Carl Barenbrug

Product design, creative direction

Focused Reading

I have never been a particularly big reader. I enjoy books and I enjoy reading blog posts, but I seem to make more room for the latter, even though I enjoy reading novels far more than I do blogs. The reason is simple enough: I spend the vast majority of my day behind a computer screen for work, side projects, writing, editing, and entertainment. And when I am away from the screen I focus on my physical health, or spending time with people, or resting. OK, enough of the excuses. What I want to talk about is the beauty of focused reading. Or better yet, completely undistracted reading.

How we read is highly variable, whether it is print books, ebooks, blogs, newspapers, magazines, emails, newsletters, news articles, forums, or social media posts. And how distracting each of these forms can also vary massively. It is often a far from focused reading experience, let alone a pleasurable one. How do you read without distractions? Most of these reading forms pulls us away from the others with alerts and updates coming in frequently, vying for our attention.

One of the main reasons I enjoy reading books more than I do most of the aforementioned forms, is because 99% of books are entirely focused on the written word. There is also no danger of receiving notifications if you’re reading a print book or Kindle ebook. Leave your tech behind, find a comfortable spot, and enjoy a read in silence. It can be a fully immersive experience and that is what a lot of authors aim to achieve.

When it comes to reading blogs, I am always happy when I find ones that are focused entirely on the reading experience. No sidebars, no ads, no pop-ups, no need to install additional browser extensions. With that said, I think it is a good idea to install apps like NextDNS and 1Blocker—it results in a much quicker and cleaner browsing experience overall. A few fine examples of sites that focus on your reading experience are:

Visually noisy sites are largely the reason RSS readers are still widely used, which strip away the design and leave the absolute essentials, sometimes offering a better aesthetic too. But even browsers such as Safari have inbuilt Reader options that work in a similar fashion.

I think the same focused reading approach can be taken with newsletters depending on the topic. If a newsletter is delivered in plain text, even better. Keep it as light as you can if you are sending them. How you receive mail will largely depend on your mail client, but unfortunately there is not a huge amount you can do to control the consistency of how you read emails.

As for reading social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram, opening these sites for short periods at scheduled times of the day means you avoid getting lost in the noise and distracting you from more important or enjoyable reading. A quick scan and light engagement will usually suffice. It is how I have been using social media for the past six months and it is a much better reading experience for me. Or you can just forget social media entirely.

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