I’m the sentimental type that takes a new year very seriously. There is something about the natural pause at the holidays that makes goal-setting, planning, and otherwise organizing seem so natural.
I did not make goals for 2018. As 2017 turned into 2018 I was preoccupied with recovering from the trauma associated with a life-threatening medical complication during my pregnancy only to have my February due date child born just a few days into 2018. On a day when I had no less than seven meetings scheduled!
The biggest thing I learned from not setting goals is that when you don’t have goals established, you don’t have guideposts to help you systematically evaluate your situation in order to make changes. It’s impossible to tell whether you’ve succeeded or failed and all too easy to assume that you must be a failure.
And I did. In my mind I was one big massive failure.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t able to put all of my extra time into making sure everything I did professionally was absolutely perfect. To me, every little flaw was magnified, compliments were ignored, anything that might be an accomplishment wasn’t recognizable. I lost my confidence. I was a failure, or so I felt.
The thing is though… I wasn’t a failure. Not even close.
I very suddenly became the parent of a late-preterm baby who needed extra special care in the NICU and then, just when things were starting to seem “normal”, that pesky life-threatening issue I’d had during pregnancy came back and I needed to have surgery again.
2018 was an exceptional year. In spite of the fact that I was learning how to be a parent, that I was in a significant amount of pain for a large portions of time, and that I was recovering from trauma, my business and my skills didn’t die. I let go of my unpaid commitments and I maintained my skillset through the work I was doing. It wasn’t until recently that I could see it: in spite of very difficult life circumstances I remained committed to my existing clients, I worked hard on their behalf, I added a few new clients, and I made enough money to stay self-employed.
Did I spend lots of time volunteering on open-source projects? Did I build new skills in my free time? Did I push myself professionally? No, I absolutely did not. And that is OK. My life demanded other things from me in 2018. Sometimes life happens instead of ambition. Health and loved ones, those key components of life, are always going to be more important.
I am not preoccupying myself with all of the hard things that happened: they happened and they are over. It’s my job to live and dream now, both personally and professionally. For 2019, I am making goals again. They are across a range of categories:
One of my most important learnings from this last year is that ambition shouldn’t be confined just to professional, public pursuits. I’ve always made goals in other categories, but the professional goals tended to push out goals like “read x number of books” or “exercise 3-4 times per week.” In the moment, I’d prioritize hitting a client deadline over reading before bed. While this can make sense in certain situations, this choice became my default.
The flight attendants are right though: you need to put on your own oxygen mask before putting masks on others. I know that if I don’t fuel myself up with good food, exercise, time with my family, and time to relax, I won’t be of much use to my friends, clients, and family. That recharge is important. If I’ve got it, I can be efficient with my work. If I’m not coming from a place of healthfulness and calm, I won’t work as well.
And so, in 2019, I’ll have benchmarks established to be able to see if I am moving forward in the way I’d like to in ALL aspects of my life. This way, in six months I’ll be able to tell if I’m making progress towards these benchmarks or not. I’ll be completely happy with unmet goals if I can see why they couldn’t or shouldn’t have happened. The goals aren’t there to be achieved, they are there to establish a path that very well may change along the way. In the end, it’s the path that is important, I just need to make sure that the path is leading somewhere.
The very first time I expressed interest in learning how to modify the code on websites, my mentor exclaimed “well first, you need to get Firebug!” I had no idea what she was talking about, but googled Firebug nonetheless and installed my first browser extension. Ever since, Firebug has been a tool that I’ve used nearly every day either in my work as a developer or out of curiosity to inspect how other websites have been built. Very recently, it was announced that there will be no further development of Firebug, so I’m getting more cozy with my second choice browser inspector (Chrome’s native inspector). Firebug will always have a special place in my heart and I am still quite sad about its demise.
Browser extensions are little applications that add additional functionality to a web browser. This is analogous to how a plugin might extend the functionality of a WordPress site. I spend most of my time working in either Firefox or Chrome, depending on what tools I need to use in the moment. In Firefox browser extensions are called add-ons and you can search for and install them by clicking on the menu icon and then choosing “Add-ons.” In Chrome you can find and install browser extensions at chrome://extensions/.
I’ve tried out lots of browser extensions over time and most don’t stick around in my workflow. Web development is a craft and it’s important to use tools that support the workflow that works best for you. Which browser extensions have turned into indispensable tools in my toolbox? These are my favorites:
1. ColorZilla (Firefox and Chrome)
There are lots of browser extensions out there to inspect colors in websites and I have tried quite a few of them. At some point, Colorzilla became my favorite, mostly because it works in a way similar to the way the eyedropper works in Photoshop or the dearly departed Fireworks (design software that Adobe discontinued after its 2012 release) . When you hover over a site with the ColorZilla eyedropper activated, the tool shows you the RGB and hex value for the color as well as the HTML selector that is generating the color. There are also some built in tools for exploring related colors and generating CSS gradients.
2. MeasureIt (Firefox and Chrome)
MeasureIt is a really simple tool that enables a draggable ruler on top of any webpage that allows you to measure things or check alignment of elements on a page by providing a reliably horizontal or vertical rule. I have only used the Firefox version, but it appears the same developer has made an analogous tool for Chrome. I’ve seen other measuring tools out there and have also totally held up pieces of paper to my screen to make sure things are aligned. That being said, I’ve found that MeasureIt is generally the easiest tool to double check spacing and alignment.
3. WAVE Evaluation Tool (Chrome)
It’s our responsibility as developers to build websites that are accessible and the WAVE Evaluation Tool helps to automate discovery of common accessibility issues. This tool is not a replacement for manual testing, but when used in advance of manual testing it saves a huge amount of time. In addition to visual alerts to potential problem locations on a webpage, WAVE also tells you specifically why it flagged each item, which makes it infinitely easier to correct the issues that it has found.
4. Awesome Screenshot: Screen Capture and Annotate (Firefox and Chrome)
Awesome Screenshot is the newest tool on my list. I found it as I was looking for a new annotation tool after I learned that Skitch was being killed off by Evernote. There is a premium version of this extension, but thus far the free extension for Chrome has been all I’ve needed. In addition to allowing you to annotate your screenshots, Awesome Screenshot lets you take a screenshot of a full webpage, including what is hidden “below the fold.” I have found that the combination of a full page screenshot with annotation capabilities has been infinitely helpful in communicating with clients, project managers, and designers while collaborating on projects.
Though these are the most commonly used tools in my browser extension toolbox, I do regularly try out new extensions that look like they could be useful. I have found that it is really important to consistently evaluate my tools to make sure that I am working as efficiently as I can. What browser extensions do you use the most? Let me know in the comments!