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Innovation Insights
by Stephen Shapiro

balcony

Organize Your Writing Retreat

In my push to get the manuscript done for my next book, I (once again) locked myself in a hotel room to stay focused.

People have asked me what I do during these sessions and how I get organized. The process is really very simple.

  1. I choose a place that has a full kitchen. For me this is critical as I want to leave the room as infrequently as possible. I eat all of my meals in the room. I typically stay in a timeshare, but you could certainly check VRBO or Airbnb to find a place. A nice view is a bonus. I like working on the balcony. Now, all of the places I stay are a short drive from where I live. But in the past, I have flown to a resort for a complete change of scenery.
  2. The first day is all about preparation with very little actual work. I stock the refrigerator. I organize my space. And I then plan out what I will do every day. I outline my goals for the week and travel with a portable whiteboard that has 5 columns. I try to schedule as few calls as possible. I turn on “do not disturb,” turn off all notifications, and I get ready to focus.
  3. I tend to work between 12 and 14 hours a day Tuesday through Thursday. Sitting for that long can be tiring. So I try to use the pomodoro technique. I set an alarm for 25 minutes. I work nonstop and then take a 5 minute break where I rest my eyes and stretch my back. Occasionally, I will go for a walk and listen to my manuscript (see previous post) or listen to an audiobook on book writing/editing. At the end of each day, I reflect on what I accomplished (celebrate) and then plan for the next day.
  4. I join writing sprints. In earlier posts I talked about some groups I have joined to help me stay motivated. These writing groups give me a social aspect for the week, while allowing me to stay focused on the task at hand.
  5. When the room has a large soaking tub or jacuzzi, I often end my day with a bath. It is a great way to reflect and wind down. Getting a good night’s sleep is critical. If a bath is not an option, I tend to read something relaxing to calm my mind so that I am not ruminating while sleeping.
  6. Given I have to check out of the hotel on Friday, I do a lighter workload in the room and then head to the pool. I try to have my manuscript printed so that I can stay off the computer. I use erasable pens to annotate my work. If you don’t have erasable pens, get them in multiple colors!
  7. When the week is over, I reflect on what I did so that I have a sense of accomplishment.

I wrote Personality Poker, Best Practices are Stupid, and Invisible Solutions using this strategy. And of course, I am using this approach for my next book. Although it works for me, you need to adjust this to suit your needs.

There is no one correct way to do this. Maybe each day you set a goal, and when you hit it you call it quits for the day. Maybe you have more time away from the desk to clear your mind. Choose whatever approach works for you.

What have you tried?