Minimalist WebSite/Blog Design

One of my fundamental beliefs about mental health is that “doing” things is better than “thinking”. Creating a website that’s designed with thinking less in mind is a little like sharing a drink with someone and trying to talk them out of being an alcoholic. Incessantly reading other people’s thoughts is one of the hallmarks of an over-thinker. You read and read and read, always in search of a different angle or new answer to questions you’ve been pondering your whole life.

So, I asked myself what types of structural things on websites promote more thinking and how can I change that. Anyone whose ever spent more than 5 minutes on the ol’ interwebs has probably traveled down the rat hole of link surfing. So my first order of business is going to be to limit the number of in-article links. Hopefully you will only follow them if the need is urgent.

It’s also been my experience that the longer a post becomes the more likely it is to contain more than one primary point or idea. When that happens your brain begins to connect more and more ideas with your existing stash of ideas and they have, as James Altucher calls it, idea sex. More ideas are birthed and before long you are thinking too damn much and not doing. So my intent is to make posts as short and concise as possible. I doubt I will be able to prevent your mind from wandering but I don’t want to be an enabler either.

The last piece of the puzzle is a minimalist design and clean user interface. Distractions cause thinking. I will try to provide a clean site with very little in the way of bells and whistles to send that pea brain of yours into stimulative shock.

I’d like for this site to be like a smooth sip of tea, something that coddles the soul. I don’t want it to be jolting like a shot of Jaegermeister. Get the point and move on with your life.

Now Serving – Slices of Jeff

As I reflect further on my past blogging experiences I realize that my hesitance has never been about a lack of creativity or something to say. My hesitance has always been about which part of me I want or need to share. For all the uses of the internet, the dimensionless compression of people into tiny slices of themselves makes it extremely difficult to connect on more than a single plane at a time.

If you’re like me, then most of your internet consumption involves searching for a topic, hashtag, or genre to read. You find interesting people saying interesting things and while many of them sprinkle bits and pieces of their personality into their writing much of who they are gets lost in translation. When you communicate with someone face to face you may be discussing sports or science or psychology but there are unsaid things garnering equally as much (and in some cases more) attention. The way you dress, your body language, the rhythm and cadence of your voice, the slang you use, and the place you happen to be all create an experience that has many more inputs than simply reading a blog post or tweet or even seeing a picture. That adds depth to almost any real life communication. That depth is usually hard to find online.

There are certainly elements of someone’s internet communication style that shed light on who they might be as a person but those elements are much easier to manipulate. While I can lie to you in person, if you are intuitive you will see right through me. Intuition plays a role on the internet but its much more difficult to measure and connect with people without the personal space filter.

I know that lots of people blog because they want to get their thoughts down. It’s a way to clear their mind. It is in some way cathartic. I never really had that desire. My inner life and thoughts are very rich, always weaving a new web as new information comes in. I never felt a need to write for the sake of writing. No, I write really for two reasons. One, because I am afraid I will forget some of the more important thoughts I’ve had or intellectual connections I’ve made. Second, because in some way I’d like to think I can connect with real people. I struggle with how to do that when I am limited to a medium and method that constrains me to basically one topic area per post. I want to find people with whom I have things in common but I don’t want that commonality to be the only thread holding a relationship together, however limited that might be online.

As a financial advisor by trade I consume lots of information about investing, personal finance, etc. day in and day out. But I have a vast set of interests. Sure, investing is interesting, but I love to discuss psychology, physics, philosophy, biology, sports, outdoors, humor, family and many other things that strike my fancy. I am the person who will read about quantum mechanics one day and the mating habits of ticks the next. I love to learn.

I have no idea what I will write about today or tomorrow or the next but I know I will write about something at some point. If you find something interesting then I hope you will stick around to read more, leave a comment, or ask a question. Connections are always welcome.

Update: earlier this year I decided to start publishing a weekly email newsletter. It’s usually a very short read, only taking a couple of minutes. It contains a plethora of different things; quotes, quips, jokes, philosophical questions, books, links, and observations of mine. At least in this way each touch can contain more flavors. Check it out: jeffhowardz | facts of my existence newsletter.

This blog is not unique and that’s okay

In the past I’ve always thought that unique is the only thing of value. Anytime I’ve ever decided to start a website or business I’ve always spent countless hours thinking of just the right domain name, slogan, unique selling proposition, etc. As you can see all of that is thinking. It’s all paralysis by analysis. I spent so much time thinking and not enough time executing that by the time I got to the doing I was burned out. I’ve thought my way out of a hundred great ideas.

Many years ago I wrote down my values. One of those values was “think less, do more.” That’s not an original phrase. You can find literally 1000s of articles and sites dedicated to taking action. Hell, even big consumer brands encourage action. Nike says JUST DO IT, Home Depot says MORE SAVING, MORE DOING. There are an infinite number of variations on the theme;

  • think less, feel more
  • stop thinking, take action
  • think less, be more

The basic ideas on this site are not unique, nor are many of the thoughts I share. I didn’t obsess over the name or the domain name and how I was going to market anything. I just decided one morning to create this and I just did it. I’d like to think my voice is unique and that some of my insights on the matter will be unique but even if they aren’t that will be okay. Why? Because I am DOING this as much for me as for you. Writing is doing.

You can’t wait until everything is perfect or until you’ve thought of everything. In the words of marketing guru Seth Godin:

You ship. You ship your best work, when it’s ready. Not after it’s ready, not when it’s too late to make a difference, and yes, of course, not when it’s sloppy or unformed.

But you ship. You’re on the hook, you made this, it’s ready. Ship. Without excuses.

Here we go again

Welcome to the 20th, or 25th, or 31st iteration of my blog. I’m sure I am not the first to have struggled with how to manage my online identity – or lack thereof. Over the course of the last 15 years that identity has taken many shapes. The cycle goes something like this:

  1. Get bored with whatever I am reading, watching, or building in the physical realm.
  2. Feel a need for social interaction and expression via the internet.
  3. Convince myself that people might actually care what I have to say.
  4. Further convince myself that what I have to say is in some way unique and beneficial to those who might read it.
  5. Go through manic phase of excitement, thump my chest like Tony Robbins, and start a blog account.
  6. Realize that before I blog I need a purpose that will be the common thread that brings me together with the minions who will suddenly start following me.
  7. Confound myself with what that purpose might be, as my interests are vast, my knowledge deep, and my inner life very complicated.
  8. After deciding what that purpose is, I obsess over the proper blog “theme”, pictures, icons, and look and feel that will express that. After fumbling through hundreds of looks I settle on one, customize it, and begin the process of writing.
  9. I spend the first two weeks writing about all of the things that presently interest me, you know, those deep insightful things. The ones I was thinking about while becoming bored with everything mentioned in #1. I write and write and write.
  10. Then I sit back and wait. Build it and they will come they say (James Earl Jones haunts me with those words). But they never do.
  11. I check page views, links, likes, tweets, and all manner of other indications that my little corner of the internet universe means something to someone, to anyone, other than myself.
  12. Sometimes there is a trickle of interest. Other times there is nothing. Sometimes the only interaction I have involves the comment spammers we all know and love. You’ve “arrived” when the porn star spam bots start trying to take over your comments.
  13. Several weeks pass and I have made no new friends or acquaintances, no one has commented or said anything interesting, and quite frankly I am not even sure anyone has read or will read any of what I’ve written.
  14. So I decide to stop and stop I do. The blog drifts off into nothingness. Out of mind, out of site.
  15. At some point I forget I even did it until a year later when I get the domain renewal notice. Then I reflect and ask myself what the hell I was thinking and vow to never blog again….that is until I get bored.

I am now bored. So what the hell, let’s give this a go again. Eventually I may have minions. It’s more likely though that in 1 year I will be receiving a domain renewal notice and say to myself – you idiot. Not again.