Planning my own personal retreat

Having left it too late to book on a ten-day Vipassana course this winter, I decided to create my own retreat.

On December 29th, I am going to stay in a bungalow on the Pembrokeshire coast for a week.

For the first three days, I am having complete silence. This will involve a full media detox – no phones, no music, no TV, no internet, no books, no newspapers, no MacBook. No conversation.

Just me, a log fire, walks along the coast, plenty of herb tea and home-cooked food.

Every day I plan to do yoga and meditate for at least five hours.

I would like to remain in silence during that time. In case someone speaks to me, I will carry a little card that says, “I’m sorry, I can’t speak at the moment.”

This part of my retreat is about gaining clarity. I would like silence with no distractions, to let my mind settle and return to stillness. I don’t hope for any great revelations, just a little peace and time to listen to what’s inside.

I plan to go silent upon arrival in Marloes, on December 29th and break my silence on January 1st 2011, after three days.

Then, I have invited good friends to come join me. Offers are open, so friends can come if they feel like it.

I am also taking my guitar, some masks, some books and DVDs so I can immerse myself creatively on the last four days.

This part of my retreat is about energising and inspiring myself. I am hoping that the three days of silence and stillness will aid my creativity.

I guess that remains to be seen! Watch this space for an update.

In the meantime, could you do with some quiet time, with no distractions? Or some time to recharge, creatively? Can you make a space for that, in your life?

The Timeboard – get creative with your scheduling

Are you a creative, looking to improve your scheduling? Is your schedule different every week?  Are you sick of reading business guides about scheduling that have no relevance to creatives?

Jenna Hubbard, Project Assistant at ICE, recently introduced me to the concept of a Timeboard. And no, this has nothing to do with Doctor Who or time travelling.  

Get creative with your scheduling!

A Timeboard is just a simple way of scheduling for creatives.  It is extremely useful when you have certain core activities but your schedule changes every week.
It’s very simple.  You take a big piece of paper and split it into seven columns, one for each day of the week.  Label each column clearly.  Then grab some coloured Post-Its and a marker pen. Each Post-It becomes a block of time.  Let’s say Monday you spend two hours emailing.  Great, just write Email, 2 hours on one colour of Post-It. Then stick it on the chart under Monday.  Put different kinds of activities in different colours.

Afterwards, take a red pen and a blue pen and put stars on the Post-Its.  A red star indicates where you give energy.  A blue star indicates where you receive energy.  This can help you keep track of how energising or tiring your weeks are, and prevent burn-out.

Then once a week you can sit down and plan your week ahead.  If things change, no worries! Just take off one Post-It and replace it with another.

If you suddenly have a week-long project that usurps everything else,   When a week changes like this, the way you spend your days changes. All those housekeeping, adminny things get left behind.  Maybe emailing goes out of the window. No problem! Can you fit emailing in on a Sunday evening?  Or will you just lose emailing for a week and survive?  

Take off the Post-Its for activities you don’t do, and put them under or around your Timeboard. Then you can clearly see what you have, and have not made time for.  

You can see the dotted red line on my Timeboard separates my schedule from those activities I haven’t made time for.  I don’t have much wall space, so I put mine onto A1 card I can move around my flat.  

A few weeks after I made my Timeboard, there had been no progress in one area of my business.  I checked my Timeboard to find this was the one Post-It that repeatedly never made it into my schedule.  No surprise there’s been no change!

The Timeboard is a revolution for me, and one of the best scheduling tools I have ever seen for creatives.

What you put on your Timeboard is entirely up to you.  If meditation is vital to your daily schedule, put it in!  On mine I have my yoga classes, time for walks and I have even figured in time for creative play.

So get yourself a Timeboard, and get creative with your schedule.

Create the structure before the details

Often we can begin to write detailed plans for a new idea before we have developed a working structure to house them.

Now, don’t get me wrong; details are good. They are often the inspiration for a whole idea. For example, we might design a whole house because we want to use a particular type of solar panel.

These kinds of details are gold. They can shape the whole vision. But too often we begin to work in detail on our ideas when we do not have a vision, or even feel inspired. Then the idea can go off track. And if you work constantly on detail without attending to structure, your project will end up vague, unfocused and meaningless.

Structure gives meaning. It makes the user feel comfortable and safe, and therefore more able to appreciate the details. The details are actually the easy bit. The hardest part is finding a structure that works well. Think of it like a house: first you build the structure, then you decorate.

So how can you develop a successful structure for your project? Well, the director Grotowski said the artist should be “a good thief”. So look around at what others are doing and copy the best ideas. Structures can often be recycled without seeming ripped-off. Most of Shakespeare’s plays, for example, were based on existing stories and characters. Before Shakespeare even wrote a line of verse, he had the structure of a well-known story to guide him. So seek out similar structures through research, and copy the models.

What if your structure seems unique? What if you have no model to copy? Well, collaboration during the early stages of development can help you find this structure. Speak to a colleague or peer whose opinion you trust. Sketch out your ideas so far. Describe the framework. See what they like, and focus on. Then find another colleague and repeat. Then another. In fact, run your ideas past anyone who’ll listen. And make sure you listen well to their responses.

Chances are, if a lot if people agree that an idea will work, it will work. And if a lot of people think an idea is a problem, it probably is a problem. Keith Johnstone, the improvisation guru, created a game in which the actors stop and ask the audience “What happens next?” Guess what? The audience are always right. The majority always pick a next step that makes the story more fun, that puts the characters into the most trouble.

Take the advice of peers and mentors. Use feedback to develop your structure.

Once the structure is there, you can sketch in the details. But if you spend at least 20% of your planning time developing a solid structure, chances are your project will succeed, and the details will take care of themselves.