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How I Finally Got This Blog You're Reading Built After Years of Procrastination

A postmortem on my process for getting an MVP blog designed and coded up after many other failed starts…

d2 hero illustration

Backstory

I have tried and failed to put together a personal blog for years. I finally got it done and thought I'd share some strategies that helped me follow through this time…


Procrastination

Maybe you're like me. You know that a custom MVP blog (minimum viable not embarrassingly suck-ass blog), takes a ton of work to actually pull off, and yet you hold some time intensive considerations:

  • you're more hands on then to be sensible and just use something like Squarespace or Gatsby
  • you're extremely picky and prone to changing your mind often
  • you're well aware that to this blog will likely take 40-50 hours to build

First step

At some point I realized that if I could decompose this project down into small tasks, I could be successful working in 45 minutes or so pockets—really a modified agile approach, but instead of epics, milestones, and tasks, it was more like tasks and micro-tasks since these pockets of availability were so short.

For example, if I'd normally have a task that was just Create Logo, I instead decomposed it down into every little micro-task I could think . of:

  1. Logo concept
  2. Logo design
  3. Logo export
  4. Logo UI Component (coded logo)

Yes, it looks a bit ridiculous, but, when I broke it down in to such small steps, I could answer the question “Could I get that done in 45 minutes if that's all the time I had?”

Markdown todo list

Once I started with these micro-tasks, I immediately knew I wanted to have the list in my text editor. So, at the top of my project, I created a file TODO.md to house all the broken down micro-tasks.

Simplified, it looked something like this:

# TODO List

## In progress
- [ ]Fix iPhone layout

## Backlog
- [ ] Back to top component

## Done
- [x] Add GA
- [x] Add inbound links from Medium and social platforms
- [x] Add more links in the big brands '20 post
...etc.

As you can see, it's a simple linear todo list with "In Progress", "Backlog", and "Done" buckets. Pretty simple, but effective.

What's your North Star Metric

Since you're not getting paid for this personal blog, and it's absolutely in jeopardy of falling apart before you finish, you'll need to apply a lazer focus towards one chief goal. Yes, it's similar to the old MVP concept, but you really have to ask yourself, “What is the most stripped down result I could live with?” and “What is the one thing I really care about?”

When I asked myself these questions, I thought about how wonderful my authoring experience was using Medium, and how readable they've made it. As a frontend developer and designer, I was pretty confident I could reproduce that readable experience, but add my own opinionated style to my blog.

So that became my North Star Metric—the single metric I held as the core value my blog would deliver to my readership.

One reason I held this readability feature so high, is that I'm kind of an odd internet surfer myself. If I find an article I want to read, and it has any sort of distracting ads, poor layout, obnoxious colors, etc., I'll first attempt to use "reader mode" or "distill page" to get it to my liking, and if that doesn't work, I'll literally drop down into the browser's dev tools and sort of "re-layout" the whole page to my liking. Line measure is critical, font size too, contrast and color…yes, it's a bit crazy, but I can do it in about a minute and if I'm going to wade through a long article or software docs, etc., my eyes end up hurting less and I enjoy the reading session much more too.

Compromises

You've hopefully noticed that I create and use illustrations, and I suppose it's one of the identifiable pieces of my blog. But, it comes at a price. I can't just whip these up without any effort and time.

So, that becomes a problem since I want a low barrier to authorship when I feel inspired to write.

Also, I find myself in between laptops and so I don't have access to Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator at the moment (I'm learning Krita which I'm quite sure will work fine for illustrations from my test runs), but I just don't have time to produce a blog illustration for every single post just yet.

So yes, I've compromised my creative vision. I'm using the little blob graphic you see at the top of this article which is clearly not as visually enticing as my illustrations. But, that's the compromise I've chosen to make for the time being. By doing so, it allows me go ahead and continue to write posts. Later, when I get my whole Intuis Pro / Krita setup up and going, I just may go back and replace those placeholder blobs with illustration (or not, who knows).

Shortcuts

Since I was to play both the designer and coder on this personal project, I took a lot of shortcuts when I designed the blog in Figma. You can see them in the screenshot below. What I did, was to figure out the key design elements, layout decisions, etc., and then omitted anything I knew I'd already know when I put on my developer hat:

Figma design roughs

Obviously, if I was designing for a team, I wouldn't have had the luxury of such vague specs, but since I was also the coder, it worked.

Reassurance

One thing I did after making my little markdown micro-tasks backlog was to take the total number of 45 minute tasks, and figure out how long it would take to complete the blog at different frequencies. I think I probably had a good 40-50 such micro-tasks, and I realized that if I found 3-4 of these “creative pockets” a week, I could still manage to get the thing done in about 4 months. I decided, well, that's not so bad I suppose.

However, what happened, was that I found some larger blocks of time here and there, especially after having some feelings of success as I whittled down my list. Every once in a while, I'd get a larger block, and it turned out I cut it down to about 2 months as a result. But, having calculated the amount of time it would take (worse case with as little effort as I could realistically find), I felt my confidence that I could finish the project grow. This was pretty key for me.

Conclusion

Absolutely nothing I've said here is groundbreaking. It's just me noting down something that helped me. But, perhaps it will help you if you haven't figured out how to, ultimately, trick yourself into moving past the inevitable inertia and homeostasis we all have when it comes to building a blog. I hope it helps and if you have something interesting or a question about this post DM me (my first then last name then my favorite sport tennis [all as one word] at gmail dot com).