Nine resolutions for a new year of consulting

Chip Camden grades himself on how well he lived up to his six resolutions for 2008 and then adds three more to the list for 2009. IT consultants, what are your resolutions for the new year?

Believe it or not, it's 2009 already. If you believe that seven is a lucky number, 2009 is the year for you. It's not only a multiple of seven, but also a multiple of seven times seven (with the only other prime factor being 41). And nine minus two yields seven. But I'm not superstitious.

The changing of the calendar is the traditional time for changing your life (or at least, promising yourself you will) by making resolutions. Last year, I posted six resolutions for 2008. Today I'll review my performance on those commitments and set some new goals for 2009.

First, a look back at last year's best laid plans:

#1: Do more of the work that I want to and less of the work that I have to.

I was able to spend more time with languages and technologies that interest me, but still not as much as I would have liked. I delved deeper into Ruby, mostly by reading Hal Fulton's The Ruby Way and by playing around with the language on my own. I did manage to land one paying gig that used Ruby, but I didn't end up writing any of the code (which was disappointing). I also learned a lot about Lisp by reading Paul Graham's On Lisp (well, I'm on the last chapter), which I can highly recommend to anyone with a strong programming background who wants to learn that most elegant and powerful language. I continued writing for TechRepublic and [Geeks are Sexy], both of which I thoroughly enjoy. I turned away a couple of projects that didn't interest me, and I convinced a couple of clients to pursue projects that did interest me and to involve me in them.

Grade: I have to give myself an A in this category, even though there's more progress to be made.

#2: Spend evenings and weekends face to face with my family instead of my monitors.

Oops. Although I have been pretty good about evenings and holidays, I worked far more weekends this past year.

Grade: I score a D, but my wife gets an A for her patience.

#3: Make more money than last year.

I increased my 2008 gross receipts by about 20% compared to 2007, via a combination of significantly raising my rates and working more hours. I could have done even better if it weren't for procrastination.

Grade: I still have to give myself an A here. Any time you can engineer a 20% increase in revenue you should be happy with yourself. I don't think that will happen again this year though — given the state of the economy, I'm not planning to raise any clients' rates in 2009.

#4: Do something for each of my clients that makes them say, "Wow, I'm glad we hired that guy."

I definitely created some of those moments in 2008, but I have to admit that not every one of my clients experienced that feeling — and I probably missed some opportunities for those moments.

Grade: Of course, you can't please everyone, so I'll give myself a B here.

#5: Don't put up with clients who stretch the terms of their agreement.

I took this one seriously and got tough this year: Clients who habitually paid late were put on a "show me the money" plan — they paid in advance, or I performed no work. Period. All my other clients who did pay on time remained on terms, with my heartfelt thanks.

Grade: It's definitely an A.

#6: Make sure that my good clients know that they're appreciated.

I gave out a couple of customer appreciation credits this year, and I made an effort to tell each of my clients how important they are to me. But I could have done a lot more; for instance, I didn't send out any holiday cards or gifts.

Grade: I'll give myself a C. Using the traditional four-point scale, that gives me an average of 3.0, or in other words, an overall B (presuming that each resolution carries an equal weight). Not bad, but I could have done better.

For 2009, I'll continue to work on each of the items above (which also look a lot like my 2007 list), plus I'll add the following three resolutions:

#7: Kill the procrastination monkey.

This is, by far, my biggest obstacle to productivity. For a quick measurement, compare my total billing for the year against a 2000 hour work year. The resulting effective rate is pretty depressing — only about 60% of my mean billing rate. Now of course, a lot of that difference can be accounted for by activities that are required to run the business but aren't billable. Still, I know that a lot of time gets wasted just getting myself started on each project.

#8: Stop thrashing my mental swap space.

Dividing my attention too finely between multiple projects makes me less effective on each one; this effect gets multiplied when procrastination enters the picture. I need to be even more disciplined about avoiding interruptions and focusing on a single task for long periods of time.

#9: Act on more ideas.

I have a lot of ideas, but most of them never get past the "oh, that would be cool" phase. I need to allocate more time to making some of these ideas into more than thought bubbles.

How about you?

How well did you keep your 2008 resolutions (that is, if you believe in making resolutions at all)? Do you have any new ones for 2009? Can you offer any tips that have helped you keep resolutions — perhaps posting a printout of your resolutions in your workspace or assessing mid-year how you're faring with your resolutions? Share your thoughts and tips about resolutions in the discussion.

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Chip Camden has been programming since 1978, and he's still not done. An independent consultant since 1991, Chip specializes in software development tools, languages, and migration to new technology. Besides writing for TechRepublic's IT Consultant b...

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