10 New Year’s Resolutions for the Freelance Developer
The new year is always a good time to set goals for the next 12 months. As a freelance developer, at least some of them should focus on how to stay on top of your game.
Today I’ve written out my ten resolutions for 2008. Some of these apply not just to developers, some are especially important for them. Some of them are inspired by one of my favorite books The Pragmatic Programmer. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you do it first thing in the new year. The following are things I usually go through over the course of a new year, not one of them, all of them, if it’s possible.
1. Learn a new programming language
For me, this is one of the most important things to do. Learning a new programming language not only gives you more things to put on your portfolio, it also broadens your knowledge and makes you look differently at things and how you’re doing them right now or have done in the past.
If you’re a web developer and haven’t taken it for a spin yet, check out Ruby on Rails. Even if you don’t pick it up immediately for new projects, I can assure you that it will change your view on how you’ve been doing things in the past, whether you’ve worked with Java or PHP. No matter what language you pick up, there’s only one decent way to really learn it: by putting it to practical use.
2. Start your own project
Even if it’s just for fun, put your knowledge to some regular use other than your every day work. That way you can learn new techniques, try out new frameworks and tools, and add something to show in your portfolio. You could also become an active member of an open source project – your own or an existing project. Both help you build up reputation, especially if other people actually use your work.
3. Add a new tool to your toolbox
The toolbox is what drives your everyday work. For every task you solve you usually use the right tool that fits the needs as exactly as possible. But what about those tedious tasks you’re still doing by hand over and over again? What if there’s a tool that could take that load off your hands? Identify that task and look for tools that might help you solve it faster. Even if it’ll cost you money, in the end it can save you precious time.
4. Read a book each quarter
For me reading is a crucial part of expanding my knowledge. The Pragmatic Programmer’s golden rule is to read one book on technical topics each quarter. I try to read more than that, but also to squeeze in a good old novel in between. Reading has never been a waste of time, a good book is still something to be valued, and something the Internet and blogs just can’t give you. They’re perfect to stay up to par, but books give you a bigger picture. Whether you prefer a paperback or an ebook, reading more is one resolution that never goes out of style.
5. Learn from last year
The holidays are a perfect time to look back over the last twelve months. Look at your achievements, your successes, incorporate them into your portfolio if appropriate. But also look at things that went wrong, things that stood in your way, things that slowed you down, or just simply mistakes you made. Jot them down and try to find ways to prevent those mistakes, or to circumvent things that hold you back.
Learning from mistakes is a technique that’s being used far less than it should be. Things that went wrong can, looked at objectively, teach you a lot. I’d even go as far as saying that you can only learn really valuable lessons from things that went wrong.
6. Get rid of an old habit
The first thing that comes to mind when you think bad habits is to quit smoking. Though I’m not necessarily talking about health issues, this is still a very good resolution. But it can also be a habit that makes you less productive or slows you down. You check your email too often, you let yourself be distracted too much by instant messaging with friends, spend too much time updating your Twitter status, you name it.
All of these are distractions that tend to lure your focus away from the very thing that brings in the money: work. If you can turn all the aforementioned things into money, I salute you. If not, you might want to consider reducing their usage.
7. Pick up a new habit
Now that you got rid of an old habit, pick up a new one. After all, there’s more time in your life now, right? Actually it’s not that easy. Picking up a new habit can be a dangerous thing, but it can also be useful for your career. Starting to blog would be one example for the latter. Or always using more personal ways than email or instant messaging to stay in touch with your clients.
If you feel like you’re drowning in unorganized work, pick up Getting Things Done, and try to get more organized. While I’m not a religious follower, it has still helped me to stay focussed on tasks and specific actions. And that alone is a huge improvement in productivity.
8. Start writing a journal
Isn’t that what teen girls do? Far from it. And it doesn’t have to involve fancy stickers, ponies or unicorns of any kind. At the end of the day, or after you finished a task, just write down what you did, what problems you ran across and how you solved them. Include code snippets for interesting things.
Over time you’ll grow a nice reference of your work, your code, things that went wrong, and, most importantly, your successes. If you want to, include your newly picked up habits. That way you have something to track your progress and something to look through at the end of the year to figure out your resolutions for the following year. Plus, it gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling knowing that you accomplished something during the day.
9. Get away from the computer
Even though work’s fun and all, there’s also that world outside. With other people, sun, and lots of things to see. Three dimensions, just waiting to be explored. So why not pick up a camera and start shooting? That’s what I did. Photography is a nice way to get new inspirations, to take your mind off work for a while and most importantly, to take the hands off the computer.
If it’s your thing, pick up a hobby involving crafting. I found cooking and baking to be an almost zen-like experience. Gives you time to think, keeps your hands and mind busy nonetheless, and gets you and your hands out of their daily routine. The latter is something not to be underestimated.
Unless you’re doing workout anyway, just typing and using the mouse all day long will eventually come back and hurt you in your strains. Let me tell you that there are things far more pleasant than that kind of pain. Enjoying fresh cookies is one of them.
10. Go on holidays
Life’s too short for just work. And there’s lots of places to see in the world. Australia, for example. Take time off, plan a holiday, and get away from home and most importantly, don’t take your computer, visit an internet cafe if you must check your email every once in a while. Pick up books instead. When I’m on holidays I read like crazy. I usually need three to four days per book, and the best thing is: I actually enjoy it. It frees the mind, gives new ideas and gives your body time to rest and recreate.
Happy New Year
That’s a big list certainly, but it’s nothing to be scared of. Just go through it one by one, take your pick for each one and get going. The best way to start off the new year, in my opinion, is to read a new book. So get to it, set your goals for the next year, and try your best to reach them.