Design for focus, don’t design for distraction

I woke up this morning to write my 500 word post for the day. I discovered that Medium’s designers had made it a little bit harder for me.

Can you spot why? It’s in this screenshot here:

I love composing in Medium’s editor. There’s something gratifying (though perhaps dangerous) about feeling like you’re looking at a finished post as you’re writing it. The typography is like a pretentious pair of very round, dark-rimmed glasses: it makes you feel smarter.

But this new thing will make writing harder.

Did you figure out what it was? Remember on Sesame Street, when they sang “one of these things is different from the others?” Well, “one of these things has nothing to do with writing, and, in fact may totally derail me from writing.” Here, I’ll point it out:

This notification thing is the bane of my morning writing sessions. When I go to, I can’t help but see this thing. It’s usually covered with a green dot with a number on it. It’s where I can find out who has recommended one of my articles, or who has written a response.

(Damnit, it just changed on me!)

Do you think I can resist clicking on this green dot? I try, but I fail.

Instead, when I first visit Medium to begin writing, I allow myself to be diverted by it for a moment, and I fight the urge to look at the timeline of other articles (can someone please make a Medium timeline blocker, like the Facebook News Feed blockers we all love?) Then, I finally manage to start writing an article.

Before, I noticed this notification thing wasn’t on the page where I write. “How considerate and thoughtful,” I thought. Now, it’s there, like a guest at a nice dinner party, who thinks he’s at a keggar.

Writing is a hard thing to get yourself to do. Even people who love writing, like I do, find it hard to do. It takes every bit of discipline and mental strength I have to begin, and if an excuse is for not doing it is thrust into my field of vision, I will take it.

The process of writing has nothing to do with whether someone has liked an article, or followed me, or highlighted, or commented. That stuff is valuable once the writing is done, but it does nothing but threaten the chances that the writing will happen in the first place. So, what is that stuff doing here?

Designers design to distract all of the time. That’s nothing new. There’s the “top 50 cities for [inane thing such as longboarding or pizza]” list, each city on it’s own page, you having to click the little arrow to get to the next city and find out which is #1 except for you often miss the arrow and “accidentally” click on the ad because it loaded last and the layout mysteriously reflowed just so.

But designers hands are often forced in this by corrupt incentives. I can’t think of what misguided metric would make Medium’s designers try this — unless I’m a subject in some torturous experiment.

Written by

Bestselling author of “Mind Management, Not Time Management”

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store