When I used to work in an oil company, and when I was working for non-profit organizations, one of the things I had to sit through every six months or so was a strategic planning session. I say "sit through´ because I was younger then, and I didn´t always see the greater purpose in what we were doing. In fact, I was often far more interested in doing "stuff´ to be interested in taking the time to figure out what stuff it was that we were going to be doing.
What I truly didn´t realize then was the opportunity that I was wasting. Now that I am out on my own and I fill every position from CEO to janitor in my company, I would relish the opportunity to sit around in a room with everyone involved in a project and determine the direction of the short and long term future. Or at least that´s what I relished until a couple of weeks. It was then that I realized that I could quit longing to have a whole group of people involved in the same project in a room, removed from their normal work, just planning and dreaming and imagining. I could quit longing because it is really, really easy to find time on the schedules of everyone in the company to get together and plan when you are everyone in the company.
So, that´s what I did — my company had an off-site. And we did it up right, too. I cleared my schedule for an afternoon and I headed out somewhere where there was no phone and no computer. I started out by going for lunch, because that´s a surprisingly nice treat when you work at home. Then I went off and grabbed a coffee and got right to it.
I´ve had thoughts of the future and the paths I want to follow at the various forks in the road that come up professionally for a while now. Nothing profound and dramatic — just questions of which direction I should focus. I was slowly getting a little bit further along every time I had a few minutes to think about it, but it was a slow and tedious process. I sat down at the corporate strategic planning session, took out a pad of paper, wrote "The Future´ on the top of the first page, and let every word in my mind pour out. Four hours and half a tree later, I had a pretty good sense of what the next steps were and what I had to do to get there. It was, quite simply, the most productive afternoon I have had in a long time.
If you work by and for yourself, there is nothing I could recommend more than taking some time off-site to brainstorm and plan. I know you probably try to build that kind of thing into every day, and so do I. Still, the new surroundings and the absence of distractions made the whole experience incredibly valuable and productive. And everyone in my company agrees.