Let us guess, you have a never-ending list of things to do. You keep checking the boxes but you still feel like you’re not really getting anything done. As the list keeps growing and you keep moving, you can’t stop wondering “Why am I doing all this?”
We’ve been there. Most people have.
Well, breathe easy. This post proposes a unique process that helped us answer those types of questions in a clear, concise way.
We call it the “13-Hour Offsite” and we’re using it to plan our life together, build a business, and prepare for our wedding. While it’s still a work-in-progress that will continue to evolve over the years, the essence of how it works is ready to be shared with you today.
Follow the steps detailed below and you’ll be able to figure out what to do with your life and how to get started. It’s simple to implement and easy to test.
Take it for a test drive and let us know what you think!
The Origin of the 13-Hour Offsite
Whenever things have gotten particularly dire in the “what are we doing with our lives” department, we’ve found it helpful to escape.
Of course, we’re not talking about just running away from everything and abandoning all responsibilities. What we mean is more of a “retreat” – a geo-physical pattern-break that deviates from our normal day so that we have room to breathe and think. We opt for this change in scenery to allow us to zoom out and see beyond this moment or day or even the year ahead of us.
We’d take a day trip to go hiking. We’d go to the park for an afternoon. We’ve even stayed at a hotel 15 minutes from our home (a “staycation” we’d highly recommend! No travel, but you still have the perks of getting away).
Now, a spontaneous, quick trip as a pattern break is great and can lead to positive change but it’s not a 13-Hour Offsite. Case in point, one of these ‘retreats’ created the ah-hah moment which led us to make the move to Asheville.
So, you could say that we had already believed in the idea of changing locations to think strategically about life. Then Sarah read a book called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Doing Less by Greg McKeown. One of his theories to being an “essentialist” is to escape through a scheduled quarterly offsite.
The book made such an impact on Sarah that we decided to bake its philosophy of scheduled offsites into our commitments to each other for at least one year.
As we expanded on the commitment we unearthed a process that is powerful and repeatable.
The result: The 13-Hour Offsite
What is The 13-Hour Offsite?
It’s simple: every 13 weeks block 13 hours to envision 130 months and 130 years into the past and future so that you can plan your next 13 weeks.
“The 13-Hour Offsite” is more than just 13 hours dedicated to retreating from your daily tasks. It’s time dedicated to slowing down, zooming out, and reflecting on important questions so that you can more effectively create the life you want.
Here’s how the 13-13-130-130 framework works.
Thirteen hours is meant to be a full day like 8 am to 9 pm. Alternatively, you can utilize two work blocks like 2 to 9 pm and 8 am to 2 pm the following day (that’s how we ran our last offsite and we loved it). You can go longer. But don’t go shorter. Give the process time. Don’t rush it. Allow yourself the time to sit with these questions and unpack your thoughts.
Thirteen weeks is more exact than saying “quarterly.” There are exactly four thirteen-week blocks per year. Use whatever process feels right to you (quarterly or exactly) to block your calendar for this year and commit to the dates you block off.
One hundred and thirty months is just over a decade, 10 years and 10 months to be exact. We find 10 years to be an approachable but long enough window of time that “anything can happen.” We remember what our lives looked and felt like ten years ago and we think can imagine ten years in the future. It’s the sweet spot for us. If you’d prefer 5-, 15-, or 20-year reflections, knock yourself out.
One hundred and thirty years from now is just about four generations. Around that point in the past, each of our first ancestors came to the United States. How crazy of a move is that?! It makes our move from Brooklyn to Asheville seem like a walk in the park. Outside of that, we know almost nothing about them. What might our great-great-grandchildren know or think about us? What stories, if any, would they be told? What legacy might we leave? The intention here is to think on a multi-generational level — to zoom so far out that it’s hard to even imagine.
Ok, so you’ve got the number. But what exactly do you do for all 13 hours of the offsite?
Let’s dive in.
How to Run your first 13-Hour Offsite
Each 13-Hour Offsite can and should be different but here are the guidelines we recommend you follow.
Scheduling the Offsite
1. Put it on your calendar.
Open your calendar, and find a weekend (or two consecutive days) where you can dedicate at least 24 full hours to this process. It should be no more than 13 weekends into the future. When you find days that work, block them for your “Offsite.” Now, count 13 weekends and block that for offiste number two. Do that two more times and you have a year planned.
Put these offsites on your calendar now and do everything in your power not to schedule anything else for those specific days.
It can be a full weekend or a full day. We suggest at least 8 hours of dedicated work time to allow yourself to fully decompress and reflect (13 hours with breaks, food, and movement). When in doubt, default to scheduling more time for this process than you’d think.
2. Familiar places are not allowed.
No matter how long it lasts, it should take place outside of the office and outside of your home. Think: pattern-break.
We’ve taken a beach trip, traveled up to the Hudson River from New York for a weekend hiking, and we recently rented a quiet cabin Airbnb that was about an hour from Asheville and tucked in the mountains.
Almost anywhere will work but prioritize limited distractions.
3. Invite a partner.
This part is optional but it can be helpful in having another set of eyes and perspective.
That said, you should only invite someone who is fully on board with the distraction-free getaway and who you can trust to ask honest questions about your business or life without judgement. It’s better to go alone than invite your best friend who just wants to gossip and drink wine.
If you’re holding a quarterly offsite for a business, then invite your key shareholders and trusted advisers. We’ll discuss the rest of the notes as though it’s a personal off-site but this process can easily be replicated for your business.
During the Offsite
1. Set up a distraction-free zone.
Make sure that you are fully focused without any distractions. Turn on automatic email replies, turn off your WiFi (or better yet: go somewhere with no internet connection), and turn off all phone notifications (airplane mode).
It’s important to know your weakness here. For example, Tony feels particularly tempted by his cellphone, while Sarah feels the pressure to work when she’s around her computer. So we did bring computers on the last trip and Tony left his phone in the car.
Let people know you are going away and won’t be reachable until a certain time. If you feel weird about being completely unreachable set up an emergency-only contact method, like a phone number that only the babysitter of your kids has.
One exception to this rule that we have made is using our devices for music. While we don’t like to listen to music all the time during our offsites (sometimes the soothing sound of nature is just what we need), music can be a helpful way to relax. If you feel like turning on WiFi to access Spotify will be a temptation for you, then make it a priority to download songs beforehand.
2. Use pen and paper.
We’re all-in on the power of pen and paper for helping facilitate slowing down and thinking as you work. We each have favorite notebooks and pen types. And we use them to force us to slow down, sit with, and unpack our thoughts during these reflective days.
If you’re normally all-digital, try to run your first 13-Hour Offsite with pen and paper. Don’t trust us, test it. See how it goes for you.
Fun fact: transcribing notes taken in pen helps you to refine and store the thoughts and plans you make in the longer-term memory of your brain.
And bring any other arts, crafts, or work materials you’d like. We brought tons of post-its and markers.
3. Reflect on 130 years.
There are many ways you can go about doing this, but the point is to think about the big picture, the multi-generational big picture. This is not a time to make a list of things to do this week or ways to grow your mailing list, but rather a time to think about the kind of person you’d like to be remembered as.
Unlike our ancestors, there will all but certainly be a digital trail of our thoughts, actions, and our contribution to our communities.
Here are a few of our favorite questions to ask during this time in order to spark big ideas.
- What did my parents/grandparents/great-grandparents do that has affected my life today?
- What was their life like? What do I know about the details of their days? What do I know about the quality of the lives they led?
- What impact do I want to have on my grandchildren? Great-grandchildren? Great-great-grandchildren?
- What will they know about the details of my days or the quality of the life I led?
One of the realizations that we’ve drawn out of this step is that who are ancestors were matters and doesn’t. In other words, if they hadn’t made certain choices we wouldn’t be here but at the same time, we’re free to choose how we want to be no despite those who came before us. It’s a powerful meditation.
4. Reflect on 130 months.
There’s no wrong way to do this either. The idea is to consider a decade or more into the past and future. There is a amorphism that’s important to keep in mind here:
We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10.
In 10 years, just about anything is possible. So what will you create?
Here are a few of our favorite questions to ask during this time in order to spark big ideas.
- Who were you 10 years ago? What did you dream about? How did you act? What led you to where you are today?
- Can you identify moments you’re particularly grateful for as they got you here to this moment today?
- If you can create any reality for 10 years from now, what would it be? Who are you in that reality? How do you act? Describe your days, what do they look like? Who are you as a person?
- What actions would keep that reality from occurring? What actions would increase the likelihood of that future?
5. Spot the themes.
After reflecting on the above, see if you spot any trends or themes. Do you find yourself thinking about a certain memory as a child? Or a certain vacation you took to France? Is there a certain characteristic or word that comes out when you think about yourself in 10 years?
- In 10 years, I want to be [insert adjective and focus on “Being“].
- I feel most aligned when I am doing ______.
- What do I want people to say about me when I’m not in the room?
- What’s missing from my life right now? Am I waiting for the right time to stat? Is there something I wish I did more of?
- What things or activities in my life are not congruent with the person I want to be in 10 years from now? In other words, is there something you realize you need to do more or less of?
6. Identify your North Star.
The next step is simple: what’s the one guiding force or forces? You need to be able to see it, feel it, and hear what’s happening in the scene. It’s a state of being that you want to be able to transport to mentally.
For example, during one of our first quarterly offsite, one idea that we felt particularly drawn to was being able to wake up in the morning, sit on a porch, drink our coffee. We envisioned seeing trees, hearing birds, and sitting in a rocking chair.
Even if we don’t particularly want a rocking chair, we wanted to be in a place where that was possible. For us, this meant not living in a tiny New York City apartment, but somewhere with grass in a quiet house. It also meant not working a typical office job where we would have to wake up and be in the office by 9 am, but rather where we could have a slow morning if we wanted to.
In our last quarterly offsite (as of June 2019), one theme that came up for both of us was “service.” We both felt strongly about serving others through our work and actions.
Getting clear on our visions has made it clear what we had to do next.
7. Plan the next 13 weeks.
What are the things you need to do in order to get closer to your North Star?
Get clear on the actions you need to prioritize to move toward your desired future and commit to taking them for the next 13 weeks.
For us, it was to visit other cities where having a house and sitting on a porch facing trees might be possible. So our next steps were to plan trips and book flights to those cities. We blocked time for researching new cities, planning for new careers, and getting clarity on what else would be needed to start a new life in a new city.
Soon enough, our trajectory shifted from living in a big city with desk jobs and fast-paced mornings to living in a small city with a window looking out at trees and owning a business that allowed us to work from home.
In our most recent 13-Hour Offsite, we ended up breaking down our plan even more. We each wrote down three to four daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly commitments based on our North Star ideas.
For example, one of Sarah’s North Star goals was to be more thoughtful and intentional with her time. She hates feeling distracted by too many projects, so for the next 13 weeks, she is committing daily to writing down only a small number of tasks for the day and assigning each one a reasonable time slot. She does this every night before she goes to bed so that the next morning, she doesn’t have to spend time figuring out what to do. This one tiny action is allowing her to focus on the important things and say “no” to the things that aren’t on the list for today. As a result, she is feeling much calmer and in control of her life.
Making This Your Own
We believe in the 13/13/130/130 Framework but when you run your 13-Hour Offsite the day is yours to make your own. The primary points to take away from this process are:
- 13 Hours: Block a full workday.
- 13 Weeks: Run these reviews quarterly.
- 130 Years: Zoom as far out as you possibly can (generation thinking).
- 130 Months: Think about the future of your wildest dreams (decade thinking).
- Plan: Put it on your calendar.
- Pattern-break: It should not be at your home or office.
- Partner: Bring an accountability partner if you have one.
- Pen & Paper: Go analog on your first offsite.
- Process: Prioritize the actions that will move you closer to your vision. Get specific by writing out daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly commitments.
When it’s all said and done, you will have a clear idea of what your North Star is and what to do to get there.
By escaping the everyday activities of life and looking at the big picture, you’re able to see what’s missing and what’s on track. But it’s only after zooming out, that can you zoom back in and plan the essential daily tasks it takes to reach your true goal.