The craziness of planning?

As most of you know by now, I tend to think through stuff...a lot.

I'm REALLY big on the "planning" part my new aquariums.

Like, I think through all of the tiny details. Stuff that's pretty stupid, really...But important- like, "Which side of the tank do I place the heater so that the plug can i reach the power strip without being too obvious?"

Shit. I'm crazy, huh? (don't answer that...)

I'm the kind of guy who will spend an entire day just looking into what color and type of background material I intend to use for the tank.

Plumbing parts? Oh, I can literally lose myself in a hardware store. Driftwood? Yikes.

And don't even get me started on substrates! And, of course, I HAD to throw myself into the mix with our own materials...adding to the confusion and choices!



Below is literally my mindset on the whole process. It sounds great on paper, and there is a certain simple logic to it. But it's also where things seemed to go terribly wrong for me:

I mean, every tank should start with some sort of plan, idea, or concept.

You need to know what kind of fish you're intending to keep pretty early on in the, literally, at the very beginning. The stocking plan is pretty much mission-critical, I'd say. And then, you should decide what kind of environment you're going to keep the cool fishes that you decided upon in.

And then you need to figure out what equipment you need to achieve this. And of course, then comes the "fun" part- putting it all together. I mean, all the planning in the world is kind of a wasted exercise if the tank looks like shit!

Well you know what I mean.


By my estimation, and using this process, the planning of a tank takes like roughly "3 days per gallon." So, a great 50 gallon tank should take...150 days. 5 FREAKING MONTHS? JUST TO PLAN?

Can that be right?

I am crazy. Well, I should say- I was crazy-for a while. 

I wasn't always a human glacier, however.

When I was a kid, I would be re-configuring my 10-gallon community tank like monthly. In January, I'd have a Danio community tank. February would be time for Kribs. March would be Mollies in a brackish tank. By April, it was back to fresh in time to mess around with a group of killifish. Well, May was one of those months where my thoughts tuned to..Tetras...and...well, you get the picture.

I was fast. Really fast.

I think part of it was because I was an impatient kid with limited resources and a desire to try tons of different things. Absurdly diverse interests. How else can you explain a 14 year old with memberships in the IBC, AKA, ACA, and ALA? I mean, I had one tank, and ultimately, a couple of tanks, dozens of plastic boxes, and two very understanding, but oft-times frustrated parents!

So that's how the concept of a "fish room" got started!


Yet, there was a big chunk of my aquatic life that had me fall victim to my own obsessive planning thing. I mean, it was like "analysis paralysis." Fortunately, my hobby friends viewed my slow progressions from concept to completion as "disciplined", but the reality was that, inside, I knew I was somehow just spending way too much time and placing way too much emphasis on the planning part of the hobby equation.

I did enjoy it a little, even if it seemed, well- really fucking slow.

Flash forward to today, and I have...Just 3 small aquariums in my  new 4-bedroom home, at the moment each in varying stages of the planning/building process.  We're about to do some major re-modeling and all of my "full-size" tanks are in storage until the project is done. You'd think I am in this "slow-planner's nirvana", or something!

I'm actually moving pretty quickly with the tanks I have! One out of the three actually has some fishes in it! That's a start! 

Each one radically different from the other. Financially, I'm probably just a bit better than I was as a 14 year old (I mean, I'm in the aquatics industry, right? 😆), and I still have absurdly diverse interests.

Not much has changed, right? 

The difference?

I'm actually working on each one regularly, even thought they're tiny- putting them together on a very accelerated pace. I decided on concepts, system design, sourced everything, BOUGHT all of the stuff, and started assembly on two of my tanks within a month! For me, that's epic! Progression has been pretty rapid. Okay, sure, there are hobbyists out there who've put together entire fish rooms and had multiple spawns of Plecos in that kind of time frame, but this is progress.

I mean, for me, that's practically breakneck speed! 

Has a lot changed?

Actually, it really has.

When you get to live a certain age in life, you realize that your time on this planet is- well- finite- and if you want to accomplish stuff, you need to do it in less than a geological or stellar evolutionary time scale. You need to be decisive, to mark and move. "To fish or cut bait"...whatever. You need to DO something instead of PLAN to do something. You know, all of those cliches.

But they're actually pretty correct. And useful to apply. My "Urban Igapo" experiments progressed really quickly. We've done dozens of iterations on them in  an incredibly rapid time frame.

So, the impatient kid in me is back!

I've learned to approach aquarium keeping like I've learned to approach my business: Methodically, yet "organically." Not to overthink stuff, yet to use a good approach that's coaxed along and evolved relatively quickly. Iterate and reiterate rapidly, yet within the context of the larger time frame.

Realizing that the processes which you use to get things moving should be executed quickly, even if the journey to the ultimate goal is a longer, slower one. Because sitting with a pen and paper staring at the ceiling doesn't get anything done, be it in business or building a 50 gallon biotope aquarium.

Wow, I've finally married action and theory in a way that works! And enjoyment in my hobby is back and bigger than ever. And it's sure helped push Tannin Aquatics along!

Yes, I still have a ridiculously tight aesthetic concept of how a tank should look, and how the overall aquarium should fit into my world, blah, blah, blah. Yeah, I still don't' like dangling wires, noise, and blatantly obvious gear on display.

But I am also coming to grips with the reality that, even if you have a few electrical cords showing, or a maybe a plumbing return or three in the tank, that I'll somehow live. I mean, I'm just dealing with my absurdities now, instead of losing myself in them! I've learned to compromise a few anal retentive attitudes for the sake of the greater good here!

Moving forward quickly never felt so good.

It's exciting times for me. A hobby renaissance. A time to do instead to plan. And most important- a time to enjoy. To enjoy the whole essence of this crazy cool hobby that we're all obsessed about!

So the takeaway here, fellow fish geeks, is to learn from my hard-earned hobby knowledge gained over many tortuous decades, and not to let your ideas get in the way of your execution!

Just DO shit!

Stay driven. Stay focused on your goal, but open your eyes and increase your flexibility.

Be nimble, agile, and open-minded. Stay on task.

And Stay Wet.

Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics




Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


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