The annual planning retreat deconstructed: Beautiful, painful, and absolutely necessary

By the time you read this, I will be back online, in the so-called “normal” world. This was written from a quieter space, one that I hope you’ll consider gifting yourself in the coming year in some way:

All solo small businesses and practices can benefit from taking a little time each year—measured in days, not hours—to quiet down, disconnect, and get clear.  For a big chunk of December and January of every year, if someone were looking for me, they could usually find me in one of these places:

Curled up in a big armchair at our local indy coffee shop with my notebook, working on the new book I’m writing. Stocking feet tucked under me. Absently sipping a tall Americano.

Putting Gordon’s coat on (and mine) for a mind-loosening walk through prehistoric rocks at South Valley Park, which we hope will be sunny and dry and coyote-free.

In my home office, clearing, cleaning, and polishing nearly every horizontal surface and rehoming every errant post-it note, paper clip, doodad, memento, reminder, handwritten list, manila folder, take out menu, bookmark, everything. Clutter has repeatedly been proven to take a toll on our minds and our productivity, and I confess to being a clutterer in recovery (there, I said it). So at this time of year, everything goes where it belongs, and I recommit to keeping it that way.

At the kitchen table, sifting through the evidence of my work from the previous year with my journal at the ready, in order to capture what my heart says about it all. Did I enjoy doing this/that? Did it make a difference? (For whom?) What made me absolutely insane and stressed? What kind of work relaxed me into a state of flow? What do I want to create more of and less of in the world?
At my desk with my laptop, I turn my many notes into something wonderful. I sweep most of my jots, scribbles, and Evernote notes into an annual MS Word document I call simply, “Great Ideas.” I speed-type all the insights and light bulb moments and a-ha ideas and ‘never agains’ into it, then I start to shape it into sections/chapters, organizing it into idea clusters with big bold orange headings like:

Articles I’ll Write
Better Ways to Help Each Other
New Book Ideas
Wouldn’t It Be Awesome to Learn How To…
Making Social Media Painless
I’d Love to Work With…
Let’s Never Do This Again

… And so forth. It’s a way to revisit my best ideas in a tactile way, and capture them all in one place. I insert page breaks. I give it all page numbering and nice formatting. And when I’m done, I have a book of my year that’s a sort of navigational map I can consult any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, untethered, or unsure where to go next.

Sofa-bound, with my laptop on my stomach, going through my Google and paper calendars for the coming year to block out no-shit, non-negotiable appointments with myself for:

  • Writing
  • Moving my body (the artist formerly known as “exercise”)
  • Active gratitude
  • Getting to zero inbox and zero desktop regularly
  • Self-care
  • Connection with the people I care about (er, that’s You)

(Starting with an empty calendar, these blocks go in first. All other commitments that I make must flow around those things, and not the other way around.)

Sitting next to the woodstove, staring into the fire, and thinking about my Future Self. Would she be pleased with what I’ve accomplished this year? What advice would she give? What would she want me to do more of/less of in the months ahead?

So.

That’s what I do for nearly two weeks out of the year, for about 75% of my waking hours. Here’s what I’m not doing:

Compulsively checking social media
Compulsively checking email
Listening intently for the squawkbuzz of my mobile phone (Oooh! Somebody needs me! 🙂
Doing anything on my mobile phone except checking my grocery list or texting good jokes to my husband
Hanging around with any person who stresses me, even if I care about them
Making a list of radical, grandiose new year’s resolutions
Tracking political developments, celebrity gossip, mainstream news outlets, partisan talking heads, or reality TV
Wearing business attire
Multitasking

For the first few years of taking this time away at year’s end, I was wracked by guilt at leaving everyone in my working life uncared-for and abandoned. As if I were Mighty Mouse, streaking across the internet singing, “Heeeeere I come to save the dayyyyyy…” When I saw that people got along perfectly well without me, things got easier.

And a treasured, nourishing ritual was born.

When I return to my regular daily routines, I have a peaceful, joyful clarity that sets the tone for the entire year.

What about you?

Do you have a way to clear space for processing and digesting all that life throws at you, or does it move so fast that it just keeps streaming along, carrying you with it?

Are you able to find—or create—an island of sanity? A place where you can truly sink into planning what you want to do with the remaining days and hours of your life?

It is would help, feel free to borrow, copy, or steal from mine. I know I’d be lost without it.

And if you’d like any new ideas, let’s definitely talk. I think you’ll enjoy tossing around possibilities.


About Me

I’m Margaret Rode, and I’m a coach/consultant and online marketing sherpa for people who choose to work for themselves (in whole or in part) and who want to be profitable from a place of authenticity, thoughtful action, and compassion. I offer quick solve-it sessions, coaching series that gently untangle an intractable set of habits, and counsel/help for painlessly making the most of your website, social media, and other tech tools. Contact me for a free, fun, no-icky-sales-pitch conversation to talk through where you are and where you’d like to be.

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