Why you need a one day writing retreat

Our retreat leader, Susan Flowers

Have you found a way to avoid the tasks that snow you under and get your important but not urgent work done? It is something that I struggle with daily. I am kind to myself and understand that some days the needs of others must take over. I must teach. I must attend journal club. I must advise students and mentor colleagues. I must write those letters of recommendation. And this is besides the daily pleasures of eating, walking the dog, socializing, and of course sleeping. So where does the time come from for what I would like to think is my real work, my long-standing contribution to humanity?

One option is the one-day writing retreat, such as the one I am at now at Tyson Research Center. The director, Dr. Kim Medley, is great at generating a sense of community in a way that increases everyone’s productivity and writing retreats is one of her ideas. They happen once a month in the Learning Living Center where tables are arrayed so we each look over a stream and the forests beyond, now turning red and brown as autumn gets serious. Our leader, Susan Flowers, has put the rules on the board. We write from 9 to 4 with a break for lunch (bring your own) and woodland walks at 10:30 and 2:00. Tyson provides snacks, coffee, and blankets if we want them.

The real rules Susan has titled: You know this! and indeed we do. Silence your phone.Do not open your email software. Make a detailed checklist to feel productive and put it on the board for public accountability.

My view for the day

Somehow it works. We are a small group today, but from three different St. Louis institutions, the Botanical Society of America, St. Louis University, and Washington University in St. Louis, represented by people from Tyson, Biology, and Anthropology. I might be alone in my office, but there is something about having neighbors working away that keeps me on task. I suppose it is what draws some to coffee shops.

Tomorrow life will continue, but maybe some of the peace that comes from writing silently in the company of others will stay and keep me on task.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
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