Going over the holiday period and into the new year, as a contractor, usually means time off work, which means you’re not getting paid. If you haven’t been keeping your finances in check, this might be cause for alarm, anxiety, even panic. Otherwise, its par for the course of the contractors life.
As it’s not my first rodeo, new year’s and start of year resolutions aren’t new to me, or anybody. And instead of debating the pros and cons of having a ‘new year new me’ mentality, the main things that come to mind for me at this time of the year is a review of where I’m at verses where I want to be; and what work am I actually doing and how do I still feel about it?
“is what you’re doing now getting you closer to your goals?”
This was written on an A4 sheet of paper on my brothers wall back in the day. And its a simple on-the-spot assessment of what you’re doing with yourself and what value it’s going to bring to your goals. It sort of stops you in your tracks because its a YES or NO question.
It doesn’t need any specific details, or long-winded explanations or require any deeper understanding than that of answering a binary question. I think this is a great starting point to kick off not only looking at what you’re currently doing, but also what your goals are (if you have any) because you’re going to need to know those before any meaningful evaluation can even take place.
Goals: Review, Revise, Renew.
Everyone’s heard and read to death every angle of long-term, short-term goal setting and structure, pros, cons and meh’s of time management and planning etc so I’m not really here to add to that already staggering body of work.
It’s the beginning of the year (yeah I’m a little late to the 2019 New Year countdown here, but we’re still in Jan which is pretty “beginning of the year” to me) so have you had a chance to review your existing long-term goals? Are they still relevant? Is that still what you want? Are they on-track?
For me, the new year gives me a chance to kick back and review what I think I want long term; after that I check that my mid-to-short term activities appear to line up to support the long term thing becoming reality. Nothing too hard out, or super strict (there’s a time for that I’m sure), but as long as I’ve got the big picture right - and the big picture for me right now is “am I happy with where my life is going?” - then the rest are just details to be worked out as I go along.
It’s an awfully privileged point of view, I know, but if your goals don’t make you happy or don’t result in something that would make you happy (just big guesses here for everyone, we can’t predict the future) then it’s probably a good idea to revise those goals for something worthwhile.
The main takeaway from this section about what I do at the start of the year is, as a lot of people do, I just have a look out to the horizon and see if that’s the direction I want to be heading in; look up ahead a bit and make sure I’m not trying to trek over a mountain where a valley heading the same way is available; then down at myself to make sure I’m wearing appropriate gear for this journey and whether anything needs refilling or replacing.
Finding and doing Good Work
I’ve been listening to Seth Godin’s podcast ‘Akimbo’ lately and on one episode (can’t remember which one so you’ll have to listen to them all haha) he says to “fire your bad clients”. The idea he was discussing here, similar to what I’ve heard from the “Rich Dad. Poor Dad” crowd, is bad clients or bad customers with their bad behaviour (e.g. looking to cut cost at the expense of quality, race to the bottom out-sourcing economics etc) should be abandoned.
In Kiyosaki’s literature (I believe - don’t quote me on it), a bad customer creates a lot of work for your company, most of which is usually unnecessary, and they tend not to be a significant source of revenue. So, they consume lots of your work units and try to pay as little as possible for them. Sounds both frustrating and unprofitable.
While Kiyosaki seems to be from the point of view of economics (as well I’m sure from the pure frustration of dealing with that kind of business scenario), Godin’s is focused on the quality of work in question.
A massively over-simplified example would be if I were to provide a consulting service for migrating business on-premises applications into the cloud, that would come with a slew of new technologies, ways of working and business mentalities. I would detail A, B and C of a solution and plan to deliver them to the cloud. If the client were to insist on bad security practices due to cost, or constantly change the design and other decisions while the project is in flight, I would deem this client a bad client.
The bad client is similar to a bad customer in that they make me do more and unnecessary work, which would drive the economics down anyway, but the primary sin here is that (if I take and do the work) this client would force me to do “bad work” i.e. implementing a bad design, building a flawed system.
And when you do bad work, not only do you feel a bit crap, but you don’t get good at doing GOOD work. I know this from experience. A lot of times in the industry it’s really hard to find company’s that are doing good work, so you end up perpetuating bad work because that’s all you can do - well, that or quit.
I think this topic needs a whole post on its own, so suffice it to say, doing good work makes you a better worker of that work - in standards, in knowledge, in practice. All that best practice that the industry giants have put out in books and articles and keynotes - doing THAT on the regular makes you good at things that are ‘best’. How do we even contend doing anything else?
So these are just some of the thoughts that come to mind as I kick off my year, and the activities that go with starting back at work - for me, its a new contract starting in Jan.
I’ve looked at my goals and reviewed them accordingly; I’ve had a think about whether my ‘clients’ are ‘good’ clients and are they forcing me to do good work?
And overall, this time of year, everyone who has been in the working game for years already has their ritual or process for this time of year, so do whatever works for you.