Using the Force: A gentleman's guide to surviving workshops

Using the Force: A gentleman's guide to surviving workshops

Summary: Surviving and thriving while accompanying a spouse or significant other to a weekend workshop is possible. It is a Jedi-level skill, but it is possible. Pay attention, young Padawan, for the secrets are about to be revealed.


A few months ago, I told you about the weekend vacation I took with my wife. She was going to a workshop and I tagged along as an excuse to get away. I was initially concerned about how I would pass the weekend while she was in sessions, but my concerns were unwarranted. I've been meaning to tell you my secret Jedi knowledge for a while, but just got around to turning it into an article today.

You see, surviving and thriving while accompanying a spouse or significant other to a weekend workshop is possible. It is a Jedi-level skill, but it is possible. Pay attention, young Padawan, for the secrets are about to be revealed.

First, let's establish the basics. You're going to be away from home for a few days. You will at the mercy of the resources of the lodge, hotel, or wherever you will be staying. There will be short chunks of time to enjoy the company of your spouse and her friends, and long periods of time when you're on your own.

What do you do? What do you do?

You need to make a number of preparations

First, be sure you bring both a computing device (I brought a Chromebook) and a reading device (Kindle on my phone). Bring an extension cord (a power strip would also help) and your chargers. You want to be sure your toys have an initial charge as well. Bring earbuds or headphones.

Now, before you leave, load 4-12 hours of fun video programming onto your Chromebook (or equivalent). Make sure you can play it back without a network connection. This is your failsafe. If there's no WiFi and no 4G, you still have emergency entertainment.

Finally, before you leave, pack a bag or box of cookies. This is important. You might also want some clothes and toiletries, but the cookies must be the top packing priority. Now, my young Padawan, you are ready to depart.

Establishing your role at the workshop

When you arrive at your destination (in my case, it was a Florida lodge), be sure to be helpful to your spouse. Odds are you'll need to run an errand for something she forgot. This will let you learn the lay of the land and make it look like you're being helpful.

This is key. Being helpful early will allow you to seem helpful later, without having to do anything useful.

There's one other interaction rule, and then we can get to the good stuff. The key interaction rule is this: be available for the group social gatherings. Show up for lunch with the workshop attendees (we paid a few extra bucks so I could mooch the food). If there's a big marquis event, show up for the first 15 minutes in support of it.

This set of techniques will establish you as being in the workshop group, but not of it. You'll be welcome when seen wandering the grounds, but people will merely smile at you. You won't have to act like you care, as long as you nod and smile back.

Making the most of your time

Here's where it gets good. The most valuable technique for passing time is ... wait for it ... napping. I'm serious. We all know how wonderful napping is. Make clear from the very beginning that one of your goals is napping and being lazy. This will set the tone.

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Then, the first morning, sleep in. If you're called to bring something to the workshop your sigother forgot, get up, bring it to the workshop, and go back to napping.

This is Napping of the First Degree. One, you're not at home. Two, your spouse is busy in her own workshops. Three, if you were smart and you turned off your phone, you won't be disturbed. And four, you're not at home, so you're not expected to get up and do home stuff.

I did three naps my first day there, and I'm telling you, they rocked.

Next, if you want, do some work. While the others are doing their thing, whatever that is, use your computer or tablet to check your email, do some writing (I wrote three articles while I was in the lodge lobby), or even play a game. This will make you feel like you're on a working vacation, and if the other workshop attendees give you any lip, you can look at them and tell them you are working. Righteousness. It works.

Finally, don't forget your pre-recorded videos and Netflix (if you can get the bandwidth). These serve two important purposes. First, if you can't fall asleep when you want to nap, you'll have good stuff to watch while relaxing in your room. This is Video of the First Degree. It is completely uninterrupted, quality video-watching time. Use it well.

You can also bring your laptop, tablet, or Chromebook into the lobby, hook up your earbuds, and watch to your heart's content. Workshop participants will recall you're someone's spouse, and leave you to your quiet enjoyment.

The food

Finally, I'll leave you with food tips. If there is a potluck, go to the local WalMart, Walgreens, supermarket, or whatever there is and buy the biggest, most outlandish, almost-but-not-quite-inappropriate pot luck item you can. This will establish you as enthusiastic, but not quite helpful.

You want them to think you'd be willing to help but at the same time, you want them to prefer you really don't get involved. I'm telling you. This is a Jedi-level skill. Practice with care.

Finally, spend some of your time going out for food while workshop participants do their workshop. Key to this is bringing back treats for your SO. If you do, you'll not only have had a chance to chow down on whatever you want, but you'll again establish yourself as a heck of a guy.

Using the Force

So there you go. The key to these Jedi-level skills is that even if your friends, spouse, or significant other know you have a scheme, they'll still be happy. Mind control, when the controllee knows he or she is being manipulated and is okay with it can take you a long way.

Just don't push your luck. Unless you truly have Jedi-level skills, these things can backfire. Try them individually, at separate occasions, and see how they work. Don't try the Full Monty of Jedi skills when stuck with a spouse while away from home unless you know you've practiced your skills and they (and you) are at the master level.

By the way, I'm doing more updates on Twitter and Facebook than ever before. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz and on Facebook at

Topics: After Hours, Mobility, DIY


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • That Jedi "WalMart" shopping tip prompted a chuckle from a past memory.

    Us "Boys" had a three day golfing trip planned. The first order of business after unpacking at our destination was a quick trip to the local Walmart for food and other things.

    My friend, who apparently hadn't had very much - if any - family shopping experience, came back to the group with his essential trip purchase: A large twelve pack role of toilet paper.

    We all looked at him in a classic comedic moment and then one of us promptly asked our friend if there was anything we should know about his cooking skills before dinner was served that evening.

    Needless to say, our friend escaped cooking duties for the trip!

    I know wonder if he ever attended a David Gewirtz advanced graduate level course in Workshop planning?!
  • My 411

    * If you're on the company meal plan, nothing wrong with splitting your meals with your partner. Most places give you way too much food as it is anyway and no point in taking leftovers to the hotel.

    * If you did not get a rental car for the trip, look for grocery delivery services. Orlando has one and will deliver to your hotel front desk.

    * If you are at a big convention like TechEd or something, get invited to a vendor party before the trip and then email the coordinator and ask for an extra ticket for a spouse. Got to take my wife to the House of Blues party with a open bar, live music, dancing, and great food.

    * Plan where your hotel is. Even if there is a convention hotel, you might be better served at one that is further away from your con hall but closer to things your partner might want to do or is nicer. In TN we stayed at the Gaylord (I was the tag along spouse on that trip) and that hotel was a theme part in of itself.

    * If you company will let you, drive to your destination instead of flying if its not too far. This will save you your partners plane ticket, you have a rental while there, and it typically is cheaper than a single ticket for you anyway. Just take a vacation day or a weekend day for the extra driving. Add your partner to the car as a driver, most places will do this for free if you are in their program.

    * Find out if the con has local tourist tickets to things like events or theme parks. You can typically get these at a good discount.

    * If you are at a vendor event, don't be shy about introducing your partner to your vendors. Many times they will invite her with you to drinks or dinner at their expense. Some of this is just salemanship but really most just enjoy doing it. Our company goes out of our way to treat our vendors well as we want a win/win to keep a healthy relationship.

    * Some events I have been to hand out candy bars, drinks, etc to the crowd. Always take a bag with you to take some of the spoils back to your partner.

    Just a few of my survival tips :)
    Rann Xeroxx