HSL Creative Retreat Week Reflections

Last week I got that rare opportunity to take time off from work without traveling. My family laughed because my “week off” still consisted of about 20 hours of side-gig work but in comparison to the 55-60 I’ve been averaging, this week was incredibly quiet. 

The refreshment and peace I've experienced from taking a week off and not filling it to the brim with busyness is astounding to me. I’m so passionate about life and the things in it that I love: writing, connecting with people, helping others reach their goals, acting, performing, creativity, strategizing, pursuing goals. It’s difficult to slow down when I feel like there is more that I want to do than I ever have time for. 

This year has consisted of a lot of change for me in my work and life after experiencing a couple of years of consistency. I launched the eCourse, Get Your Dream Off the Ground. I sunsetted Enchanting Entertainment. Left SpotCo. Joined RPM. Left Lynchburg. Moved to Washington D.C. Left Pursuant. And just this week joined McKinley Marketing Partners. My life had been solidly consistent the past three years and incredibly consistent for the past two and I just jumbled it up and changed my ‘normal’ a whole lot. 

I’m finally beginning to feel a sense of “normalcy” in DC. Getting a bit of a rhythm and reprogramming my brain to think of it as “home.” But I haven’t really come up for air yet. So when my husband suggested I take time off between Pursuant and McKinley, while it was the furthest idea from my mind, when I sat with it a bit, I knew it was exactly what I needed to do.

In recent years I have given myself periodic #HSLCreativeRetreatDays where once every quarter or so I power down and set aside a day to reflect, set goals, think and write. I first started it when I was building up to turning the big 3-0. I knew I needed regular check-ins to make sure I was on track to reach the goals I had set by the time I turned 30. This was easier to accomplish before I started the 60 hours a week thing (I think that came into play in 2015 or 16—all a blur TBH). And somehow, in the past year I haven’t done a #HSLCreativeRetreatDay at all. That song ‘he writes like he’s running out of time’ has felt like it’s been on loop in my mind for far too long. I am dangerously close to being Jessie Spano. “There’s never enough time to study. I’m not going to get into Stanford….”

I needed a reality check. Would life go on if I wasn’t putting in a 60 hour work week? Would we be able to pay rent? 

Yes and yes. 

Then that settles that. I need to take the dang week off. Over the weekend I punched out a laundry list of things I wanted to accomplish during my “time off.” I needed to give some love to my company, HSL Enterprises. I needed to do some reflecting on my priorities and what life realistically needs to look like in this new season. And I wanted to do some intentional resting. Something that I, well…I don’t do. 

Here’s a little recap of my week that I bullet journaled over on Twitter each day. 

Moving into a totally new routine that included about 4-5 hours of commute each week meant that I had to reorganize my days in order to make sure my personal priorities weren't going out the window. So in my 'ideal week' I figured out where workouts would fit in, new evening and morning routines, and how to best use that commute time to where it was refreshing (not just a huge time waste). I definitely recommend using the Ideal Week method to allot your time like you would a financial budget. You won't always be able to honor it perfectly but at least you have goals. 

This is an example of an Ideal Week from Michael Hyatt. 

This is an example of an Ideal Week from Michael Hyatt. 

I've learned a lot from my time working inside marketing teams, not least of which is how to marry an editorial calendar and overall goals of a company. In years past my goals for this website have been mainly around consistency of producing. This week I've been able to map out a plan for the content with more clear and strategic goals. Now I can measure progress. 

I could've easily just kept hustling this week but I knew that a big piece of the purpose of the week was to actually chill out. So on Wednesday I got a massage and spent time in the afternoon reading a magazine by the pool. No agenda. Nothing in the magazine I could learn and apply to my work. Just intentional de-stress time. My shoulders haven't felt this loose in months. 

By Thursday I had really wanted to make some progress in completing some goals: a fully fleshed out editorial calendar for the site, a book proposal that was nearly ready to go, clear set of goals for the rest of the year, but my brain was still marinating on a lot of that. So I gave myself a bit of a break to just think and let my brain work these things out. Related: we've got to put our phones down and let our brains get bored enough to be creative. Now that I'm no longer 'on call' for one of my jobs 24/7, I'm putting my phone in a drawer on Saturdays. #PhoneFreeSaturdays. Who's with me?!

This space gives me a magical level of focus and inspiration. It's my secret weapon.

This space gives me a magical level of focus and inspiration. It's my secret weapon.

Over the past 9 months I worked my way through 8 seasons of Gilmore Girls and now there is a Lorelai Gilmore shaped hole in my heart. So what do I do? Check out Lauren Graham's memoir from the library, of course. Didn't know I would get an incredible writing productivity hack mid-book. Used it on Friday afternoon and really made some progress on my new proposal. #GIlmoreGiftThatKeepsOnGiving

One thing that became apparent as I was planning out my new "Ideal Week" is that I couldn't cook on week nights like I had grown accustomed to doing. I'd need to partner with JC some, cook simpler meals, and cook more on the weekends, unless we wanted to get used to eating at bedtime. (No thanks.) So on Saturday I got ingredients to make a few different meals that were freezable and similar enough in ingredients to merit batching together. Over the course of about an hour I prepped two Sour Cream Noodle Bakes (via the Pioneer Woman who never lets me down), my mom's lasagna, and spaghetti sauce. We ate the lasagna over the next few days. The other three went into the freezer. Now I can thaw out the spaghetti sauce one night when all I'll have to do is make pasta. And the sour cream noodle bakes can go straight from freezer to oven. That's two more meals ready to go this month and one for September. Future Hil is definitely thanking me. Also, this felt wildly efficient and satisfying. It was harder than making one meal alone but considering the planning, shopping, cooking and clean up, it was much easier than cooking on 4 separate occasions. I will be doing this more often. It made total sense. Plus I got to get into the vibe and pretend I was Julia Child or something. 

Sunday was a little sad as it felt too soon to say goodbye to #HSLCreativeRetreatWeek. I hadn't completed every single thing on my to do wish list and I just knew I could if I took one more week. ;-) But also the anticipation of the new routine and new job was killing me so I was ready to get going. 

Reflections overall: 

With increased work stress and overall stress that comes from big life change and adulting, I've experienced a lot of anxiety over the past six months. There's different ways to handle it. I recommend counseling, exercise, eating healthy, getting sleep, and journaling. For me, taking a week off and really minimizing commitments for a week in between gigs made a big dent in my anxiety. I'm an optimistic person and sometimes optimism leads to overcommitment which can lead to anxiety and burnout. I encourage you to do periodic gut checks and invest in self-care in whatever ways you can. And also, give yourself a break. Some seasons are harder than others. If you need to simplify during a hard season or cry a lot or call your mom every day or whatever, DO IT. Not every season will be so challenging. So give yourself a break during the ones that are tough.

If you'd like to create your own HSL Creative Retreat Week, here are 7 elements I recommend:

1. Make a list of all the things you've been wanting or needing to do but haven't had time.

2. Make a list of all the things you'd like to do if you had time.

3. Create a list of 3-5 "Big Rocks" that mean success for the week. If you accomplish only these 3-5 things, your week will be a success. Plug these into your schedule.

4. Flesh out themes for each day using words that inspire you. Think "relaxaton, rejuvenation, inspiration, exploration." 

5. Don't overload each day!! Be realistic about what you can accomplish

6. Make sure anything you schedule contributes to your well-being. Yes, for me, a trip to the dentist was included because it made me feel more calm knowing I was getting it done. 

7. Journal as you go. Pay attention to how you feel mentally and physically each day. Look for insights.

If you are able to do your own Retreat Week, I would LOVE to hear about it. Drop me a line via the comments here or email! 

Want other tips from creatives on the rise in their careers? Download my latest eBook, 5-Minute Mentor for free!