right. I would go, okay, I'm on chapter two what's the story I'm going to tell in chapter two what do I want to share? Teach what strategies, what tools, what fun examples am I going to share in chapter two? But the first part would be mapping out that outline so that I could use that as a guide.

So again, it depends on what project do you want to work on, but the point is after that kind of prioritizing everything and looking at everything that I brought with me, there's this beginning and I let myself begin with whatever just feels most alive, whatever rises up. I'll do that for a number of hours and sometimes I'll work until very late in the night and I will say that on my best working retreats, I get myself up, I go outside and I at least go for a little walk at some point. I'll tell you though, sometimes I can get so absorbed in my inner project and feel, so it's like that flow state that the hours and hours will go by and I'll look up and it's 10:00 PM and 11:00 PM and I'll not be done. I don't have a lot of judgments about how many hours I work on a working retreat because those hours feel very creative and generative.

It's different than the kind of day to day am juggling or the frenzy of balancing work and home. So eventually I'd go to sleep that night and I usually read something really beautiful, something spiritual that one of the books that I love to bring with me on working retreats and also on many of my business trips is called the radiance sutras. 112 gateways to the yoga of wonder and delight. I'll put a link to this in the show notes. The writings in this book brings me back to my heart, bring me back to my center. So sometimes I'll read those right before I go to sleep. I often read it first thing in the morning. It just reminds me that all the work that I'm doing in the world, it starts and ends and is always swirling with my heart. Really my soul and my heart and this keeps me in that place.

You know, we're out there like doing big work in the world and changing other people's lives and making a difference with these messages. I think it's beautiful when we can just be brought back to this place in us where all of the desire to serve in this way is generated and the radiance sutras, it does that for me.  I wake up the next morning, usually quite early because I'm really excited to dive back in. I make some coffee, I stay inside the bed and work from the bad. Maybe pick up where I left off the day before. It's usually around this time early to late morning on the second day after the first night's sleep, when I really get into a rhythm while I was in flow the day before, there's kind of a new depth. This is when I really know why I'm on working because getting to that place, I've never been able to create it inside of my regular day to day life.

I love my life. I love being a mama to my three daughters. I love hanging out with my husband and my friends and I have a really good life, but this spaciousness is magical for tapping the depths of what I want to say and what I want to create in the world. When I give myself like an overnight and then into the next day I get to experience a new depth, that new level of creativity and playfulness and experimentation. So again, the rest of that day is really a lot of the rest of the day. I just keep doing the work, whatever's showing up the next layer of it, writing the next chapter and writing the next chapter. I definitely on this day at some point in the afternoon, usually go for a walk for sure, late morning, mid afternoon, but I also will usually go to a little downtown or something and walk around some shops, do something that is not the depths of my work.

I can tell it at this point around this point that I need some good fun, delight, just ease and levity again. So I'll walk around cute shops and look at things and sometimes I, you know, get little surprises for my daughters, but it really isn't goal-oriented at all. It's about being around another beautiful space and just enjoying the movement and the visual pleasures. I come back, dive back in. I've usually picked up dinner while I'm out, do some more work and now I'm getting down to tying things up, right? I've written the full chapters and now I'm kind of looking at him again and seeing if there's anything I want to add. So there's a little bit more of that kind of, I don't know, deeper brain power, focus, go to bed that night. So I've had a good rich day of amazing work and then wake up the next day and the next day.

So this is the third day, right? I've had two good nights, a big day of flow. Really a day and a half of flow cause it started the day before this next day. I know that I'm leaving in a number of hours, so I finish up whatever I was working on the night before and then it kind of look at everything again and I ask myself, is there anything here that I really feel like I want to have done while I'm on this retreat? So it could be that I have a couple of client emails that I wanted to send off or that I just wanted to map out a project that I'd been thinking about but haven't been able to picture really clearly. I might even get on the phone with my assistant, my project manager, my social media person, someone who I'm working on a project with and just kind of get some things in motion so that I can feel the momentum of this working retreats, moving back into my regular day to day work life.

Then I finished up the retreat. I cleaned up the place spotless and lovely so that there'll be happy to have me back. And then I take the long way home. I take the scenic route, I listened to music or again, something light and easy. I might listen to a fiction audiobook. Something just really delightful. Here's the thing about working retreats. When I take them and I think the reason they're such a delight and that I really look forward to them so much, I put very little pressure on myself around any outcome at all. I really trust because I've been on so many of them now that whatever rises up, if I give myself the right space, the right kind of atmosphere, the right feel, the stuff that's supposed to rise up well sometimes I'm surprised by it. Sometimes I work on entirely different stuff than I had planned.

All of it feels just exactly right. So I want this for you. I'm so surprised at how few people give themselves the time and space to see what is most wanting to come alive in them and really, you know, be created out in the world. And I think for me, this is where I've written stories in my book. I've never remembered those stories till I gave myself that space in time. This is when I've written some web copy. Oh my gosh. I remember being on one working retreat and writing web copy about my services and also my bio page and just being like, wow, did I write that? It came from parts of my book felt like that too, but I think that happened because for me, and if this is true for you, I want this for you. I gave myself the time and space to just let it flow and see what showed up.

So that's what a working retreat can give you. I hope you'll take one maybe here toward the end of the year as you wrap up and take a look at all the beautiful work you've done, look at what sort of tickling the back of your beautiful brain wanting to come to life, but maybe just not having the time and space to show itself fully yet. I want this for you because you know you know that this is the work of a Thought Leader. This is the work. When you know that you're meant to share your best ideas in service of others, we have to give those best ideas, the space to show up because you know what I know about you, right? You were absolutely made for this. You were made for this and I know that because you know that. So give yourself the time and space for those beautiful ideas to come forth and shine and change the lives that they're meant to change. I am over here cheering you on every single step of the way. I can't wait to see you here next week. Take good care. Thanks so much for being here with me on the Thought Leadership School Podcast. If you want specific and actionable guidance on how to become a recognized leader in your industry, you can download a free copy of my book Beyond Applause,  Make a Meaningful Difference Through Transformational Speaking at http://speakssoitmatters.com/freebook/  

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