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WordPress Professionals: Are You Cycling in the Big Ring?

Tara Claeys on her bicycleLet’s Go For A Ride …

When I first started cycling, I was in decent shape after a few years of running. In the beginning, I felt good about my pace and accomplishments. I was riding with some other women, and true to my competitive nature, I felt a need to show off and prove something – at least to myself. I pushed myself up hills with the most effort, thinking that a really tough, strong cyclist doesn’t need to change gears to make pedaling easier. Then one day, while riding with a very experienced cyclist, I was criticized for staying in my “big ring” (high gear) and “mashing my gears.” If you are not familiar with gears on a bicycle, there are typically two sets … one in the front, with one, two or three rings, which make the most dramatic change in effort needed to push the pedals through a revolution. The second set of gears, in the back, usually has more gears, which are used/changed more often for more subtle adjustments.

While there are many styles of cycling and theories about the best way to ride and use gears, it is generally accepted that using the smaller ring in the front, with faster revolutions (cadence), is better for your heart and minimizes muscle fatigue compared to slower cadence in the big ring. Before I knew this, I avoided the small ring, because riding in the big gear for me made me feel tougher. I almost never used my small ring because I thought it was “whimping out.”

As I have gotten older and increased my cycling experience, I have accepted the small ring as a good thing. I discovered that it requires training to develop the stamina to pedal fast in the small ring vs. pedaling more slowly in the big ring to achieve the same speed. I have learned how to determine the best conditions for each type of gear. I know now that the small ring is actually much more efficient and nothing to be ashamed of. As a result, my cycling style has adapted, my cadence has increased and my cycling efficiency improved.

What does this have to do with WordPress?

While out for a ride this week, I thought about how bicycle gears, and my evolution in their use, apply to what I do in my career as a WordPress professional.

I have had phases of being stubborn – “stuck in the big ring.” I was able to build sites that look good and work well, but didn’t realize that I was not using the full range of gears available to me to make these sites even better. I was churning through the process, starting fresh each time and spending way more effort than I needed to.

I also felt like I was “whimping” out by using tools to create some really great looking sites very quickly and relatively effortlessly. I am self-conscious about using tools – so many “developers” have criticized people like me who are not technically “developers” … who are self taught and learn as we go, who use plugins, frameworks and page builders to make websites for clients without deep knowledge of php, JavaScript and other coding languages. I have been tempted to stop using these tools and stick myself back in the “big ring” to prove I am tough and smart. But then I remember, like cycling, the big ring is not always necessary and in many cases would be much less efficient. That doesn’t mean I don’t need to use my “muscles” in the big gear when building a website – there are requirements for some websites that require a higher level of code and development. Like riding a bike, a key to a successful finish is knowing which gears/tools should apply to different circumstances to increase efficiency, minimize effort and get to the finish successfully. It is a good idea to use the full range of gears available.

Some keys to good cycling also apply to WordPress professionals.

  1. Anticipate: In cycling, you need to look ahead at what is coming, and plan to shift gears at the right time to make it up the hill ahead, or be in your big ring for a downhill. When planning a website, the discovery phase is important to help identify functionality and architecture, and to prepare to implement whatever tools and skills will be required for the job.
  2. Always Be Pedaling: Cadence is a key element of cycling; for us as WordPress professionals, I think this translates to Always Be Learning. Proper road cyclists always keep their legs moving; great developers/implementors/designers always have their ear to the ground and are ready to learn new things.
  3. Practice Makes Perfect: Like cycling, being a WordPress professional also means training and working out regularly. In addition to real daily fitness activities that help me stay healthy and focused before sitting at a desk all day, my WordPress “workout” includes consuming frequent podcasts and blogs, as well as finding opportunities to learn new things with every job. Lynda.com and Know The Code are my favorite places to accomplish dedicated learning, while Slack and WordPress groups are great places to seek answers to specific questions.
  4. Know and use your tools: I have written a few blog posts about some of the tools I have found help me the most in my work. Specific to WordPress, these tools include (no affiliate links here):

If you don’t ride a bike, I hope this analogy still makes sense to you. I could probably say a lot more about changing gears, fixing a flat tire and riding in a pace line (and maybe those will be future blog posts!), but for now the main message is to proudly use the appropriate gear for your projects and skill set to create the best result you can for you and your clients.

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