The Power of Less: I Removed Every Inessential Thing From My Website and Here’s What Happened

When I built my first website a little over 3 years ago, I had no idea what I was doing.

Naturally, I figured that looking at what other websites and blogs had on their pages would be a good place to start. I started seeing sites with social media buttons, email popups, advertisements, comments, and all sorts of other things. At first glance, these things seemed important. After all, every other website had them and they appeared to serve a purpose.

But as I continued tweaking my site design, I tested what would happen if I eliminated the unessential pieces. I didn’t run any advertisements. I took down all of the social media buttons. I eliminated the sidebars, the suggested content, and anything else that wasn’t absolutely essential.

As I pulled away each piece, a funny thing happened. People were less distracted. Visitors spent more time reading my articles. More people joined my email list. The simpler things became, the better the results were.

But it’s not just websites. Once my eyes were opened, I noticed impact of simplicity in other areas of life as well.

The Power of Less

When I was a kid, I looked like a string bean. As an athlete, I knew I needed to get stronger and I thought that I needed to devise the ultimate, optimized workout plan.

I spent hours trying to come up with the right combination of exercises and the perfect split routines for each week. When I barely got stronger, I assumed that I was missing an exercise. I figured the answer to gaining muscle and getting stronger was adding something else to the mix.

It took me about 7 years (I’m a slow learner), but eventually I figured out that the answer was the exact opposite: simplicity.

I abandoned the complex workouts, focused on one foundational movement (the back squat), and did just 2 or 3 exercises per workout. I increased my strength more in 4 months than I did in the previous 4 years. Just like with my website, the simpler things became, the better the results were.

From websites to workouts, simplicity can make a big difference. But in both cases, my skills didn’t increase overnight. Instead, I made progress by eliminating the things that were distracting me from the essentials.

It was a commitment to mastering the fundamentals, not the details, that made the difference. I think this principle applies to most things in life.

Eliminate Your Distractions

The simplest way to get better is to eliminate your distractions.

Want your software program to run faster? Delete every line of code that isn’t essential.

Want to get stronger arms? Stop wasting energy on unrelated exercises.

Want more people to read your blog? Stop distracting them with ads, buttons, and widgets.

These choices have nothing to do with gaining new skills. They are simply about eliminating the things that are distracting from the essential. Learning to ignore, reduce, and remove the inessential choices can be just as beneficial as teaching yourself to make better ones.

This principle extends to many “good” uses of time as well. Eliminating bad habits and wasteful resources is like picking the low-hanging fruit. Simplicity becomes harder when you have to choose between two good options. But those choices are just as important. It took me a long time to learn this, but just because you can easily justify spending your time on something doesn’t mean it’s essential to your progress. Decide what is really important to you and eliminate the rest.

Simplifying your options immediately makes you better because it’s so much easier to do the right thing when you’re not surrounded by the extra things. The simplest way to improve is to eliminate your distractions.

24 Comments

  1. Hi James,

    I am new to your blog and am already hooked waiting for your new blogs. :-)

    a) Simplicity is the need of the hour; innovation that all major companies want to do (including where i work) is how to turn complexity into simplicity applicable to everything.

    b) Deliberate minimalism is the key to success as you have mentioned in the blog.

    Thanks for the valueable info in the blogs, keep them coming.

  2. Wow James,

    What an experience and three years is not something to joke about. You just made me to resonate with this statement ” Simplicity is not simple”.

    Thank you, for this Nice Share.

  3. I really like what you’ve said in this article. I read your articles because of exactly what you said; there is no nonsense on the sides to distract me. I’m curious about the exercise statement. Please expound on what are your “two or three exercises per workout”. I would like to simplify in that area. Thank you.

  4. So James — Are you of the Einstein clothing mentality in your simplicity,

    I know I have a lot of white shirts. :-)

    Regards,
    Russell

  5. It looks great and I’m seeing this trend more and more. Having to produce something that looks good on mobile is one of the main reasons why people are doing away with sidebars and other clutter. Love the title of your opt-in form below!

  6. Thanks for this post James. Your website is a huge inspiration towards what I’m looking to build for myself — the fact that it’s completely clean, free of sidebar ads and other noise has really set it apart.

  7. Great article! Just want I needed to read as I’m getting into the final stages of my website redesign.

    I work in business consulting and clearly understand the benefits of less is more. Thank you for giving me a fantastic real life example to take action and clear a lot of the crap from my website (my business, and my life) and get focused!

  8. James, you’ve hit this point right on target. The biggest lesson I’ve learned and am still learning these last couple of months is to simplify. It’s help me run a half marathon only 2 weeks ago and start just being more mindful as well. Thanks. :)

  9. This is amazing.

    Today was my first “simple” workout, and I can feel the difference. I’m going from string bean to strong like you did, only I’m starting now. AND I’ve been thinking of radically simplifying my blog (largely inspired by yours even before this article. You do it right). The timing is uncanny and awesome! Amazing article and 75 bonus points for being so eerily relevant to my life. Cheers James!

    • As for the string-bean-ness, I’ve already “started,” but the effective workouts started today. I’m a little better than scrawny is all I’m saying. :-)

  10. James, you are producing great content and that alone explain your success as a blogger. Simplicity, you said, helped you a lot with your audience and to grown your mailing list. Now you have a huge list of followers and a ton of visits. It would be interesting to learn more about your journey as a blogger and how long it took you to get to the point where you felt that your blog has potential to become what it is (and hopefully much more).

    Thank you,
    Robert

  11. Wow thanks for sharing James. Your post came at just the right time. I’m currently trying to build my own website, and I’m really struggling to keep the clutter to a minimum.

    If you don’t mind me asking, what programs and tools do you use for this website? Do you create and customize your own theme, or is there a WordPress theme that you build off of that I can look into?

  12. Great reminder! I already have a fairly pared down workout routine. However… your article came at just the right time. When we lost our 5-br house a couple yrs ago It was a truly a relief. It was too much house for us anyway and I was starting to just hated it. We went through a HUGE decluttering/ downsizing process and moved into a 1-br single-wide mobile home in a sr. mobile home park. (We were the youngest @ 55) After 18 month here, it appears I need to pare down again! Thanks again for the reminder!

  13. Good job man, a very simple and effective post.

    And btw, how about removing the “Confirm you are not a spammer tab” — a spammer is going to click on it anyway.

  14. As always, James, you’ve nailed it. Some of my favourite quotes spring to mind:

    “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” by Albert Einstein.

    “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” by Leonardo da Vinci.

    “Complexity means distracted effort. Simplicity means focused effort.” by Edward de Bono.

    “I wouldn’t give a fig for the simplicity on this side of complexity; I would give my right arm for the simplicity on the far side of complexity” by Oliver Wendell Holmes.

  15. Minimalism is key for success. When we remove all the unnecessary things, we can reduce the visual stress and concentrate more on the actual things we required.

    As usual, great post James :)

  16. Hi James,

    This is very valuable advice for anyone managing a website. Many blogs are so cluttered with distractions that I rarely make it to the end of the article. On yours, I made it all the way to the comments section without a single distraction. :-)

    I agree with the principle that simplifying your workouts can give better results. I’d just like to point out that there may be certain situations where it is better to do just the opposite. For long-distance runners who experience repeated running injuries, making workouts more complex by creating more variety and adding cross-training can be a preferable approach.

    Thanks for the great post!

  17. I love the advice. The white space on your page certainly focuses attention on your content. I do find that I avoid reading overly busy sites myself so am trying to make improvements, streamlining, in this area also.

  18. There is so much conflicting information out there. 20 “experts” claim exactly the opposite.

    Even after being in business online for 16 years, it can be a handful.

    Thanks for posting this article.

  19. Above my desk I have a quote from artist and writer William Morris: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Your post made me reflect on the quote more deeply today. Our “houses” are physical or virtual sites like our homes or offices; they are also our workout routines, our daily habits, our ways of eating, and our relationships.

    Thanks for the reminder. I always look forward to what you have to say.

  20. This is exactly what’s happening to me. I’m a perfectionist. I got methods but I didn’t practice one. Now I believe the less the better

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