2023 in Review

Updated: Jan 2, 2024

Although I’m ending 2023 with a stinking cold, overall it’s been a positive year and I‘m excited to pick things up again in 2024.

There’s been some big changes for me, personally, this year – I moved house, which was a much bigger project than I ever expected. I also feel like I made good progress professionally. I worked hard on my business and it’s definitely a little bit closer to where I want it to be.

Using the usual format, this annual reflection is a chance to look back at what I got up to over the past 12 months – what went well, what didn’t go so well and what I learned by living it.

What went well? #

Work #

In 2023 I freelanced as an independent web designer, as I have done for the past 7 years. It’s been a steady ride, consisting mostly of reoccurring work from a handful of clients, most of whom I’ve worked with for a number of years. With roughly a 60/40 split between designing and coding, the typical project I work on hasn’t changed a great deal, but I did make a number of changes to how I go about it.

First up, I started collaborating on projects with Rebekka and Ben, both of whom have been a massive help and a great source of wisdom, particularly when things get busy.

I also spent a good bit of time this year formalising my approach to CSS (more on that coming soon), with the intention of improving consistency in the code I write and making it easier to maintain and scale projects.

I fully committed to using Hugo together with Cloudcannon. It’s a simple but powerful stack that suits my way of working. Running a solo business means I don’t have endless hours to fix broken dependencies and deal with all the headaches that make other tech stacks a bore to work with. I need a reliable, low maintenance setup which I’ve found in both these tools. I’m currently working on migrating my final client sites over and I haven’t looked back.

I started using Obsidian, the markdown-based writing app, for all things project management. Easily my most used app in 2023, it’s helped me stay organised and simplify the way I plan and manage my work. A big part of that was introducing an OKR workflow to my Obsidian setup. Objectives and Key Results provide a very straight forward framework for defining goals and staying on track. It’s the best system I’ve found for mapping out plans, sticking with those plans and making progress. Another big part of making this work has been the use of daily, weekly and quarterly notes via the Periodic Notes plugin, though I won’t get into that now. This really deserves a dedicated post, which I will try and work on in the new year.

Travel #

In January I went on a ski trip to Les Arc, France with my brother and 12 of his friends. An unforgettable experience with an incredible bunch of people.

In March I travelled to Sussex, for a short break in Rye. Lots of great cafes, pubs and restaurants – I’m sure I’ll be back soon. Later in the month I spent 4 nights in Hamburg, working and catching up with friends, before heading to Berlin for 3 nights, for a family birthday and to see more friends.

In May we were back in Hamburg for a couple of days, before heading up North for Rebekka’s Opa’s 90th birthday party. A memorable day which was an honor to attend.

In June I was in Cornwall for a week with family. We stayed in Portscatho and spent time in St Mawes, Falmouth, Mevagissey and at the Eden project (all well worth a visit). We braved the cold water a couple of times and at one point found ourselves swimming with a seal. Notable food and drink spots we discovered we The Hidden Hut, The Standard Inn and Knightor Winery.

For two weeks in October we explored the Canary Islands. We spent time hiking in La Gomera, where we found some of the toughest routes we’ve hiked. From La Gomera we ferried over to La Palma for more hiking, black sand beaching and a memorable evening with an astronomer, looking at various objects in the night sky through a telescope. It was an experience I will never forget. We finished our trip kayaking in Tenerife and exploring the old town of Santa Cruz in the North. I could have easily stayed longer.

In November we made our final trip of the year to Hamburg, mainly for a wedding but also to catch up with various friends and enjoy a few glühwein at the Christmas markets. It snowed most of the week which made it a little bit more magical. One of my favourite times of year to be in Germany.

Moving #

In April we bit the bullet and put our flat on the market. After 10 delightful years in Bermondsey, it was time for a change and a bit more space. We’ve both been working from home since the pandemic hit, so it was about time we moved our office out of the front room and into a dedicated room.

Truth be told, selling a flat and buying a house has been a long old slog. The majority of this year felt like we had something property related to deal with pretty much every single day. But I’m not complaining. Yes, it felt like a rollercoaster at times. Yes, it was stressful and nearly fell through on a number of occasions. But we learned a huge amount in the process and dare I say it, for the most part, it’s was a fun experience. I just hope I don’t have to do it again, anytime soon.

On December 1st we completed the purchase of a house in Lewisham. And we’re now able to close the door on our office at the end of each day. We’re thrilled to finally be here and we’re loving life in our new neck of the woods. Now we’re finally at the end of this journey, I’m looking forward to finding some time to focus on a few other things.

Health #

I’m pleased to say my health is back on track. Whether that’s because the move is finally behind us or something completely different, I’m not entirely sure. Either way, I’m feeling good at the moment. For most of the year I struggled with heart palpitations. Following an “anxiety” diagnoses from various doctors and resulting test, I’ve worked hard to make changes in my life and improve my situation.

I’m making time for exercise, with the usual routine and have been fairly consistent with both running and yoga. At the beginning of the year, I started yoga classes IRL with Rebekka. It was daunting at first but a big confidence boost when I realised it wasn’t that big a deal and my ability isn’t all that bad. All that home practice over the 10 or so years must have paid off.

I bought an Apple Watch. Mostly to make life more comfortable whilst out running, but also to remind me to stand up and stay active. I did my best to dumb it down and I have to say it’s been a huge help and not nearly as much of a distraction as I was expecting. On Christmas day my sister introduced me to Park Run, and it turns out there’s one just up the road from our new place, so no excuses now.

I cut out caffeine almost completed, except for the odd cup of tea, usually when I’m with my family. For whatever reason I just don’t seem to get on with it. Cutting it out has made a huge difference. With the quality of decaffeinated coffee beans these days, I struggle to even tell the difference and enjoy the placebo just the same.

Following our ski trip in January, I starting doing the odd freestyle skiing day in the UK with my brother. We began at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, then discovered Snozone in Milton Keynes. I’d like to make this more of a regular thing in 2024.

In June I started the Zoe personalised nutrition study. It’s been a fascinating journey, where I’ve learned a ton about nutrition and started to get on top of what I should be eating. Discipline is the tough one here. It’s not always easy to eat healthy, particularly at weekends or when out with friends. But I definitely feel like things are moving in the right direction, so that’s something at least. I plan to retest in 3 months to find out if I’ve actually made any improvements.

I still do weekly therapy sessions. Something I’ve been considering is whether I should keep going now that my health has improved. I’ve come to realise it’s incredibly helpful, regardless of how I’m feeling. Currently I use the 50 minutes to slow down and reflect on the week. Talking about your life with someone who is trained in helping you make sense of things is transformative. We often spend a portion of the time each week discussing “fun” things, too. The future of technology, metaphysics, parapsychology and the paranormal have all come up. These sorts of subjects have always fascinated me, but it’s only more recently that I’ve starting to give them more serious thought.

What didn’t go so well? #

I didn’t read many books this year, but I did work on my process a good bit. I‘m using my Kindle a lot more, along with Readwise, which automatically imports my highlights and uses space repetition to organise them into a daily review. I hope to be more consistent with my reading in 2024.

I struggled with my German, as I often do. I started creating flashcards using the spaced repetition plugin for Obsidian, but didn’t manage to make looking at them a habit. I think I really need to start German lessons again. A regular weekly commitment, perhaps IRL, that will help me to get back on track. I also need to consume more German content. I’ve had some success with podcasts in the past. I also want to try reading a German book on the Kindle, as it would work well with my Kindle – Readwise – flashcard set up.

I didn’t study as much as I hoped in 2023, which bothers me. I mainly focused on JavaScript, but it ebbed and flowed. I learned a bunch of concepts and took a load of notes, but realise I probably need to build more things to really make progress.

I wrote a fair amount, but only managed to publish 13 posts on my personal site. Not bad I suppose, but only a couple of those were technical articles. Most of the technical stuff I wrote was content for my Hugo course, none of which I have managed to publish yet. Now we’re done with our move, I’m hoping to have more time and head space for writing - particularly technical posts.

I bouldered with friends on the odd occasion this year, but didn’t go regularly. I planned to do a ropes course with a friend at the beginning of the year, but that never happened. I enjoy climbing, but maybe it’s only ever going to be something I do from time to time. I guess that’s ok.

What did I learn? #

Inspired by things I learned this year, a wonderfully concise and to the point post from Carl Barenbrug, I thought I’d keep it simple this year and do something similar.

In no particular order, here are a few things which come to mind, that I learned this year:

  • Buying and selling property in the UK is a slow, complicated process.
  • How you combine the foods you eat and the order in which you eat them, will effect both your blood sugar and fat response.
  • Doing things in groups is fun and a massive confidence boost.
  • Lower your expectations of yourself will reduce your stress and anxiety.
  • OKR and periodic notes are an effective way to stay on track and make progress.
  • Life is constant work, until you die. Don’t stop working at it.
  • Enjoy the process, not the outcome.
  • Say no to opportunities more often, prioritise less if you want to make progress.
  • Be patient with yourself.

I’ll leave it there for this year. Roll on 2024!

Reply by email

Monthly Newsletter

Once a month I curate a newletter for designers and developers interested in static sites, CSS and web performance. Check out past issues to get an idea.