At 3:38 PM today (PST), the earth’s axis reaches its maximum tilt, and the Northern Hemisphere experiences what is supposed to be the shortest day (and longest night) of the year.

From here on out, the days are supposed to be getting longer, but it always feels as if winter has just begun, and in fact, somewhere around late February I become convinced this December 21 thing is a giant practical joke played on us by a bunch of astronomy geeks still pissed because they couldn’t get dates to the prom.

Still, it’s a day worth a little reflection, if only because the river’s too high to fish, the snow’s falling, and my office is piled with boxes to the point the only egress is a little path between the desk and the door.

In other words, I can think, or I can straighten up.

I’ll take “think” every time.

The Hell With Resolutions

I read somewhere that New Year’s Resolutions have gone out of style, and good riddance.

In one sense, New Year’s Resolutions are a bet against yourself. Better – far better – is to invest a little time in the big picture aspects of your career.

That’s never been more critical than today; a side-effect of our always-on media environment is the emphasis on the immediate and near-term – a focus on the tactical instead of the strategic.

In simple terms, are you working towards a goal, or just working?

In more dramatic terms, are you surviving upwards, or just surviving?

Comfort Is Your Enemy

Clearly, 2010 was the most tumultuous of my life; my grand little daughter’s arrival at the end of 2009 coincided with a wholesale change in my business model.

I even changed how I wrote, wholly abandoning paper-focused word processors for online-friendly text editors (like Emacs and Komodo Edit.

So far, things are working; right after the new year, three big web projects kick into gear, and I’ll be too busy surviving to plan the next year of my career.

So I’m going to take a few days before then to sit back, disconnect, read a few reports on trends and technology, and think about what next year holds.

Bill Gates used to famously hold a weeklong retreat every year where the day-to-day aspects of work disappeared. They were replaced by reams of reports and other information – the fuel of big-picture thinking – and a lot of high-level discussion about where his business should be pointed.

There’s no reason a freelance writer (or consultant, or whatever) wouldn’t benefit from the same exercise.

Where are you headed? What are your long-term career plans? How do you plan to get there?

And (this one’s often overlooked) what do you need to change on a day-to-day basis to make it happen?

The Big Picture (It Works)

Last year, my big picture strategy aimed me squarely at consulting instead of writing, and one of my day-to-day goals was to become make the writing/business half of my work more efficient.

The tactical effect was this: I took a hard look at my tools and processes and eliminated some of the inefficient practices I’d clung to for the last decade (or longer).

Meanwhile, the big picture stuff drove my plans for a marketing website and development of a message aimed at a specific type of client (small and medium sized organizations who are bewildered by the array of online marketing technologies).

Today – and following on the heels of a couple similar projects – I’m about to begin three new online presence projects.

Clearly, I got something right, though it’s possible none of the above would have come true if I hadn’t invested a week in my own future – a week spent reworking not just my processes, but also my assumptions about how things should be done.

So if your plans for the holidays simply involve eating too much to move, consider carving out a few days to look at the bigger picture – the one that lies beyond your next New Year’s resolution.

Keep writing, Tom Chandler.