What is a Quarterly Offsite, and How Do I Take One?

As I was preparing my 2020 vision, and reflecting on this past year, I was surprised at what I learned. But first, a little backstory:

This time last year, my wife and I were both frustrated with our relationship.

Intellectually, we knew we cared for each other, but neither of us were getting the attention or love language we needed. We were both feeling frustrated and “unseen,” like we couldn’t connect to each other in the midst of a busy life with two (now three) little kids.

It was incredibly draining, making it difficult to find motivation to do anything creative or entrepreneurial, slowing my business endeavors to a halt.

As my wife and I were reflecting on this past year, we realized (with a moment of shock) that right now our marriage is in the best condition we’ve ever experienced! We both feel loved, encouraged, and close to each other—but that didn’t happen by accident.

There are many changes we made this past year to prioritize our marriage, including introducing a weekly dinner date and a weekly lunch date to separate “heart talk” and “shop talk” and going to a marriage counselor together.

All of these changes helped, but they were really the result of the biggest change we made at the beginning of the year: we started taking quarterly offsite retreats together.

What is a Quarterly Offsite Retreat?

A quarterly offsite retreat is exactly what it sounds like: a short retreat once per quarter that is away from your day-to-day life. Typically, the focus is some mix of reflection and goal-setting.

The concept has been championed by Greg McKeown, and I started going on a quarterly offsite retreat by myself a couple of years ago, after I read Essentialism.

When I was going alone I would take a full workday by myself and disconnect, which was helpful, but inviting my wife to join me was a game-changer in all the best ways. We will definitely maintain this habit for years to come.

Here’s a peek into the quarterly offsite action plan my wife and I use each year:

Step 1: Schedule Four Retreats Each Year

Once you’ve committed to taking a quarterly offsite retreat you need to put this on your calendar at the start of your year as a “big rock” and schedule around it.

It’s easy to put this off, and schedule just one at a time, but the risk that you’ll become “too busy” is too great. At a minimum, you’ll want a day and a half for an overnight trip, but if you can spare two nights away that’s even better.

Step 2: Book a Relaxing Location

Your quarterly offsite retreat doesn’t need to be an exciting adventure. You need a location that’s away from your day-to-day life where you can get plenty of quiet, open space in a comfortable environment.

This doesn’t have to be extravagant. We’ve gone as simple as an affordable hotel a couple of hours away—but when we’ve got a full Airbnb for two days that’s been the best-case scenario. We’ve enjoyed both a downtown studio and a cozy farmhouse retreat.

Step 3: Start with Rejuvenation

If you’re anything like me, you might be tempted to jump right into goal-setting because you’re excited to dream on your quarterly offsite retreat—but that would be a mistake.

First things first, you need to relax. My wife and I like to drop our bags at the Airbnb and then go out for the evening, with a special dinner at a new (highly-rated) restaurant and then a movie, followed by a good night’s sleep.

This rejuvenation practice acts as a critical transition, training your body that this is different and allowing your mind time to unwind and disconnect from all the open loops left at home. This prepares you to wake energized, and have an effective focus day.

Step 4: Follow a Scheduled Agenda

It can be tempting to keep a lackadaisical approach for your quarterly offsite retreat, but your focus time is critical. We’ve found it helpful to keep an hour-by-hour agenda for the working day.

We have experimented with several different structures before we settled on using the Quarterly Preview worksheet from the Full Focus Planner. Our agenda looks something like this:

  • 7:30 AM Breakfast
  • 8 AM: Complete “My Biggest Wins” and share
  • 9 AM: Complete After Action Review and share
  • 10 AM: Review life plan (update as needed)
  • 11 AM: Review annual goals (update as needed)
  • 12 PM: Lunch
  • 1 PM: Set new quarterly goals
  • 2 PM: Review upcoming monthly calendars (discuss as needed)
  • 3 PM: Review Ideal Week (update as needed)
  • 4 PM: Review Daily Rituals (update as needed)
  • 5 PM: Dinner

We don’t keep to that agenda exactly, but it helps us stay on track. Depending on the season, some sections may go quickly and some may require extra time.

Step 5: Start Wide and Incrementally Focus

If you glance back at that agenda, you’ll notice that even within a full day of dreaming we still Macro-dream, Micro-execute by reviewing our life plans before we get into annual, and then quarterly foals.

This needs to be incremental, because it’s tempting to jump straight from goal-setting to tomorrow’s task list. Instead, you need to go from annual to quarterly to monthly, and then focus on your weekly rhythms to create space for the daily productivity to come.

Should You Take a Quarterly Offsite Retreat?

It takes a bit of work to start the habit, but quarterly offsite retreats are the best solution I’ve found to creating a regular rhythm of rejuvenation and reflection, focused on improving your life.

This habit fits squarely within what Michael Gerber calls working “on” your business, as opposed to working “in” it (though you have the chance to extend this beyond your business, as I do).

If you can take quarterly offsite retreats by yourself, that’s excellent! If you can take them with your spouse, that’s even better. Start small, build the habit, and you can thank me later.

Question: What’s holding you back from taking your own quarterly offsite retreats?

8 thoughts on “What is a Quarterly Offsite, and How Do I Take One?

  1. Wonderful advice, but tricky for large families without family or friend support to care for all the children, especially if tight finances for paying a trusted outsider aren’t available. Even so, your suggested agenda can be broken apart into a 3 nights-only commitment to get kids in bed & purposefully work through it. Although we were likely never as formal & organized about this process as our Enneagram 1 friend John is 😉, I believe our own version of this practice helped keep us on one page throughout our many years of raising many littles. BTW, we called our meetings like this “State of the Union talks.”

    1. I love your creative thinking, Nancy! Different versions of this may make sense for different seasons, but if there is any way to get offsite and kid-free at least once a year (if not quarterly) I hope you will. I think you’ll find it’s a more immersive experience than breaking it up.

  2. John,
    I love this quarterly offsite msg. For Mike and me, getting away for even one night is crucial to our mental health and marriage. I like the agenda you two put together, although ours is more flexible. Agreed, we could use a little more structure. Our biggest challenge comes when we don’t set dates at the beginning of the year. Granted, we push these forward or back a week or two, but getting a plan and blocking time was our hurdle. If we do our annual planning with Best Year Ever format at the beginning, and put it on the calendar, we’ll do it. Being empty-nesters, it just as important as for young couples with littles!

    1. I’m so glad you already have a practice similar to this with Mike, Susan! I agree, planning all four retreats at the start of the year is key to making sure they happen (even if you need to reschedule a bit once you’re into it).

  3. Thanks for the thoughts, John. We are in a similar situation as you, with two children aged 2 and 5 months. How do you recommend accomplishing an offsite with a nursing infant that young?

    1. That’s a great question, Eric, with our 1-month old we are about to relearn right along with you! When we’ve done these retreats in the past, we’ve done it even when our then-youngest was nursing and we still left the kids with my in-laws that time. It took extra work for logistics and for pumping, but it worked.

      Our next quarterly retreat we’ll probably bring Myron, since he’s only a month old, and we’ll trade off throughout the day to get kid-free think time. We’ve done it with one of the kids before, and everything takes about 50% longer, so either a shorter agenda or longer retreat may be in order. Hope that helps!

  4. Thank you, John, for such wonderful advice.
    I love the retreats and yes, ideally two nights away are great.

    For those struggling to get started, I suppose a day is a good place to start then work towards a quarterly.
    Will definitely try it in 2020

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.