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Unlikely retreat

Posted on Oct 26 2011
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This past summer I ended up with jury duty. I didn’t serve on a trial, but I did have to report for several days. The only positive outcome of the experience was that it gave me time to think. Since prospective jurors can’t use electronics – no camera phones, no laptops, etc, I brought along a book and a spiral notebook that I bought at a back-to-school sale.

(Can you tell me why back-to-school starts the day after Independence Day? But I digress.)

Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits.

Satchel Paige

The spiral notebook was the best idea. I sat and brainstormed during the many hours I waited. There were few distractions aside from the banal chatter from B-berg News that was forced upon us via the only working TV in the holding pen. I had time to think. To ponder. To contemplate. I imagined myself as Thoreau on Walden Pond despite my less than idyllic surroundings stuck in a 60′s era courthouse in downtown Joliet, IL.

Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it.

Henry David Thoreau

So what did I do? I wrote. A lot. I wrote lists. I scribbled ideas. I drew diagrams. I contemplated the future while making some sense of the present. There were projects to plan. Ideas to kick around. Dreams to explore. And more. I wrote several notes, letters, and even a couple of blog posts (like this one). It was a very productive period. It was refreshing.

And it was necessary. For my sanity.

The busy-ness that envelops a typical day often interferes with concentration and focus. There is little time or energy to truly think, to work through problems, to pause and reflect.

The filling of my civic duty seems like an odd circumstance for such an epiphany. Nevertheless it worked for me. I think it was the abundance of time alongside the quiet silence and isolation of the moment that generated such a wealth of activity for me.

With 70 sheets of college-ruled paper to explore, I felt energized to fill them with thousands of words. Through this I was able to resolve many thoughts that had been nagging and tugging at the edges of my mind. I charted a journey. I made decisions. And this all invigorated and expanded my imagination.

Since this was not a singular event – I was in the jury room for several days – I had time to revisit and revise each day’s output without distractions to interfere with my progress.

Now you might ask: “Wasn’t your mind swimming with all the work you should be doing and everything that’s not getting done?” Strangely no. Since there really was nothing I could do about my situation, I elected to make the most out of it. I welcomed the forced break and took advantage of the time to be creative. (At night I caught up on all the backlog).

I can’t emphasize enough the real power my retreat brought to me I recharged and refocused. And that was invaluable. I encourage you to figure out a way to arrange a similar situation for yourself. Don’t confuse this retreat with vacation. The retreat is specific work, focused on idea generation and strategic planning. Vacation is time away from everything (and that’s another good idea on its own).

By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.


For the most benefit, you need several hours of uninterrupted time with no distractions and no technology. You can’t do this in a hour. Commit to a longer period of time and spread it out over several days. Go low-tech and try it with a pen and a notebook. It might be good to go to a new place, too. Choose somewhere that isn’t really comfortable (like hard-backed chairs in a jury room).

You may resist at first (I did), but soon you will begin to explore ideas. Record your thoughts and let yourself wander around in your thoughts and see where this retreat takes you. Focus on the what and eventually the why and how. When you return from your sojourn you can then take real action steps.

Do you have a method that you use to recharge and stimulate your creativity? Share it in the comments.

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