Review of 2021

2021 was a bit of a career milestone as it marks ten years (a whole decade!) since I left the BBC and set up Webscape Gardener. It was a scary decision to start my own business but I’m really glad I did it.

As always, at this time of year I like to stop and look back at the year that’s passed. I don’t know whether this is interesting to read (if not, please stop now!) but this review always gives me plenty to think about and it’s an exercise that I highly recommend to anyone. As I’ve said before, it’s an opportunity to reflect on what could be improved – but also to give ourselves a big pat on the back for all the things that went well.

Graphic showing the date 2021 with the Webscape Gardener logo in the place of the zero.

What went well in 2021

It was a relatively quiet year in terms of site launches. Projects included new websites for an osteopathy practice and a mortgage broker as well as a new US-focused version of an existing client’s site. I already have three interesting development projects lined up for 2022, so that’s a promising start!

As I resolved to do last year, I’ve started to do more with the WordPress ‘block editor’ (sometimes known as Gutenberg). This was introduced a few years ago and, at the time, I found it clunky to use and not terribly helpful, so I recommended to most of my clients that they stick with the ‘classic editor’ for the time being. However, the block editor has improved hugely since then. It’s now much easier to use and there’s a huge library of ‘blocks’, both within WordPress itself and available via plugins, which offer a whole range of layout and content options.

I’ve learned a few extra tricks this year about using the block editor more efficiently and also some techniques to make it easier for my clients to use. For example, when using blocks inside other blocks (e.g. text within columns), it can sometimes be tricky to spot exactly which one is being edited, so I’ve added a highlight colour to make this more obvious – a tiny change but one that is really useful!

I also tried out a new design theming tool called Oxygen. I’ve always been a little wary of WordPress page builders as many of them make editing more complicated or add a lot of ‘bloat’ (i.e. extra code). Oxygen is a little different, as you can use it to create the theme, including custom Gutenberg blocks, but can – if you wish – keep all this ‘behind the scenes’ so that it doesn’t confuse editors. It also seems to generate cleaner and lighter code than many similar tools. It’s not perfect: I find that it runs quite slowly even on good web hosts, but it’s another useful tool in my web design armoury.

Outside work I continued learning French (I now have a Duolingo ‘streak’ of over 1300 days) and have also started studying British Sign Language (BSL). I don’t have any immediate need to use BSL but I’ve been fascinated by it ever since I worked with a deaf colleague at the BBC and learned a few of the basics. My desire to study it properly was partially triggered by seeing Rose Ayling-Ellis on Strictly Come Dancing – her conversations with the judges, presenters and dance partner Giovanni reminded me what a fantastically expressive and versatile language it is.

Interestingly, although BSL is recognised as an official language across the UK, it doesn’t have legal status except in Scotland.

Unsurprisingly, health was on my mind a lot during 2021. This may seem slightly tangential in a work blog but if I’m not fit to work, I don’t get paid! I’ve focused a lot on my wellbeing – I’ve ditched some unhealthy habits (and some weight!) and have been much more active during 2021. I also took part in ‘Sober October‘, raising over £200 for Macmillan Cancer Support in the process.

What didn’t go so well

In last year’s review, I reflected on how lovely the majority of my clients are, and how important this is to me. Sadly, it’s not always the case. In early 2021, a change of management at one of my oldest clients dramatically soured our relationship. I tried to stay professional in the face of some quite offensive behaviour but I started to dread their calls and emails. Eventually, I decided to step away from the partnership. As a freelancer, it’s never an easy decision to turn down business but in this case it was definitely the right decision for me – and, perhaps, for them too. Providentially, I picked up a new client to fill the gap almost immediately.

I still haven’t followed through on my resolution to introduce a new task management system – given that this is something I first mentioned in 2019, perhaps I should have a think about what’s stopping me and reconsider whether a task management system is the right solution? If not, what else might help?

I haven’t blogged at all this year. Usually something will trigger an idea for a blog post – maybe a question from a client, or an interesting news story – but that just didn’t happen this year. I did start one post based on a news story but didn’t have time to finish writing it before it was old news.

I’ve made a few text changes to my website this year but otherwise it’s been somewhat neglected for a while. I spend so much time thinking about other people’s websites that I often overlook my own! It may be fine – but it would probably benefit from an overhaul. I’d like to take some time to see whether it still reflects who I am and what I do.

Aims for 2022

  • Think about how I manage my time and my ‘to do’ list.
  • Try to blog more.
  • Review (and if necessary update) my own website.
  • As always, keep on learning and improving!

What went well for you in 2021 and what are your aims for 2022?

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