For the past few years, I've taken sabbaticals as a way to gain some perspective on life and my career. It's usually around the summer months and in between major holidays. I usually go alone but sometimes I'll bring my wife or a friend along for a day trip that involves starting a campfire, eating some camp food, reading  books (the real ones, not the kind that require an e-book), and writing in a journal.

I've used roughly the same steps for years, but this is the first time I am documenting them for anyone else to follow. These tips are all based on what I've learned doing this for longer personal retreats, although many of the details change based on where I'm heading, if I'm alone for a few days, and (most importantly) the reason I'm taking the trip in the first place. Usually, it is a yearly practice to evaluate my life. We can even start this at the same time, since I'm doing one starting June 1.

As you may know, the biggest hard reset in life was when I left the corporate world in 2001. Long story, but I had a major reset then and started doing these trips that fall when I started writing full-time. Ever since, I've used these retreats as a way to ponder, invent new ideas, and reset my entire thinking process. Here's what I do:

Step one: Make your plans
Time commitment: A few hours
Where: Do this before you go

As I wrote in my seven-minute morning routine last year, you have to plan the where before you plan the why. Pick a spot that will be free of distractions. I like state parks that have an open public-use lodge because most people like to "retreat" to a hotel and don't like to be so rustic. When I go to a public lodge at a state park, I'm usually the only one there. It could be a lake cabin, but I don't recommend hotels--there are too many distractions. Make a rough plan about where you will go and for how long. It should take about four days total or more. You will need some books to read, good hiking shoes, clothes appropriate for the weather, plus a journal and several pens. Go minimal, though. You, a journal, hiking in the woods, food--that's about it.

Step two: Remove distractions
Time commitment: several hours to thoroughly remove them
Where: Do this before you go

This will be several days doing a hard reset either by yourself or with a significant other, pondering deeper life issues and thinking about whether you have reached any career milestones. Phones, laptops and tablets are not allowed. There's too much of a temptation to check "just one" email or browse a news site. Distractions come in many forms, too. Only bring reading material that is designed to help you take a reset. Career books, leadership tomes, anything by Charles Duhigg (who will help stimulate ideas), even lighter fare meant to spur creative thinking is fine. However, avoid any leisure reading material. Go into this with the idea that you will be focusing mostly on where you are in life, how far you've come, and where you want to go from here. Answer the tough questions: Do you like your job? Why? What would need to change for you to love your job? Do the same for your personal life, your marriage, kids, family--anything that has impacted you in any way since you were born.

Step three: Create a schedule for the week
Time commitment: At least a few hours
Where: Do this on the retreat the first day

I know, not everyone likes to write in a journal. Make an exception this one time, because a journal is a way to collect your thoughts. You should already be in the spot for the hard reset and you should have already removed all distractions. Now go ahead and create a schedule. What will you do each day? Schedule out every reading session, every meal, every walk through the woods, and everything else except bathroom break. If you attended youth camps as a kid, you are halfway there. This guide to the week helps you stay focused and makes the experience much more worthwhile. Stick to it like glue. Don';t let the freedom you have become another distraction from completing the hard reset. Be incredibly intentional.

Step four: Write out your challenges and what to do about them
Time commitment: At least one full day
Where: Do this on the retreat the second day

This is the hardest step, and you'll have to get the mental juices flowing. It might take a full day or maybe more. You'll come up with a few challenges right away, but after a few hours you will realize there are more. This is how the brain works. It takes some jostling to clear your head and uncover some of the stressful situations you've experienced. It's not a psychological exercise, though. You're listing out the problems as a way to help you face them. You are mainly attempting to get some closure on them, to put them into a physical form, to make them less vague. A challenge can be any trial, conflict, failure, setback, or painful experience in life. Document them thoroughly! It helps me to go for a long walk in between writing sessions because you will think of things when you are away from the journal. Also, feel free to read any books you brought along during this time to spur your thinking. This can help with the "what to do about it" process when you make plans to deal with the challenges.

Step five: Write out every success you've had so far in your life
Time commitment: At least one full day
Where and when: Do this on the retreat the third day

Writing out challenges is hard because you have to be honest with yourself. You have to probe pretty deeply. Writing out successes can be even harder, because we are all taught in life not to pat our own backs. Also, as humans, we tend to keep track of what we do wrong better than what we do right. Change that on this retreat. Document even the small "wins" in life that propelled you forward even a little. You finally learned how to confront people in your job or figured out how to do some programming. Maybe you learned something about emotional intelligence or how to lead people without coercion. Write it all down, but write down everything from your entire life. Be as thorough as possible. Read books as a way to spur your thinking about what really qualifies as a success. Think in topics like marriage, friendship, business, leisure activities, schooling, and everything in between.

Step six: Evaluate both lists and make your strategic plan
Time commitment: At least one full day
Where and when: Do this on the retreat the fourth day

Did you think a strategic plan is only for business? You should have one for your life as well. It's even more important. As you can imagine, this step could take an entire day. You should start with the challenges and successes you documented already. That's the bedrock. Now, build up from there. Given the successes and challenges you've faced, you now have a good level-set on the future. What else do you want to accomplish? This is more than goal-setting. Your strategic life plan should be specific, attainable, measurable, relative, and realistic. A good example might be a strategic plan related to income level or personal growth.

Step seven: Evaluate the hard reset
Time commitment: A few hours
Where and when: Do this on the last day or after the retreat

When you do a hard reset on a computer, it's always a good idea to check things over. Did the computer really benefit from this? Are your files in tact? Is it running better? Do the same with a hard reset on life. This step involves evaluating what you learned and adding a few more details as needed, and you can do it on the last day or even after the retreat is over. Look over your notes about your life. Anything more to add? Any other challenges or successes? Anything else bothering you? After this many days, you should have a good idea about what is facing you in life and how far you have come, but also where you still need to go.

And, that's it. You pressed the reset button. Can you let me know how it went and what you learned? I will keep documenting what other people find out.