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Dr. Sharp: Hey everyone. Welcome back to another episode of The Testing Psychologist podcast, the podcast, where we talk all about the business and practice of psychological and neuropsychological assessment. I’m your host, Dr. Jeremy Sharp, licensed psychologist, group practice owner, and private practice coach.

All right, y’all. Today is a solo business episode where I am going to be talking with you all about Designing and Implementing a Think Week as Bill Gates, many other CEOs, and high-performing individuals. 

A Think Week is basically the time that you step away from your daily life, whatever that looks like, and you take some time to regroup, reflect, vision, and plan for your business. I think that these Think Weeks or retreats as I’ve called them, have been completely integral to some of the most successful changes in my practice and my coaching, and the podcast. And I’d like to share some of those ideas with you today.

So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Hey y’all, welcome back. Like I said, we are talking all about the idea of a Think Week or a retreat as I’ve called them over the years. I want to dive right into it. And full disclosure, this is actually the second time that I’m recording this podcast. I recorded the whole thing. And then reflected back on it and thought, you know that wasn’t quite good enough. This topic is so important. And the practice of doing retreats each year has helped me so much that I wanted to go back and really nail this one. That’s what I’m doing.

As we dive into it, I want to give just a little historical context for why this is important. So, folks over the years, and when I say years, I mean, centuries have found that solitude and time to reflect is crucial for creativity, wellbeing, planning, and visioning. This is not a new concept necessarily, but it has gained popularity, I think, over the last 2 to 3 decades.

Bill Gates popularized the idea of a Think Week. It’s what he called it. I think he first spoke of it around 1995. Since then, I’ve read many accounts of authors, CEOs, and other high-performing individuals taking deliberate time off from their day-to-day work, family, responsibilities to sit with themselves, have a little time to regroup, and really think through some of the big questions that they may be dealing with in life. 

I didn’t know this at the time, but probably four years ago, I started this practice of doing twice yearly retreats where I would get out of town and use that time just to decompress. And again, just take time away from working in the business so that I could work on the business. So, you can frame your retreats however you’d like.

I’m going to be talking about them in the context of your business, but there are certainly personal impacts as well. The most obvious one is that when things are going well in my business, things typically go well in my personal life. Doing these retreats even though they’re business-focused, they always have the outcome of streamlining my schedule, optimizing the services in our practice or in my coaching business, or making things really just easier on the business side so that that flows through to the home environment as well. And just my well-being in general.

So again, just a little historical context. This is not a new concept, but it is something that I’ve seen many, many times as being beneficial and talked about as being very important for folks who are trying to do big things.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, oh, I’m just a solo practitioner or I don’t have big things on the horizon, or I’m not important enough to need to do this sort of thing, but I will immediately challenge that and encourage you to really, I think this is part of the transition, to stop thinking small. So, stop thinking like a one-person business or like a solo practitioner and really start to make that transition to a CEO mindset because whether we like it or not, or whether we conceptualize ourselves this way or not, we are business owners and that role is just as important, if not more important than our clinician role in our practices.

So this is not just for large group practice owners or having multiple streams of income or anything like that. This can be super useful just from the standpoint of dialing in your business, whether it’s just you or not. We always need time to reflect on what we’re doing and be deliberate about what we want to do moving forward. So with that, I’m going to dive in and walk you through exactly how I plan and design my retreats. I’m going to use those terms interchangeably, Think Week and retreat, but I typically call them retreats. I think Bill Gates uses the term, Think Week. So, that feels like I should give it some credit as well.

All right. Spoiler with the Think Week. There is a good bit of planning involved, but the planning and the details and nailing those right from the start so that you can enter your think week and hit the ground running are going to make or break your experience. So I’m going to talk a lot about the planning, exactly what I do, and then also talk about the execution of the Think Week and what actually happens when I’m out of town.

All right. So the first major thing is that you have to actually get these on your calendar. So I am going to push you to right at this moment if you’re in front of a computer, or you’ve got your calendar right there on your phone where you can do this, pause the podcast and look ahead on your schedule to the first time that you can legitimately take let’s shoot for three days off. So three full days off where you can get away from your business, preferably get out of town and have that time to yourself.

Now, I’m guessing some of you are going to say that’s not going to happen for years. And that’s really the challenge here is that you have to make time to do this kind of thing. So look ahead, find the first three open days or days where you could feasibly reschedule a couple of things, and try to find a three-day gap in your schedule. Immediately reserve that gap for your retreat.

Once you do that, I’m going to ask you to look six months ahead of that and book a five-day retreat. So for most of us, this is going to get us at least 8 to 12 months down the road for these two separate retreats. I don’t know many people these days who are booking 9 to 12 months out. So, just do it. So again, shoot for three days for the first one. If you can’t find three days, go for two. If you can’t do two, do one. But the important thing is just to book this time on your calendar and make sure that it’s reserved so that you can do that.

Now, that also for many of us means checking with a partner, checking our kids’ school schedules, other commitments, your other job if you have one. So, do all of those things, clear your calendar and put these retreats on the calendar. So you’ll at least be set for next year. Okay. If you’re not able to do that right now, then I’m going to ask you to set a reminder on your phone to do it at your next open interval today. Getting it on your calendar is absolutely crucial. Once things are on our calendar, there’s good research that it greatly increases the likelihood that we’re going to do them. So let’s do that.

Now that you either have it on your calendar or have planned to put it on your calendar, let’s talk about what actually happens before and during these retreats. So for me, the location is really important. I have gotten in the habit over the last few years of doing my retreats solely in the Los Angeles area.

Now, why do I choose Los Angeles? Well, I have a number of friends there. So, a small part of my retreat is always checking in with those friends. These are very old friends that I’d love to connect with. So I always set aside part of the retreat for some socializing. The other part, though, is that a component that we will discuss is simplicity and exercise during your retreats.

So for me, LA satisfies both of those things. The weather’s warm enough that I can go any time of the year and can count on being able to get outside to exercise and walk as much as I want without having to worry about the weather. LA or certain parts, and the parts that I like to stay in are also very walkable. And that to me is crucial. So I don’t like to worry about a car or driving or directions.

Now for you, you can pick the location that fits best for you. It might vary depending on what time of year. But I think that it is crucial to get out of town somehow. Once we’re away from our businesses and our families and our daily lives, that’s when your brain is really able to open up and work through the bigger problems that you just don’t have time to think about. So I’m a big fan of truly getting out of town.

In the worst-case scenario, if you can’t get out of town for whatever reason, I do think it’s important to step away, whatever you have to do to step completely away from your daily responsibilities. So if you can do that being in a hotel or Airbnb in your own town, that’s great. I can not do that, but what I know about my brain is that the moment I drive out of town to an airport, to a different town, wherever, anywhere out of my local area, my brain shuts off from day-to-day work mode and really starts to embrace all the other ideas that are out there. So location and getting out of town are pretty important.

The other piece that I do ahead of time is I work really hard to plan my retreat so that I eliminate all non-essential decisions. So what do I mean by that? Well, like I said, I pick someplace that is completely walkable. I do not like to drive, especially in cities, especially in unfamiliar places. Parking is a hassle, finding directions, being unfamiliar, traffic, all those things. So that is one huge non-essential decision that is just eliminated right off the bat. So, when I can walk everywhere, that helps greatly.

The other piece that I do that eliminates a ton of non-essential decisions is essentially planning out all of my meals and coffee ahead of time so that I’m not spending time. Once I’m on the retreat, I do not want to spend time just on Google reading reviews, mapping locations, wondering if this place has vegan food or whatever, that’s the last thing that I want to do when I’ve taken this huge break from my family and my work. The last thing I want to do is spend time thinking about where I’m going to eat and how much it’s going to cost and are they going to have what I want and that sort of thing.

So, in choosing your location, a big part of it for me is or was, at this point, I stay basically in the same neighborhood every time that I go. So as you’re getting started, you can get familiar with a place, but over time it becomes familiar and that’s just one fewer decision even you have to make when you’re planning your retreat. But as you can tell, that’s related to the location. So do your research and check out the restaurants in the area. Make sure if you’re a big coffee drinker or a tea drinker or a kombucha person, or whatever your morning ritual is, make sure that there’s a coffee shop right nearby or that breakfast place that you need to eat at, or a smoothie location, whatever it might be. And the same for the other meals.

Now I am a person much to my wife’s dismay who can basically eat the same thing day after day. So I can have the same thing for lunch and basically the same thing for dinner several days in a row before I get tired of it. If you were curious for whatever reason, I’m a salad for lunch, a Mexican for dinner kind of guy. So, I’m always looking for a place that has, let’s say a Whole Foods nearby. And I’m totally happy with a Chipotle or something like that. So the idea is that you map out the area and almost plan your meals for the time that you’re going to be there. And if you have to write this down, if you want to eat something different every night, that’s totally cool. You can do that.

But the trick is that you plan it out ahead of time so that when you get there, you are there to totally zero in and drill down on the work that you’re trying to do, and the ideas you’re trying to sort through, like the big ideas, rather than spinning your wheels and wasting time like I said, looking at Google reviews or mapping out restaurants or figuring out how to drive there and get there and all those kinds of things.

Another piece of eliminating non-essential decisions is just generally planning the time. So like I said, I always spend some of my time socializing. So, months ahead of time, I’ve contacted these friends and I’m like, “Hey, y’all, I’m going to be there this night and this night, can we get together?” So that I’m not tempted while I’m there to call them or do random things, spontaneous things that might come up. So that’s one piece of it.

The other component of scheduling is that I generally map out the retreats where I will schedule time for a consultation or bounce ideas off of some friends and other colleagues or coaches about halfway through my retreat. I scheduled it halfway through so that I have some time on the front end to really sort through my ideas and work on a few things and get the ball, moving on a few things. Then I have the consultation period, and then I have some time afterward to implement whatever tweaks or changes that consultation yielded.

So mapping that out and being able to schedule those meetings ahead of time. So this could be like a conversation with your spouse or partner, it could be a conversation with a good friend, another practice owner, your peer support group, your coach, or a number of those folks. Many times I’ll have 2 to 3 half-hour to hour-long meetings set up with trusted friends and colleagues and coaches on that day, typically in the morning so that I can get a variety of opinions and really cover all the bases. So again, I have all that planned ahead of time so that I don’t have to worry about it. I just know what to expect when I get there.

Another part of eliminating non-essential decisions is making a pact with yourself and with your employees if you have them that you are completely off the grid, essentially, as far as working in the business. So I am not writing reports, I’m not responding to emails, my staff knows that there’s basically one way to contact me if it’s urgent. For me, that’s chat. We use Google chat, so I know if I get a message from them, it is truly urgent. Otherwise, I’m not working in the business. I’m not doing those small things. I’m not wasting my time with issues that aren’t moving the needle quite a bit. You get the idea.

Definitely planning. You can get us as nuanced as you want, planning your leisure time, planning, of course, what you’re going to wear each day. The idea is that you wake up and your brain is dedicated to the work, the creativity, the brainstorming, and the problem solving that you want to do for your practice. And you are not busying yourself with these other items that eat at your cognitive resources. So that accounts for a lot of the planning involved.

The one component that I will mention is that I always build in time at the end of my retreat. It’s usually the last half-day that I’m going to be there. So the last, let’s say four hours of whatever day I might be working. I save that time because I know that I am not going to likely finish everything that I want to on the retreat. So I save that time to go look at my calendar and tie up any loose ends and schedule more time in the future to work on the things that I didn’t finish or set up meetings with folks at my practice that I need to set up to keep moving forward. So I save that last afternoon basically to tie up any remaining items and really plan for the future.

Okay, you get the idea. Eliminate all the non-essential decisions. Plan your agenda and make sure that you’re in a place that feels comfortable and allows you to do the work that you need to do.

Let me tell you a little bit more about my schedule when I do these Think Weeks. So my biggest thing is when I go into the Think Week, I don’t always know what I’m going to work on. Now, I tend to fly to Los Angeles. So my routine that I’ve gotten into, I know that this is a two and a half hour flight. So the first hour is largely spent talking myself down out of my flight anxiety which won’t seem to go away. After that is done, then I use the remaining time in that first hour to just do a complete brain dump. So get my computer out and just make a huge list of things that are running through my mind.

Now I’m not talking about like, respond to that email or mail that letter or order that basket or whatever. It’s not the little stuff. I do a brain dump of all the bigger ideas that I’ve been thinking about. So things that I’d like to tweak in the report template. Measures that might be getting old. Topics I need to research. Redoing our recommendation bank. Podcast content to some degree. Coaching offerings. Do we need a new staff member? How can I tweak the training process for my psychometrists? So, just like bigger picture ideas and things that I’ve been wrestling with.

This has often involved refining my schedule too. So I always do an overview of my own schedule and I look at it and say, what’s working and what’s not working. And almost always, I have found something that’s not working and something that I want to change for the coming months. So reviewing your schedule, thinking about what’s really working in your practice, what’s not, what’s eating up a lot of time where it doesn’t need to, things you could delegate, things you can get better at, ways you can get better, topics you want to learn about, that sort of thing. So I just do a big brain dump for the first hour of that flight.

And then the second hour, I am basically culling that list and rank ordering all of the pieces that I’ve dumped on the page. After that process is done, I usually have come up with 2 to 3 big ideas that I want to work through. So at that point, I’m about to land and I have a pretty good idea of what I want to work on over the time in my retreat. Once I have those 2 to 3 big ideas, then I kind of map them on to the time that I have.

So at this point, I typically do five-day retreats. If you’re doing three days or even just one day, you can scale it back and map your time out accordingly, but once you rank that list and distill your ideas down to 1,2 or 3 main ideas that you really want to work on or things you want to accomplish, then certainly you try to map it to the time that you have.

So, the way that I, and this is getting very nuanced, but again, this is my process and this is what works. So I always have a flight that lands in the early afternoon. I don’t want to feel rushed. I don’t want to get in late. I don’t want to get a poor night’s sleep before the first real day of the retreat. I want to have some time to get to the place I’m staying. I already had my dinner mapped out like I’ve talked about. And I’ll use that afternoon/evening after I get there to continue to refine those ideas and get prepared to wake up and work on what I need to work on.

So once I get all that settled and I have a good idea of what I’m going to do, if there’s any time that evening left, I’ll use that to take care of any random things that I need to close the loop on to make sure that my mind is totally fresh and ready to jump into the big stuff the next day.

So then, like I said, I do a five-day retreat. Exercise is a huge component of these retreats for me. My preferred means of exercise is running. So I’m going to be running 3 or 4 of those mornings. I run first thing in the morning and if possible, I stay at a place with a pool. So I do a run, then I get in the pool and then I am ready to roll. On the days that I don’t run, I am walking everywhere. If you can find a place that has a nice mix of nature and walkability, that’s fantastic. So I do a nice walk kind of out in nature and then I walk everywhere else throughout the day, like walking to get lunch or dinner if I don’t have them delivered and walking anywhere else that I might want to go.

During some of that time, I might listen to a podcast or an audiobook if it’s relevant to what I’m working on. And sometimes it’s silent, but exercise is a big part. So I exercise in the morning and then I have basically two work periods. I work from about 8:00 AM to 12:00 AM, then I have lunch, and I work from about 1:00 PM to 5:00 PM.

And then that’s it. And then for me in the evening time, again, my meals are planned out. I have dinner pretty early. I’m an early dinner person. So, I’ll do dinner around 5:30 PM, maybe 6:00 PM, and then I’ll relax.

So I kind of unplugged and or at least unplugged from the work. And for me, I watch movies because I never get to watch movies otherwise. So I’ll watch movies or go to the movie theater, which I never do these days. So that’s my sort of unplugging at night. And then I am in bed pretty early, I’m again, an early to bed person so that I can wake up and do it again in the morning. Now you can obviously adapt this to fit your circadian rhythms if you’re more of a night person, but the idea is that you do have a rhythm to the day and a start and a stopping point. If you don’t have a stopping point, then I’ve found at least that it is harder to be motivated and to work hard when I feel like I can just go forever. So I like to have these stopping points and breaks.

Let’s see. In terms of other details, this may go without saying, but I’m not drinking a lot, partying, or anything like that. Sometimes there’s a temptation to do that when you’re on your own, but I don’t because it wrecks my sleep and I don’t want to ruin the next day.

So, that’s pretty much the schedule every day that I’m on retreat. Again, with that last half-day being reserved to tie up any loose ends and plan for the future and make sure that I can implement the things that I want to implement because that’s always an outcome of these retreats is that I have ideas that I need to continue to work on, and it always requires some implementation. So that’s why you save that last a half-day or so to make sure that you can implement and you have time to do that.

Okay, so that’s that. Again, just little details. I keep all my notes in Google drive. I keep track of everything that I’m thinking about and doing during that time so that I can refer back. I still have notes from retreats from years ago, and it’s really been helpful to reflect back on my process and what I’m thinking about, and ideas that I’ve had. Some of them I don’t work on, but then they marinate and come back a couple of years later.

So that’s an overview of how I do retreats. And like I said, these have been crucial for both of my businesses, the practice and The Testing Psychologist. So I, again, highly, highly encourage you to find the time and plan your first and second retreats over the next year. My guess is that it may feel strange. You may have questions, like, can I really do this? Or is this worth it? How do I spend my time? And that’s okay. That’s totally okay. The key is just to make time and get the ball rolling. And once you get there, I think you will find that it is infinitely helpful. And you dial on your process the more you practice.

All right. Thanks for hanging with me and thinking through, through the idea of a think week or a retreat for your practice. I hope that I’ve got a lot of you thinking about how to do this and maybe even excited about how to do that. I’m going to put a few resources in the show notes, books that have helped me with how to structure a retreat, and how to structure my time. Check those out.

Now going forward, let’s see, this is a concept that I found is particularly helpful for folks who are running growing practices. The more that we expand our practices, the more time we need to get away and reflect on our role as being as a leader. So to that end, if you’d like a group of other practice owners who are in a similar place, our advanced practice mastermind will be starting up again in September. I’m recruiting members for that. And it’s a group of 6 psychologists all in the more advanced stages of practice. You can learn more about that at thetestingpsychologist.com/advanced and book a call there to determine if this is a good fit for you.

Okay, y’all. I hope you are doing well, hanging in there. Things are going a little nuts these days with the virus, but I hope you’re staying safe and staying sane. I will be back with you on Monday with the clinical episode. Take care in the meantime.

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