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A To-Do List For 2004

Today is January 5, and for all intents and purposes, it is the first 'real' work day of the new year. It is also my birthday. To celebrate that event, I have given myself a[imaginary] high-tech company, and have appointed myself president. Here's my to-do list for 2004.

1. Sell more stuff. Many of the analysts' reports that are out now say this year looks like a lucrative one. In fact, our sister publication, InformationWeek, publishes an ''IT Confidence Index,'' which hit a two-year high recently. The study found 82 percent of business-tech managers forecast revenue growth in 2004, and almost half projected higher IT budgets. To sell more intelligently, I'll need to educate myself on what IBM, Sun and HP (at a minimum) are doing in the server space and what their roadmaps look like for 2004. Once that's done, I can go on to figure out what companies should be interested in migrating to Linux, which firms should be looking at mobile technology, who should upgrade their operating systems, and so on.

2. Buy more stuff. Since I'm selling more stuff, I'm going to be buying more, too. Upgrading my own systems also sets an excellent example for my customers. And I'd buy things that make my employees' lives at work easier, so they can be more productive down the line. Updating software and providing organizational tools (like PDAs) can generate a lot of good will among the rank and file, and all the while employers get more work from more motivated employees. Happy employees, too, offer a great return on investment, which leads me to my third point

3. Give some stuff to my employees. This is meant to be neither materialistic nor altruistic. It's human nature that we all like to be treated well. If we don't feel as though we're being treated fairly, whether that's real or imagined, healthy people leave those situations. So the best thing to do is provide an atmosphere that employees like to work in. Tuition reimbursement, casual office gatherings, perks like comp days are some ways of communicating appreciation in a day and age when a $50 Christmas bonus is something to write home about. Even just a verbal, ''Hey, great job,'' goes a long way. True, this is all common sense but, oh, so rare. I remember the Internet boom years when employers basically shined the shoes of their employees, going overboard in wooing employees to come and then to stay. Once the economy tanked, we saw just how genuine those employers were. Pink slips came, dry cleaning services dried up, and it was harder to get a free gym membership than to bench-press 300 lbs. Company culture in some cases got downright mean. Now that the economy seems to be getting back on track, it'll be interesting to see the fallout at companies that just got too darn greedy.

4. Invent/design some stuff. C'mon, put your thinking caps on! No matter how big or small, there's got to be something you can come up with that will make your life or your customers' lives better. At my company, I'd be on the lookout for those "chief scientist" types who were lured to the dot coms to pursue true science but instead got mired in a flood of paperwork. We need scientists and inventors and engineers; without them we're marketing dreck.

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