2020 isn’t a year many of us are keen to look back on, myself included. It’s been a struggle in many ways, and, like everyone else, I’ll be pleased to put it behind me.
I’m also recovering from Coronavirus, which has made this even harder to write. I’ll be honest, I almost didn’t bother, because all I feel like doing right now is absolutely nothing.
Nevertheless, I’m doing my best to reflect on the year just gone, because even when it feels like not much has gone right, and when you end the year sick, there always something positive to takeaway.
Sticking with the usual format – what went well, what didn’t go so well and what I learnt – has worked well the past few years. So here it goes, again.
What went well this year? #
Surprising as it may be, most of the things that went well this year were actually a direct result of the pandemic, and the changes it bought about.
Client work #
I wasn’t expecting to take on quite as many new client projects as I did this year, but then the pandemic hit and I had to adapt.
The first few months of lockdown were quiet – no surprises there. But as restrictions lifted, things picked up and I found myself working with new clients from various parts of the world.
I teamed up with US based Roofsimple, to help evolve their identity and establish a scalable content platform. Like myself, Mark, the founder, is a big fan of Hugo and the Jamstack, so it’s been a pleasure sharing thoughts and putting our ideas into practice.
In the summer I joined forces with BuxtonThreeTwo, to help on the web design and development side of the business. It’s a while since I’ve been in an agency environment, so it felt good to be working closely with other designers again. We have more projects in the pipeline for 2021.
Side projects #
Local London came to life during the first lockdown, when everyone was stuck at home, struggling to find food online.
My friend Rozzy and I started a spreadsheet collecting all the local London food and drink brands we could think of, who sell online and were delivering during lockdown.
Our spreadsheet evolved into a full blown crowdsourced directory, which I built using Hugo.
We set up an Instagram account to support suppliers, by sharing their products and directing folks to our directory. Then, towards the end of the year we began interviewing brands and sharing their stories.
This wasn’t a project I planned on, more of a reaction to the current situation, but looking back, it’s a project I’m proud of. Working on an immediate problem is exciting – it gives you perspective and motivation to get the work done. The feedback we’ve received has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m pleased so many have found it useful.
Who knows where this project will go in the future, but it’s been great fun to work on. What more can you wish for than that.
With a limited number of reasons to go outside during lockdown, running became a great excuse to leave the house on a regular basis.
I spent 8 weeks alone during the first lockdown and during that time running became a highlight of many monotonous days.
I’m still not fast, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s a chance to get moving, find some energy and get away from my desk. Even just for a short while.
This was my best year for running in a good while.
Working from home #
I’ve long been an advocate for remote working and the home office.
Over the years, I’ve spent too many hours stuffed into a packed tube commuting across London. Only to get to a desk where I do the same thing I do at home. Loosing two hours each day to travel just doesn’t make sense to me, even if it is good reading time.
Working from home I feel far more relaxed. I enjoy slow mornings. It’s a great time to think, exercise, read and write. My best work happens during these quiet times, away from trains and the frenetic pace of London.
It’s great to see this way of working finally accepted by so many more companies and I’m excited to see how it pans out over the long term.
I doubt many were expecting a pandemic to be the force that got us here. But here we all are.
I began investing back in 2017, during the crypto bull run, which was a first for many. I bought at the top, not really knowing what I was doing, then watch my investment quickly disappear. I told myself this is money I can afford to loose to loose, so I didn’t sell. And I’m thankful I didn’t, because my investment slowly returned - and then it doubled.
During the past 4 years I learnt a lot about investing. It’s all about patience, letting go of your emotions, and not FOMO–ing in. You only loose an investment if you freak out and sell low. So be patient, buy low and sell high. No doubt you’ve heard all this before.
So 2021 was the year I started investing, sensibly. I set up a Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP), because I run my own business, so there’s no company contributing on my behalf. My pension consists a couple of index funds, designed to lower the risk over the long term.
I also set up an ISA, so I can buy shares, play with small amounts and take a few more risks.
For many, myself included, investing in stocks, shares and crypto can seem like a scary thing to do with your money. But, do the research and you realise it’s the only sensible thing to do with your money. You’ll kick yourself for not doing it sooner.
If you’re based in the UK I highly recommend reading How to Own the World to build your confidence. This is not investment advise, just me sharing my personal experiences.
Family holiday #
Over the summer we managed a family holiday to Northumberland.
With lockdown restrictions lifted we managed to drive our van all the way over from Germany, for the second year running. I feel fortunate we made this happen, especially as it’s been such a difficult year for travel.
Owning a van is extremely handy during a pandemic, you can make it all over the place without coming into contact with pretty much anyone.
As we enter lockdowns once again, I hold onto memories of days spent at the beach, hiking in the Northumberland National Park and sitting together in the pub, enjoying a pint.
What didn’t go so well this year? #
I’m sure this will come as no surprise - most of what didn’t go well was also a result of the pandemic.
Inconsistent work #
Following the first lockdown I had a few months quiet months, followed by a very busy summer and end to the year. It was intense, and, I realise, not the most sustainable way of working.
My biggest mistake was putting all my eggs in one basket. I’d become comfortable working with too few clients, where really I should have spread the risk among many.
When the pandemic hit and clients let me go, I was forced to find work in order to survive.
Clearly I wasn’t the only one who had this problem, but it was a lesson well learnt.
It forced me think hard about the way I’ve structured my business and explore new ways of working to create a resilient business model with a regular income.
I didn’t write much in 2021. I lost my focus with everything else that went on this year.
I guess, like a lot of people, I spent too much time scrolling the news, when really I should have been focusing on my thing. It was hard not to with so much uncertainty.
I had a good year for writing in 2019. I managed to build a habit around my morning routine and I’m looking forward to finding that again in 2020.
Loss of family #
This year we said goodbye to my Grandma.
Like my Grandpa, she also suffered with dementia in her final years, which wasn’t easy.
I will miss talking to her about ancient history, life in London and all the interesting things that happened before my lifetime.
She was the only person I knew who could speak Anglo Saxon and quite possibly the last I’ll ever meet.
What did I learn in 2020? #
The most important lessons this year, inevitably, were the result of the current situation.
Be willing to adapt #
Life is ever changing, in constant flux. If you’re not ready for change you’re set up to fail.
Don’t become fixed in your beliefs or way of doing things.
Keep an open mid, be fluid, ready to adapt when the time comes to do so.
“Don’t get set into one form, adapt it and build your own, and let it grow, be like water. Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot.” – Bruce Lee
Build a resilient business #
It’s difficult to predict exactly what’s going to happen in life, so make sure you build a resilient business model, with a resilient source of income.
When times get tough, freelancers and contractors are the first to go, so don’t become dependent on any one source of income, from any one employer.
Look to build multiple sources of income by working with a variety of clients across a number of different industries. In investing, this is known as diversification, the aim of which is to spread your bets and reduce your risk.
Think about packaging your services, selling products and investing your money to maximise your sources of income.
Take your time, trust your gut #
I made a few mistakes this year by taking on projects with unreasonably tight deadlines. Everything worked out in the end, but in hindsight, I should have know better.
The pressure of trying to meet impossible deadlines is just not worth the stress. I no longer want to be a part of anything that needs to be done yesterday, because, quite honestly, nothing is that important that it needs to be done yesterday.
Good work takes time and anything worth doing takes longer than you think. If it doesn’t feel right, don’t take it on – learn to follow your instincts and trust your gut. The best way to do good work is to move slow and be deliberate. It will be worth it in the long run.
This approach seems feasable now the world has slowed down. I hope to take this lesson with me as it speeds back up.
I’m not setting any goals for 2021. Right now my focus is to get my health back on track and take it easy.
When I recover I plan on spending the rest of the year following my energy – learning things, building things and sharing what I learn in the process.
Let’s see how it goes.