2021 in Review

Updated: Feb 17 2022

In what’s now become somewhat of a tradition, I spent the final few days of 2021 reflecting on what I’ve been up to over the past 12 months – what went well, what didn’t go well and what I learnt by living through it.

If you’d like to know more about the way I approach writing this thing, a few years back I wrote A Year in Review. Not a great deal has changed since then, so make sure you check it out. Ok, let’s get right to it.

What went well this year? #

I’ll start with the good stuff. This has been a helpful exercise in the past – a great way to practice gratitude, get some perspective on things, appreciate where you’re at and end the year on a positive note. Hopefully the same is true this year.

Writing #

I published 12 articles in total this year. Certainly not my best year, but overall I’m pleased with most of what I put out there.

I also published my first project case study in a while. I’d like to do more of these in 2022. It’s a great way to reflect on your process, figure out what worked, what didn’t and how you might do things differently in the future. I suppose it also gives folks a good idea of what you do.

Updates became a thing towards the end of the year. My aim with these is to share short daily insights into my process and what I’m working on. I’ve published 12 so far. It’s been tricky over the holidays, but I hope to pick things back up as we enter the new year.

Work #

This year I worked on my first project with the team at Kitt Offices – a London based office space management company – to help build out their UI design system and client facing apps. It’s been fun working with the team to help push the business forward.

2021 also saw lots of different projects with existing clients:

  • A new website for BuxtonThreeTwo
  • Multilingual support for Noba International
  • A new identity and website for my good friend Laura Lucas
  • Various UI projects with Angel Investment Network and a new microsite for the AIN brand guidelines
  • An identity and website for McShurley Bros (yet to launch)
  • A website and design system for Tuggs (yet to launch)

I’m sure there’s probably more I’m forgetting.

Lots of UI design work this year. I can’t complain as it pays the bills, but I’d like to pick up a few more web development projects in 2022. I’m excited by web performance and sustainability, so I’m going to try and tailor my offer around this focus, if I can.

Anyway, I’m very grateful I get to work with so many different people on such a variety of different projects.

Travel #

In July we travelled to Greece for 10 full days – and what great days they were. Three nights in Athens, followed by a week or so on two different islands – Aegina, then Poros – both a short ferry ride from Athens. I can’t remember ever appreciating a holiday quite so much. The first time I’ve switched off in a while and the first time since catching Covid, so it was a real treat. I spent a good few hours on a beach reading Shoe Dog.

In August we took a week off and drove the van from Oxfordshire to Dorset. Visiting the city of Bath, a great little car boot sale in Bradford on Avon, Stourhead House and Gardens, then a short stop in Sherborne. We spent the day hiking over Cheddar Gorge, then drove down to the south coast – Studland Bay, Durdle Door, then further along to Bridport, where we hiked up to Golden Cap and spent time on the beach in Seatown, enjoying a beautiful hot day. We found some great pubs on our travels, and a string of great spots for overnight stays. One of my favourites was an old quarry, just above Kimmeridge.

In September I made it to Ibiza for a short weekend with a bunch of friends. We hired a super villa in the hills and took a boat trip to Formentera. A short, but memorable trip.

I also spent time in Hamburg, when Covid restrictions allowed it. First in July and August, to pack up our flat and move back to the UK. Then, again in November to sell our German registered van. More on this next.

Moving back to London #

This year we packed up our life in Hamburg and moved back to London. We love Hamburg and it’s sad to leave, but it got to a point where our living arrangements – between two countries – were no longer working out. The pandemic and Brexit both had their part to play.

It wasn’t easy to combine two flats in two different countries, into one flat, in one country, but the process has been hugely cathartic. It’s helped us evaluate what we have, versus what we actually need. Which triggered a massive clear out both online and offline.

Clutter is costly, as Cal Newport puts it. Possessions demand your attention and ultimately cost your time. Now with a lot less stuff we have a lot less to worry about, and more time to focus on what’s important.

Clearing out and moving house teaches you the power of living with less. It leaves you feeling energised and focused. If you haven’t done it in a while I highly recommend giving it a try.

Health #

My approach to health hasn’t really changed much the past year, I feel like I’ve found what works for me, so I stick with it.

I have a fairly humble, well-oiled morning routine:

  • 30min run or yoga practice (alternate days)
  • 15min mediation
  • 1min headstand
  • 30 pushups
  • 45s cold shower

These things give me energy, keep me calm, sane and healthy. I’m not much good at any of them, but I try and practice every day.

I record each of these things in Notion, as a daily journal entry, mainly so I can check in from time to time, to see where I’m slipping up. I find the only way to stick with this stuff is to make it as easy as possible. Don’t try and do too much of any one thing.

Other than that, I go to the climbing gym with friends when I can, but not regularly enough – I’d like to climb more in 2022.

I eat (mainly) vegetarian and try not to eat too much processed shit. I make my own kimchi and sauerkraut, mainly because it’s so damn expensive. But it’s fun and good for you, so I’ll continue to do it. I might even try and set up a blog of my recipes when I find the time.

I feel pretty good right now, so I guess these consistent small bets must be counting towards something.

What didn’t go so well? #

Reflecting on what didn’t go well can be a difficult exercise, particularly when you publish it online for everyone to see. But it’s a great way to figure out what you’re not happy with and identify areas in need of improvement. So here goes.

Business focus #

I found myself working on all sorts of different projects in 2021 – UX/UI, identity design, web design and development, across a range of different industries.

Variety can be fun, but, when you’re jumping all over the place, it’s difficult to build systems and scale your business.

I want to try and find a focus in 2022, clarify my offering and develop better processes. Currently I’m not doing a great job of articulating my services, so I’ll work on that and try to make my offer clear through my marketing efforts.

As mentioned earlier, right now I’m excited by web performance, sustainability and building simple static websites, which all go hand-in-hand. I feel there’s a business focus in here somewhere, so I’ll keep explore these areas in 2022.

Selling our van #

In late September we decided to sell our Transporter van. It was a difficult decision, as we spent so much time and effort converting it into a home.

But, keeping a van in London isn’t quite as easy as keeping one in Hamburg. At times it felt like everything was against us and we were fighting a loosing battle. First, the van didn’t meet London’s ever tightening low emission standards. Next it required several modifications to make it safe for UK roads. On top of all this, we didn’t have a suitable place to keep it, for the long term.

Looking back the solution was obvious, but it can take a while to come to terms with the idea of parting ways with something you worked so hard on.

But we got there eventually, seeing as we didn’t have much choice. Although it sucked, it all ended well now Catcher has a new owner and a new home.

Catcher is called Harry, would you believe – so the legacy lives on! I’m told it’s a tradition to name your car after the previous owner. News to me, but whatever works. So long old friend, and now namesake.

Side projects #

This year I spent most of my time and energy on client projects and as a result, I had little time left over for side projects.

The side projects I usually take on are quite ambitions, by my standards. Which often means I struggle to see them through.

I did, however, end the year on a positive note – by committing to creating a course on building websites with Hugo. I set up practialhugo.com and I’m now in the early stages of developing content. This will be my single side project focus, for the first part of 2022.

If all goes well, I plan on following up this project with a few slightly less ambitions projects. I have a few ideas, but that’s it for now.

German practice #

My German practice has been slipping the last few years, but I’m not ready to let go. I’m not sure I have much option, as my other half is German.

I used to practice on the train, on the days I travelled to work in-house with clients. But that’s no longer a thing, so now I need a new plan.

I’ve found time blocking helpful in the past, but I‘ve since got out of the habit. I’d like to give this another go in 2022, by giving myself a specific time and place to practice, each day.

What did I learn in 2021? #

I’m sure I learnt all sorts of valuable lessons in 2021, but here’s a few things come to mind and might be of interest.

More choice, less action. Do more by doing less. #

I stole that headline from Traf, but it’s something I’ve consciously been practicing in 2021. Partly inspired by moving country and letting go of so many possessions.

In the past, so much of my inaction stems from abundance of choice and lack of focus. As soon as you narrow your focus, commit to what’s important and let go of what’s not, a crazy thing starts happening – you start making progress.

It’s not always easy, but try and get there, the upsides are well worth it. A good place to start is by saying no more often than you’re comfortable with. As Traf says (once again); “focus is repeatedly saying no to almost everything.”

Pick one tool and stick with it – I use Notion for as much as possible. Pick one technology and stick with it – I went with Hugo, because it’s a pleasure to make websites with. Pick one colour, one typeface, you get where this is heading.

Constraints, believe it or not, bread creativity.

Sell your value, not your time. #

This is not easy, especially for freelancers and contractors used to working on a day rate.

But here’s the thing. You only have 5 days in a week, so unless you can keep increasing your day rate forever – there’s a clear limit to what you can earn with this method.

The trick is to stop pricing projects based on how long you think they will take. Instead, start charging for the value of your expertise, and the potential value you create for your clients.

Clients pay you for your experience. You’re the person who knows which screw to turn and that’s the experience they should be willing to pay you good money for.

It’s more of a mindset shift, than anything else. It takes time and some confidence to get comfortable with. The main thing is to believe in your abilities, find the right clients who are prepared to pay well, and start charging your worth.

Bespoke is only scalable when you have a good system. #

I’ve done a lot of heavily custom design work over the years - 2021 had it’s fair share. It can really drain your time and your energy, if not done right.

Maybe I’m late to the party, but I’m beginning to realise that the only way to make a scaleable business out of bespoke design work is to build well polished processes and systems of constraint.

One of the easiest ways it seems is to have a well defined offer – this is what I can offer your business, this is how it works, this is why you need it and this is how much it costs.

The rest is about fine tuning your systems, so your business runs like clockwork.

Easier said than done, but I’m doing my best to put this into practice and I plan on spending a good amount of time working on this in 2022.

2021 recommendations #

Reeling a few off, from the top of my head.

Focus for 2022 #

I want to avoid taking on too much in 2022. After all, focus is only possible when you make sacrifices and commit to as little as possible. So I’ll keep this short.

Here’s just five things that I want to focus on in 2022:

  • Develop and launch my course on Hugo
  • Improve the systems I use for my design business
  • Write more about the business benefits of web performance and sustainability (low-carbon websites, etc)
  • Make better software choices (privacy first, open-source, transparent, green, where possible)
  • Improve my approach to social media - learn to use Twitter for marketing and client acquisition, and less for entertainment

Maybe that’s already too much. My priority is the top one.

Final words #

There you have it. Another year, another review.

For a year that began in bed with Covid, it really wasn’t all that bad, and it soon picked up.

It was a year for letting go, simplifying life, finding focus, and prioritising what’s important – all of which I’m still working towards. Now I have a slightly clearer idea of what the hell I’m up to and where I might be heading in the year ahead.

I hope you’ve found this as useful to read as I have to write. Thanks for you support over the past 12 months and I wish you a positive and productive start to 2022.

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