A Personal Retreat Day for Life Assessment and Planning

This is my second post in an Organizing Ideas series. My first post is Using Evernote to manage Ideas.

I feel this post would be better presented in a video chat where I could draw on a white board to illustrate.

I've tried to do my best with screen shots from Evernote. This flow chart is to help explain and recap my last post and introduce the purpose of my Personal Retreat Day.

This post is about that orange box in the lower right.

A "personal retreat day" could conjure up a lot of ideas: yoga, massage, meditation, writing, prayer, contemplation. None of those are what I do on my Personal Retreat Day (PRD). The purpose of my PRD is to manage, organize and evaluate ideas.

My Personal Retreat Day has three main purposes:

  1. Do a Life Assessment and make a Personal Life Plan (the focus of the day)
  2. Deal with my To Sort Notebook
  3. Cull other Notes and Notebooks, if time

I have a ton of ideas and things I want to-do. Personal Retreat Day is when I evaluate those and try to figure out what's realistic for this season.

Getting out of the house

Before I get into the nitty gritty process of managing, organizing and evaluating ideas, let's talk about creating the space, routines and atmosphere for the day.

The retreat starts when I leave the house. As a homeschool mom of three teenagers, who is used to 24/7 parenting, it still pleasantly surprises me how well my family can function without me. School, chores, making lunch, etc. My crew can do all this without me. Not every day mind you, but occasionally, no problem.

My intention is to be gone all day and I'm usually out of the house from 10am till 5pm or something like that. I will pack snacks and water but I treat myself to lunch and afternoon tea.

I walk, bike or take transit to get where I'm going. I pack my backpack with my computer, charge-cord (don't forget that!), phone, food, etc. I generally don't bring a book or knitting or anything like that. I leave the car at home and set out on my own two feet. I don't want to think about driving, parking or details like that.

I go to cafes and libraries. Usually one place in the morning, and a different venue in the afternoon. The physical activity of getting somewhere in the morning, even if it's a five minute walk to our local library, and the mid-day break with a walk to a nearby cafe are perfect activities to help clear my mind and keep me fresh for the brain-intense work ahead of the day.

The value of a set aside time

Having a day set aside for Ideas and planning brings me peace of mind. I compare it to our once a week cleaning routine.

The kids clean the house once a week, sometimes they miss a week because of other plans, but 3 out of 4 weeks it's a given the house will be cleaned on Sunday afternoon. We sweep and tidy things throughout the week but as I look around the house and see the grime starting to build and the dust bunnies gathering just knowing that cleaning will happen on a schedule gives me peace of mind. I don't have to clean "right this moment", hijacking other plans, because I'm anxious with the question, "when will this ever be done?"

It's the same thing with my Personal Retreat Day. As I mentioned in my first post I am a write it down person. I'm generating ideas all the time. Some of these ideas need time to ruminate to see if they are things I still value, care about, want to pursue. Some are "bucket list" material. Some of these ideas need further reflection. Some of these ideas will require action in the coming year.

Taking a PRD to look at all those ideas, evaluate them and add them to my life plan, or not, brings me the same peace of mind as knowing I have a time in the week set aside for cleaning. I don't have to fret in the moment about how to plan for all the things I hope to accomplish and Ideas I need to sort through. I have a day set aside to do that.

And then in between those days I do the work, I work the plan I set out for myself on my Personal Retreat Day.

So, let's review the main purposes of the day:

  1. Do a Life Assessment and make a Personal Life Plan (the focus of the day)
  2. Deal with my To Sort Notebook
  3. Cull Notes and Notebooks, if time

Doing a Life Assessment

Last year I was encouraged (tasked) by my husband to "find myself". Those were the exact words spoken. Of course, he said this lovingly. I say of course because Damien speaks with honesty and kindness. And he backed up those words by giving me time and space in our relationship to re-connect with myself. This was all part of Project Home and Healing.

Out of this intention, I defined eight compass points for my life:

  1. creative
  2. intellectual
  3. work
  4. body
  5. spirit
  6. relationships
  7. home
  8. adventure/travel

I've seen similar ideas in other places. This is where a fancy pie-chart graphic would be lovely. I don't have one. I have a list.

In case you're curious, homeschooling fits under my work category. And homeschooling has its own planning sessions, apart from Personal Retreat Days. But work also includes the vocation I hope to grow (and discover) and income-earning projects I'm doing, which are not big enough at this point to warrant their own day-long planning sessions.

Sixteen months ago, in January 2015, I wrote my first six month life plan, I called it my Personal Life Plan, using those eight compass points.

It's not that I didn't plan before that. I've always been a planner but I've never done it this way before, with attention to each area of my life. These areas of my life have always existed but naming them and planning for them individually within the context of the whole was new.

I made those first plans from a big jumble of ideas I had been carrying around inside me and written in mostly unorganized Notes and lists in Evernote.

Last summer I had my first Personal Retreat Day and I started a one, three, five and ten year plan. At that time I also evaluated my six month Life Plan from January of that year.

I called this evaluation of my current Life Plan a Life Assessment; look back at what you wanted to accomplish, assess your progress in those goals, look forward to what you want to do next.

The day was such a success I decided to make it a regular occurrence. And my regular Personal Retreat Days were born.

I only make a six month plan twice a year, winter and summer. On the Personal Retreat Days in-between I assess my progress on the current six month Life Plan, honestly evaluate the do-ability of the original plan and remove things that just aren't going to happen. I also work on other areas of personal growth and development. E.g., I'm currently re-writing my mission statement according to my eight compass points, I'm making a list of my life accomplishments, writing my personal manifesto, etc.

This is part of what my six month Personal Life Plan from January 2015 looks like.

You'll notice it's simple. It doesn't include everything I do. It doesn't need to. My six month Life Plan only needs to highlight mindsets I'm working on developing or activities and ideas beyond the usual routine of my life: new things I want to try, books that are a priority to read, appointments I need to make, habits I'm working on.

You'll also notice everything is checked! That's because this is a screen shot of my list from the end of the six month period, at the assessment last summer. I checked off what I completed and moved the undone things to the end of the list. Some of these undone things were transferred to the next six month plan, others were scrapped all together.

Dealing with my To Sort Notebook

The first time I made a six month Life Plan I had a big jumble of ideas I needed to sort through. I no longer have a big jumble or a long list, I have a To Sort Notebook in Evernote. My last post explained how those Notes were generated.

Remember what I said about keeping some Notes in the To Sort Notebook?

If a Note requires a non-immediate action on my part, something I want to try or should follow-up on in the short term or long term, I leave it in To Sort.

I compare this process to a "brain-dump" or "brain-drain", whatever you want to call it. Some people will regularly make a mind map, a long list, a page with a bunch of notes of all the Ideas going on in their heads. And then they process those Ideas. Schedule some, scrap others, file some for later. That approach keeps the Ideas in your head until you "let it all out", hence the words drain or dump.

I prefer to get the Ideas out of my head in a fairly steady stream. I find the mental energy of carrying all those Ideas is tiresome. Which is the point of writing Notes and keeping them in my To Sort Notebook.

On my Personal Retreat Day I go through through the Notes in the To Sort Notebook.

Some of those Ideas will be added to the current six month plan, others will be put into the one or three year plan, sometimes with a question mark, planning specifics that far out is kind of iffy. All of the Notes get dealt with in one way or another, the information or idea gets moved to where it belongs, which is sometimes the trash.

To recap my Personal Retreat Day:

  • I evaluate where I'm at in eight compass points. I will either draft my six month Life Plan or I assess my progress on the current six month Life Plan.
  • I think about my future in those eight compass points and consider possible ideas for the next year, three, five and ten years.
  • I sort all the unsorted Notes in Evernote. I clear out the clutter and I will add any relevant Ideas to my current plans.

Updating my Bullet Journal

Currently, I don't spend a lot of time with my Bullet Journal on a PRD.

My Bullet Journal is where I manage the details of my week and month, it functions as my to-do list. (As well as spiritual field notes and seasonal inspiration, but I'll explain that in my next post.)

On a PRD I will add action items to the monthly calendar or weekly planner in my Bullet Journal, based on my six month plan.

The best way to explain this is with an illustration.

One of the items on my current six month Life Plan is to sew large throw pillows for our living room and our beds using the fabric I cut off the bottom of all our curtains when I hemmed them last fall. They were long curtains, there is enough fabric left for making pillow covers.

Here is my Home compass from last fall's six month Life Plan:

You'll notice I said last fall. You see how sewing pillows is not checked off the list? That's because I didn't get it done, notice October: make pillows, winter project is italicized. That means that line item got transferred into the next six month list. As did every other italicized item. If something doesn't get done and doesn't get transferred I strike a line through the item, like this:

This is a change from moving all the undone ideas to the bottom of the list, as I was doing previously.

Sewing curtain pillows (shorthand for pillows made out of the bottom of our curtains) is on my current six month Life Plan. But it requires certain action steps:

  • Measure fabric
  • Buy large pillow forms, to fit the amount of fabric I have, at IKEA
  • Buy zippers
  • Find a tutorial online for making pillow covers with zippers (I have a vague idea but I'd like some visual aids to assist me)
  • Sew covers (this will happen over several sewing sessions since I don't sew in large blocks of time)

"Make curtain pillows" requires a lot of action steps, earmarking funds for the project, and coordinating my shopping list so I'm making one seasonal trip to IKEA. (I have an IKEA shopping list Note for that purpose.)

All of these steps are what go into my Bullet Journal, though not quite so detailed. My Bullet Journal is where I make the lists of what must be done in order to complete a goal or Idea in the six month Personal Life Plan that I create on my Personal Retreat Days.

Follow that?

Personal Retreat Day → Making six month Personal Life Plan → which informs the tasks and to-do's that get written in my Bullet Journal on a monthly and weekly basis

In-between the Personal Retreat Days

All the planning in the world is no good if it isn't put into action. On the other hand, a Personal Retreat Day is not about generating a big list of overly optimistic to-do's.

My goal is not to increase my productivity, so I can "get more done". Cringe.

My goal is to live with intention, to take time to evaluate and assess. To craft a vision for my days and my life from a place of reflection, not reaction.

In the periods between my Personal Retreat Days I refer to my plans once every couple weeks. Just a brief look to remind myself what I had prioritized for this season. I don't need to refer to all the plans, all the ideas, all the Notes (that's the purpose of the PRD). I only need to check the six month Life Plan to see how I'm doing and to add items to my weekly to-do list as required.

As I described above, items on the Personal Life Plan that require action steps, which take time and must be scheduled somewhere in my week, go into my Bullet Journal.

Some items on the Personal Life Plan require slow and steady progress and are just a part of my weekly routine, e.g., recording all the expenses from last year in our accounting software for our 2015 taxes. Others require an appointment, a book from the library, an Amazon order, time with my sewing machine. I just need to check-in from time to time to remind myself of the priorities.

Can I change the priorities? Of course, it's my life! But I also need the gentle nudge of these lists to remind me to stay on track when I'm prone to wander and get distracted by bright shiny objects. The items on the six month Personal Life Plan arrived there via a thorough process. I don't want to abandon them willy-nilly.

I use my Personal Retreat Day as a personal growth and development day, with a current focus on creative, intellectual, and spiritual development. The Personal Life Plans that come out of my PRD encompass all areas of my life though I pay particular attention to home tasks that I need to schedule or take care of in the coming months.

You could use the strategies and format of a Personal Retreat Day for any type of personal development or personal management. You could use this model for homeschool planning, or maybe even for small business planning.

The next post in this series is about how I use a Bullet Journal for managing my weekly calendar and daily to-do's. And also how I love my Bullet Journal as a place for spiritual growth field notes, creative inspiration, and keeper of other good Ideas.

« Using Evernote to manage ideas
A change in energy »
  • Krista

    Krista on April 13, 2016, 3:14 p.m.

    I had to skim read this morning but eat this stuff up, Renée. Love it. Love your detailed explanations and while board flow chart:) This work is soooo important and, as you know, I do cover it (this general idea of Life Visioning) in week one of my Mind-Body Reboot because I feel it is essential to living with greater purpose, health and joy. Also, I have the most amazing friends and I love how your brain works - and how you are knit together. So beautiful and inspiring.


  • Stella

    Stella on April 14, 2016, 5:56 p.m.

    I really love this blog series Renee, thank you so much for sharing. I will be spending a lot of time thinking about this because I really need to make some changes in how I spend my days. You're an inspiration! 


  • Jennifer Knowing The Light

    Jennifer Knowing The Light on April 15, 2016, 9:07 a.m.

    Love this Renee

    Just trying to think what my compass points are, where I am heading with my life. I am currently in a no-plan part of life having been over planned for too long

    Trying to respond to things as they come in, in terms of life goals. Day to day is tightly managed.

    I think I'm enjoying bimbling for the time being, but this may change!


  • Alexandra

    Alexandra on April 15, 2016, 2:28 p.m.

    Thank you so much for writing about this in more detail. I have been curious about your retreat day since seeing your posts on Instagram. I will be saving this to use as a basis for my own retreat day. Thanks again! 


  • Wanda

    Wanda on April 18, 2016, 1:08 p.m.

    Hi Renee,

    I love this reminder that even if you have ideas you still need to sort them!  Your blog content is so helpful.  I also appreciate your photos-  the orange leg warmers are fantastic and I wish I could wear things like that. 


    • renee

      renee on April 18, 2016, 1:13 p.m.


      Thank you. Sometimes I feel a post like this has too many details and is probably overwhelming for some people. But I think and operate in the world of details. I'm glad it's useful or helpful to someone else. 


  • Melissa R

    Melissa R on April 19, 2016, 9:40 a.m.

    Renee, I am always interested in reading about your paths in self discovery.  I have zero of this in my life.  I am not ignoring it, I just feel no need of it.  I am content, rich in life experiences, family, home, etc.  I just don't feel the need to spend energy on looking at myself and my life under a microscope.  BUT, my mom does, and always has.  So, it's very good to grasp some understanding of what she is trying to accomplish in her own invesitgating.  Thanks!


    • renee

      renee on April 19, 2016, 11:50 a.m.

      Melissa R, this is fascinating to me, that you don't examine your life in this way. I can't imagine not.

      However I wasn't always this way, I don't remember being so introspective at age 25 for example, and your comment has me wondering what life events and relationships moved me in this direction.

      I think marriage has definitely contributed to it and the fact that my life has taken me in a direction I never imagined.

      Damien is an idea person, very intentional and he likes big vision for his life, he likes to get lost, "go deep" in projects. He also wants me to be his companion in a lot of his experiences. (He doesn't do any of the introspective planning stuff I talk about in this post.)

      I feel in some ways if I don't understand myself deeply and establish my own life goals, which of course are closely tied to him, I will "lose" who I am in Damien's large visions and life plans. And we found out, that doesn't work very well. 

      Also, our life path has been rather unconventional even though I'm a traditional, system and structure loving person. I think I've had a great life, so many experiences I would never had known if I kept to the path I thought I'd walk as a young person. But I've had to do a lot of soul searching and self-knowing in this process to make sense of who I am in the context of the life we live and our marriage relationship.

      Just some thoughts... 


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