Harry Cresswell

2018 in Review

With 2018 drawing to a close, I’ve decided to share my first Year in Review.

This is a chance to reflect and review my successes and failures over the past year, in a conscious effort to evaluate my progress, make improvements and insure I stay focused on the right stuff in the year ahead.

Having struggled with the pressures of a goal setting approach in previous years, I was drawn to this method after reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits.

The format of my Year in Review is almost the same as James’. Nothing new, but new for me. I hope it will help refine my processes and set myself up for a productive year ahead.

My Year in Review will answer the following three questions:

  1. What went well this year?
  2. What didn’t go so well this year?
  3. What did I learn?

My review will also include my intentions for 2019 and the areas I wish to focus on, which I plan to use as a guide in the year to come.

1. What went well this year? #

Writing. I managed to write 13 articles across harrycresswell.com and Medium, and record notes on most of what I’ve learnt from courses (some of which I’ve published). My weekly Newsletter has been one of my most consistent projects this year, with the audience growing steadily and the content starting to show a clear direction. If I can continue on this path in 2019 I’ll be very happy.

In Detail. Perhaps the most successful project I work on, undoubtably down to the incredible mix of people involved. We all bring a different skill set and continue to use it as a vehicle to learn, experiment and collaborate. 2019 is set to be another good year for In Detail with more energy focused on creating useful content for our readers, providing a service and doing what we can to make the jewellery industry more sustainable.

JavaScript. I finally got my act together and began to learn programming. Having made several attempts in the past I found taking some time out to focus on one thing, along with Gordon Zhu’s Practical JavaScript course to be the key.

I’m starting to see how the value gained in understanding a logical language like JavaScript can transcend and make improvements in other areas of my life.

Yoga and running. Although I didn’t track my yoga sessions this year, they were consistent. I think the fear of back pain drives my practice, as I’m all too aware how bad health makes everything else impossible. I’ve found a pattern of practicing yoga and running on alternate days to work best for me.

Travel. In 2018 I spent time in 7 different countries: England, Germany, United States, Portugal, Luxembourg, France and Austria. Luxembourg being the only new addition to the list.

Notable places I enjoyed spending time this year were Lisbon for its food, people and good weather, Strasbourg for its architecture and amazing clash of cultures and New York for its relentless energy.

I continued to spend much of my time in Hamburg which I now consider my home for part of the year.

Year in Numbers #

  • Published Articles: 13
  • Published Notes: 10
  • Sent Newsletters: 40
  • Runs: 52 (147.2 Miles)
  • Books Read: 12

2. What didn’t go so well this year? #

Loss of family. In January I lost my Grandpa to Dementia. Although his final years were difficult, he had a long and happy life. I always admired his positive outlook on the world and fantastic ability to ignore what’s not important. I must remember him for how he was when I was growing up and try and forget those final years. I will miss him greatly.

Meditation and Climbing. I’ve put these two together as they share one thing in common – I failed miserably at both. In 2017 these two disciplines where a real lifeline for me. Climbing helped me with problem solving and taught me how to be more methodical with my approach to every day challenges. For building physical strength it’s one of the best practices I’ve found.

Meditation, meanwhile, helped me with my composure, stress and focus. For one reason or another both fell by the wayside in 2018. I’d like to get back into a regular habit and disapline of practicing both next year.

Type Services. After a successful end to 2017 – where I released my first 3 typefaces in as many months – in 2018 I failed to release a single font. I must remind myself that good things take time, and whilst I have been slowing working away on a couple of new typefaces, I haven’t dedicated nearly enough time to the project. In 2019 I’m planning to change that and hope to deliver products more consistently.

Car Accident. Following 3 solid weeks of work converting our van to a camper, a car slammed into the back of us on the autobahn. It was our first day in a 2.5 month journey around Europe.

Mentally this was a huge challenge, having rented out our apartments and facing life without a home whilst we waited for our van to be fixed. But looking back we’re fortunate we survived the crash. And the experience certainly helped us to face challenges head on and grow in ourselves. I’m glad to report the van is now back on the road.

Learning German. I had a positive start to the year, beginning A1.2 German at Deutsch Akademie in Hamburg. Sadly I failed to keep this up throughout the year, although my German girlfriend assures me my conversational German is improving – albeit slowly. 2019 Los geht’s!

3. What did I learn? #

I learned a lot in 2018. Here are some of the most important takeaways.

The best way to learn something new is to do a bit each day. Before now I had ‘Learn JavaScript‘ somewhere on my todo list. It wasn’t until I stuck with Gordon Zhu’s Practical JavaScript course that I realised how ridiculous this must sound.

JavaScript is hard. Like any language it’s something you need to work at, on a daily basis if possible. To make this happen I took 2 solid months off work towards the end of this year and worked on my JavaScript every day, following Gordon‘s course almost exclusively. I’ve by no means got the language in its entirety, but it’s starting to click.

For this reason my biggest achievement this year may have been ‘learning how to learn‘ – by sticking with it and showing up regularly. I realise this approach applies to any practice in life or anything you wish to improve at.

In my case with JavaScript, rather than saying “Learn JavaScript” it might be be more useful to say “Practice your JavaScript each day” or “Spend 10 minutes a day building something with JavaScript”.

It’s important to step away from what you know and do something completely different. In September I took 3 weeks off work and converted a 2013 VW Transporter panel van into a camper, together with my girlfriend.

It’s been over 10 years since I last worked with wood and the first time I’ve ever modified a vehicle or worked with electrics. There’s something incredibly cleansing about working with your hands. It was a welcome break from my usual day-to-day in front of a computer.

The process taught me the importance of stepping away from a screen and applying myself to new problems, in different ways to those I’m used to. It also taught me the importance of action. No matter how much research you put in before hand, there’s something to be said for just getting started. Every situation will present its own set of problems which often are impossible to predict.

How to deal with setbacks and a change of plans. Life doesn’t always run smoothly. It often happens the way you least expect it. And you’ll sometimes find yourself living outside of your own control and well beyond the scope of your plans. This year this manifested itself in the form of the car crash I mentioned earlier.

So what important lessons did I take from this? Setbacks are unavoidable. Plans will inevitably change, it’s how you react that’s most important. Even if you try to, it’s wasted energy trying to control everything. A better way is to focus on how you respond to the situation you find yourself in. If you can find the positives in a challenging situation, then you will thrive in life. No matter what the challenge, there are lessons to take away.

Success is the result of compound investment. Over the years I’ve started countless projects and failed to stick at them. The problem was, I struggled to realise that success takes time and regular input.

Recently my good friend told me he was thinking about chucking in his music career to do something else, I said to him “It’s too late to stop now.” What I meant was; I could see how far he’s come with his sound and how much work he’s put in. It’s only a matter of time before all that time and effort pays off.

This year I learnt the importance of seeing things through from start to finish and that success is the result of compound investment, not necessarily just some great idea or a moment of luck.

Top Recommendations in 2018 #

  • Best Book: Atomic Habits by James Clear
  • Best (free) Course: Practical JavaScript by Gordon Zhu
  • Best article: Using Sketch Libraries to build a better UI design system
  • Best Documentary: Free Solo by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

Intentions for 2019 #

Rather than goal setting for any fixed outcome – which I’ve had little success with in past years – I’m using an intentional approach which focuses more on how I carry myself through each day, how I practice and how I conduct myself during my commitments.

I’m treating these as a set of principles which I can use to guide my process and apply to various aspects of my life and work. The idea is to make lots of small improvements that I hope will have a big impact in the long run.

My guiding principles for 2019 are:

  • Be consistent
  • Slow down
  • Focus on less
  • Document what you learn
  • Give back what you can

Be Consistant. Consistency is everything. For me being consistent means showing up regularly (ideally daily) to practice the things I do. This is the best way I know how to form good habits and improve any chance of success I might have.

Doing a little bit each day to compound long term returns not only applies to financial investment but investments in your health, education, work, relationships and progress in life. This is an important concept I try to take with me into yoga and meditation practice, running, learning JavaScript, German or whatever it may be.

Slow Down. I find I’m the most productive in life when I slow down and take time to reflect on whatever it is I’ve been doing. I find myself picking up concepts faster when I take the time to fully understand what’s in front of me. I retain more when I take on less.

In 2019 I want to continue this philosophy. Using various methods such as note taking, habit tracking and writing from memory, to recall the things I’m learning, be more methodical and slow down the fast pace of life. This is the best way I found to prevent myself from speeding through life on auto-pilot.

Focus on less. In 2019 I’m challenging myself to open fewer browser tabs, spend less time on social media, commit to fewer obligations and add less items to my todo list.

Instead, I want to focus my energy on a select few projects that I see as having the most potential and designate specific time blocks in my day to lower value tasks, like reading articles online, opening emails, use social media, etc.

My aim is to find a deeper approach to work and get more done each day by focusing on fewer things. Like most people I’m increasingly aware of how my online consumption is effecting my ability to concentrate.

Document what you learn. My intention is to do a better job of documenting processes, recording workouts and improving habit tracking.

Having little success with the various apps out there to help you do this, I’ve adopted a manual process of entering my daily workouts in an Airtable base, using the calendar view to record my workout sessions. I also make it a priority to document things I’m learning which I feel are important.

I hope this will help me form daily habits and meeting my goal of becoming more consistent in the things I do.

Giving back what you can. In a world full of mindless consumption and little care for the environment, I feel it’s more important than ever to create and share great work that educates, to give back and strive for positive change in the world. Positive contribution has become the centre of everything I want to achieve.

A question I’ll be asking myself regularly this year is; ”Am I having a positive impact on the people around me and the world we live in?”

In 2019 my aim is to be more mindful about my consumption, continue with donations to onetreeplanted.org and seek out new ways to support positive change in any way I can.

Areas of Focus for 2019 #

With my intentions set, I want to briefly outline the key areas I wish to apply my focus, whilst keeping these intentions in mind.

In previous years I’d make a list of specific things I want to achieve each quarter, though often by the 4th quarter I’d find myself with much of my list remaining. So this year I want to avoid that kind of pressure.

Specific areas I wish to focus on:

  1. Health: Resume a regular climbing and meditation practice. Continue running and practicing yoga on alternate days of the week.
  2. Writing: Publish at least 15 well researched articles. Stick with my weekly newsletters.
  3. Learning: My primary focus is on JavaScript programming and pursuing my interest in JAMStack technology. From a personal stand point I’d also like to continue improving my conversational German.
  4. Design/Development: Move In Detail forward. Build more in ReactJS and with Gatsby. Get more creative with my type design.
  5. Travel: I had a good year for travel in 2018 so I’d like to continue this and try and make it to at least 4 different countries. Travel is the best way I know to keep a broad and open mindset.

Final words #

Thanks for reading my first Year in Review. I hope you’ve found this helpful in some capacity. It’s been a great chance to be more mindful and reflect on this past year whilst creating a plan for an intentional year ahead.

If you’re not yet writing your own Year in Review, perhaps after reading this one you might consider writing one.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach me on twitter, I’d be happy to hear from you. Likewise, please consider sharing this with anyone you feel might find it useful.

All the best for 2019. Here’s to a productive and prosperous new year.

Weekly Newsletter

Braintactics is a weekly roundup of articles, tools and tips for product designers and front-end developers. I send it every Friday morning.