What I Learned from a Three Day Productivity Retreat

I recently took a three day productivity retreat — I noticed that I was falling behind on projects, freelance work, and my own writing and that I simply couldn’t catch up.

So I drove out to Chattanooga TN for a three day weekend of pure, adulterated productivity.

A lot of my writing friends have done this and they have wound up flittering their time away — wasted it on mundane, unimportant tasks.

So I developed a strategy that wouldn’t necessarily grant me immunity from those nagging to-dos, but instead use them to fuel my need to get a massive amount of writing done.

If you are going to embark on a three day productivity retreat, you might not have an entire three days to dedicate to it. You have kids, a significant other, or you raise bees perhaps. But I would suggest boiling this down into 4 hour dedicated hours a day for three days. It still can apply.

Before you start this journey, you will want to prepare. You are either going to do this off site at an Airbnb, a hotel room or your cousin Larry’s who is gone for the weekend. You have his spare key.

If you can’t get away and do it from home, I might suggest spending this entire time in your office, basement, or haunted attic.

You will also need to have on hand some important items:

-A list of all the work you want to get done. Go deep on this list (but don’t be discouraged if you don’t write a 300 page novel during this time.)

-A wall calendar.

-All the books you’ll need to reference.

-Pens, paper, Sharpies.

-Snacks (avoid carbs at all cost.)

-Plenty of water and access to coffee.

-A couple of chargers for your computer. (You know what it’s like to forget the charger for your computer? It’s runs chills down Stephen King’s spine. Have a spare.)


Day One:

Today you are getting all the tasks that are small and tiny, the ones that bug you. The things you never get around to, but they are in the back of your head saying, “HEY HEY HEY HEY HEY!”:

Making a doctor’s appointment.

Making a dentist’s appointment.

Paying your bills.

Paying your taxes (or at least prepping them.)

Answering those seven emails you haven’t answered.

Writing out thank you cards you’ve put off.

Organize your desktop and throw out all those dumb pictures you keep around.

Organize your smartphone apps.

If you are at home on this retreat: clean out your closets, organize your drawers, clean out your junk drawer, dust and clean off you bookshelves, donate old clothes to charity.

Basically you are actively doing what you would procrastinate on. Don’t get into Netflix or Hulu, but just keep in motion doing those micro-terrible tasks that you’ve been avoiding. Want to finally clean the washing machine — GO FOR IT.

You want to get all the tedium out of the way — all of it. Vacuum away my friends. You do this so that you build up this nervous energy to get to work tomorrow. You are flipping the script on procrastinating. You are embracing these tasks you would normally run to. And even if you are sick of doing one of them, jump to something else that’s also annoying (organizing your sock drawer?) and get it done.

Day Two

This is game time. This is where you batch what you want to work on. Either you are coding, writing, painting or whatever all day. All day. Get up early, fire up the coffee and get those fingers moving.

You are working on your big project. You have a checklist of all the stuff you want to get done. Get to it. When you complete something, check it off with a flourish and a barbaric yawp.

You want to work in 50/10 minute cycles. 50 minutes of work. 10 minutes off. That ten minutes off could be standing and stretching, taking a little walk, but it can’t at all resemble what you are working on. Your brain literally needs to experience something different. If you are writing on a computer, don’t switch to an article or a game — your brain has to know that you are taking a break.

For meals: eat something simple, healthy and not heavy. You don’t want to go into nap mode on this quest. Stick to proteins.

Snack often: have nuts or beef jerky nearby. Drink plenty of water. This is a marathon — not a sprint.

Keep going. Get another page, another canvas, another song completed. Perfection is the enemy of done. Get it done.

Day Three

Big picture. Plan one week, one month, one year out around these areas: travel, financial, family, friendships, career, fitness. What do you want to have accomplished in these next months. Make some outrageous goals because this is the time you dream. Maybe you want to get out of credit card debt by a certain date. Maybe you want to have a collection of poetry ready for publication by May. Whatever it is, get it down on a calendar.Once you do make those goals into a list:

Poetry Book Completed and Ready for Publication — May 15.

Completely Out of Credit Card Debt — July 15.

Two Poetry Conferences Attended — September 1st.

You want to have a list that is visible and reviewed so you can keep working on those goals. You don’t want it filed away and when another year rolls by it has collected dust (digital or analog dust.)

When you’re done with the retreat, review the list of all the things you’ve accomplished, from the small to the big. There may be a nagging sense that you haven’t gotten it all finished, that you still have a ways to go and that’s fine. Before we start a long journey we get our lives in order, plan and determine the road that is before us.

You can check out my blog where I write much more about this topic, being productive and being a bit ADHD at here.