Ten important items to do if you want to live successfully.

It took a fellow Hoosier, David Letterman, to make the "Top Ten" list famous. Keeping with our editor's theme of the month, I developed my list of things you need to do. Not could do, or should do, these are definitely things you need to do.

10. Visit your doctor each year. Alright, you thought I would start with something plumbing oriented. Well, in a way, it is plumbing oriented. Our body is like a plumbing system. There is a main pump, called a heart, a lot of piping called arteries and blood vessels. You get the idea. Plumbing contractors have been known to have a very macho image. Being macho means not visiting a doctor. (We don't need no stinkin' doctor!)

I added an annual physical as one of the benefits of our company's health insurance policy. I would encourage you to do the same. All too often we hear the expression, "If only we caught it earlier." So, let's catch it earlier. Take the time to visit the doctor.

Another point that should be made is that your doctor needs a baseline. They need test results that indicate when you are normal. Then, when there is something wrong, the doctor can compare the results to the baseline test results.

9. Participate in an association. I don't care if you choose PHCC, MCAA, a Master Plumbers group, ASPE, ASHRAE or ASSE. If you are a member, great! If you participate, even better! If you think your local group is not good, then make it better. Don't sit back and expect others to serve you. As a part of the profession, you need to participate on a professional level. Yes, the members are often your competitors, but they should also be your friends.

If you are a design/build contractor, let me put in an extra plug for ASPE. This is one of the finest organizations I belong to. They provide a wealth of knowledge in the area of plumbing design.

8. Upgrade your computer skills. It is hard to believe that when I started my business in 1990 we had one computer. Now, as I turn my head in the office, five computers are visible. Like many of you, I went from knowing nothing to being pretty proficient. But, you need to stay proficient. In the technology world, things constantly change. But, they also make life easier for you.

One contractor I know invested $300 for a digital camera and $200 for a color printer capable of 14,400 dpi. Whenever he has a major problem, he takes digital pictures of what is wrong. Then, after completing the job, he takes more pictures. He does a quick write up of the problem and solution and attaches the digital photos. You talk about blowing away a customer. All it took was a little imagination with the latest technology.

Heck, we even have service technicians with Palm Pilots. Their entire schedule is downloaded each day. The Palm also has the other information necessary for the tech. Amazing!

7. Help your religious organization. Whether it is your church, synagogue, temple, mosque or assembly hall, you owe it to your faith to donate some of your time. That time should be in the way of simple plumbing projects. I hate to see plumbing done in religious establishments by the dedicated faithful that have no clue how to do plumbing. Thus, offer your helping hand. Yes, I know that the religious establishments have to pay for the major projects, I am talking about those small problem areas. It may only take you a couple of hours every six months.

6. Try a new product or new tool each and every year. You need to budget for new gadgets. Whether it is a new tool or new plumbing product, when new things come on the market, you have to at least try them. Many times you find out that the new item is far superior to the older way of doing things. Plumbing does change, and we need to keep up with the times.

I know; the codes need to keep up with the times, too. But, if you start using new products or tools, the codes have to follow along.

5. Attend a plumbing show at least every two years. I am amazed at how many contractors blow off the various plumbing shows. I love attending the shows; what a great educational tool. You get to choose what product you would like to investigate, plus there are always new and innovative products being displayed. To be a great contractor you need to go at least every two years. It is even better if you can attend annually.

4. Read, read and read. If you are reading this column, you already know the importance of reading. The greatest skill we ever learn is the ability to read. So much is written about our profession, and we need to read about it and stay informed. I am always picking up new books. Many times they contain information that I already know about, but they become a good reference source. I also pick up non-plumbing books that are also a great help. Many on business techniques, or marketing skills, or people skills.

I also have found that reading pleasure books or novels is a way to unwind from the grind of the business. You can get lost in the novel. My wife started me on reading a little each night before bedtime. She is right - it helps you sleep better.

3. Take continuing education. Following the theme of education and knowledge, another aspect is continuing education classes. There are so many classes and programs available that this is easy to do. I see contractors from age 20 to 80 in some of the classes I teach. That is a good feeling - that information crosses the generation lines. I thought that, after completing a formal education that was the end of classroom study. Boy, was I wrong. You stop learning when you are six feet under.

2. Train your children. Whether you want your children to go into the plumbing profession or not, you should provide them with a basic understanding of the profession. As my father always said, at least his children could do their own plumbing in their own home.

But, better yet, with a basic knowledge of plumbing, they can use the information in many other ways than being a plumbing contractor. This is information that is not provided in their formal education from schools or colleges. It is a wonderful opportunity; don't let it pass your children by.

And the No. 1 thing you need to do:

1. Love your spouse with your whole heart and whole mind. Need I say more? Whether it is a wife, husband or lover, give them all the love you can. When it is returned, it comes back tenfold.