how to plan your year-end retreat

parlato design studio year-end retreat

whether you’re a small business owner or part of an in-house team, taking time at the end of the year to step back and reflect is an important part of maintaining healthy progress. i plan one every year, and i always surprised by what comes out of it.

i planned my first retreat somewhat by accident: i had a good amount of downtime in my first year of business, and i’d been trying to find an excuse to visit this boutique hotel i found in desert hot springs, hope springs resort. to me, it was the perfect picture of relaxation, and once i got there i found out i was right!

that first year i was mostly looking forward and taking a break, but as i built my business up, the next year i actually had some news to report. in the year that followed, i’d taken the initiative to branch out in a few directions, so listing new adventures and possibilities was kind of mind-blowing. this year topped that one by far, so i’m really excited to write it all out and look at everything on paper.

if you’re part of a group, taking time together outside the office in a neutral space is a great way to connect with the people you work with on a different level. allow everyone to contribute, compliment each person’s great moments of the year, ask them what inspires them, what would they do if they could make the rules? your co-workers and employees know their jobs best, and sometimes their unique perspective can inform a direction you wouldn’t have thought of without input.

how to plan your retreat:

first, stop waiting for some “free time” to open up. pick the least likely busy time months in advance, before any other conflicting events will allow you to change your mind. block it out and commit to it! even if you can’t spare more than 1 day, get away from your office or workplace so you can think clearly.

second, research your ideal setting. treat it like a vacation for your mind, a place with inspiring surroundings that also offer quiet for reflection. look for your favorite natural setting, maybe mountains, beaches, countrysides, or cool winter deserts landscapes with quaint small town B&B’s within driving distance? these are the places you’re looking for. you can actually do this step first, and eliminate the time between making the commitment and booking the reservation, so you’re locked in before you have a chance to second-guess.

third, book it! make apologies for your absence by beaming “i’m sorry, I’ll be away for my annual year-end retreat!” feel good about your decision! in addition to your favorite travel accessories, add your favorite pens and a blank notebook, and when the big day rolls around, away you go!

if your business has a few employees or you’re part of a department, you can plan a group retreat as well. if you can’t get out of town, at least get out of the office! back when i worked at natpe, our department head, beth, planned a creative brainstorming day at the getty. we left the office, took the morning to look at art, change our mindset and get inspired, and then we picked a spot among the sculptures to get our brainstorming on.

how i structure my retreats:

i leave early so i can enjoy my wind-down day, which is what I do on day 1. unwind! on day 2, i get up and enjoy breakfast, followed by some light exercise to get the blood flowing, maybe a walk or a swim or some yoga.

to get started, i review last year’s notes and analyze how everything played out. then, i sit down with my notebook and bullet out every new thing i did in the past year that i hadn’t done before. i like to make note of compound progresses, things i built on from something i did previously. we often think we’re aware of everything we’ve done, but i am always surprised by how much more i remember in this process. i get all kinds of ideas for the future at this stage, and note them for brainstorming later.

i buffer my reflection on the past with a break of physical activity or even a night’s sleep before i work on the future, giving my brain time to digest everything. when i’m ready, i look at my list of accomplishments and think of ways to build on them. free-association, daydreaming and hair-brained scheming comes in handy here! this is where letting curiosity and wonderment can help you strive for that next level you would normally think impossible or out-of-reach. once i’m done, i like to break these into easy actions, goals to strive for, and big ideas i can contribute to in the long term.

all of this helps me get my priorities in order and approach the new year with confidence. when i get home, i can tackle those easy actions, and i’m energized to break out the baby steps toward my new goals. with all of that organized, the long range plans get their periodic attention too. how about you, anyone planning a year-end retreat for 2010?

5 thoughts on “how to plan your year-end retreat

  1. We’re taking an unprecedented two week family vacation at the end of December. Because we have the luxury of so much time, we’ve decided that in addition to the family stuff that we do together, we’re also going to grant each other solo days: one takes the preschooler and the other can go do anything they choose. I don’t know how much 2011 planning will be done, but there will certainly be plenty of time to reflect on 2010 and, for the first time in a long time, truly relax.


  2. Just popped over here from LJ, which I hadn’t looked at in eons, and wanted to say how great I thought this post was. Every year my guy and I do a year-end evaluation of our personal goals and achievements, but a professional one is so important — especially when you don’t have the corporate review structure helping you out. (Nothing like an excuse to go on a nice little trip, too…)


    1. that’s why i keep updating over there, you never know who might drop in. i can barely see through all the work i have this week, but when i get a spare minute, i spend it can’t-waiting for my retreat. it’s gonna be fun!


  3. The graphic illustration is brilliant and really captures your message. And so true that you can’t sit back and wait for that free time to open up.


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