The right tools for… consuming content

In my 18 years consuming online content, I’ve noticed two contradictory, counter-productive facts:

  • Mono-tasking is the most effective way to consume content
  • Multi-tasking is the most stimulating way to consume content

Which mode do internet publishers promote? Mono- or multi-tasking?

Think of most websites you visit — the answer is obvious. They’re cluttered with distractors: ads, auto-playing videos, screaming related headlines, and user comments. We tend to read print material in a linear, ordered fashion, but things couldn’t be more different on digital. Our eyes dart around the page. Our minds become absorbed in several things at once.

And so, as we “read” — or try to read — articles on long-form content online, we’re presented with a never-ending array of distracting, tantalizing, deeply stimulating inputs that dance at the periphery of our focus area. We lose interest in what we’re reading, skimming it as our eyes jump from one distraction to another.

The good news: there are tech solutions that can clean up the content experience. Below is the “stack” I use to banish distractions when reading content. Take a look, and let me know if I’ve missed your favorites.


Pocket is simple: you create a free account and then send it links of stories you want to read. Pocket presents the content in a minimalist, naked layout (like Medium).

The easiest way to add stories to Pocket is to land on the page and then click the Chrome extension (if you’re using Chrome) to “Save to Pocket.” The Chrome extension also adds a KILLER feature — you can add stories without ever visiting the article page. Just right-click the link and click “Add to Pocket.”

This is particularly useful when there’s a link to a story I want to read, but it’s on a website I don’t want to visit. Pocket also works for websites that block you if you have an ad blocker turned on.

Which brings me to…

AdBlock Plus

I block all ads and sponsored content by default.

I’m sympathetic to publishers who suffer because of ad blocking. But not that sympathetic. After all, the cat’s out of the bag; anybody can install an ad blocker. It’s free. It takes 15 seconds. Apple built it into their iOS. If your business model depends on annoying things that can be disabled the easily, you need a new business model. Full stop.

I also use Taboola Blocker, because AdBlock doesn’t block some of the Taboola sponsored content links.
1Blocker does the same thing, but for mobile. 1Blocker costs $3. Totally worth it.

Shut Up

This charmingly-named Chrome extension automatically blocks user comments.

Comments sections are worthwhile on sites with good communities, like certain subreddits. But they’re mostly worthless. I enjoy reading objectivity and analysis, not the emotionally-charged reactions of other people. User comments force me to engage with the opinions of people I don’t know. Better to block it all out.

Tinderizer (send to Kindle)

I love my Kindle because it’s a distraction-free reading experience for books. Even if I WANT to multi-task, there’s no browser, so I can’t break my flow to jump to Facebook or sports scores.

Tinderizer is a free service. You install a simple bookmarklet in your browser and click it when you’re on a worthwhile article. It sends the page to your Kindle, where it shows up in your library like a book. Highly, highly recommended.

Print media

Finally, there’s one type of media that has managed to stay (relatively) distraction free: good ol’ print!

Yes, the pages are often cluttered with ads and other distracting things. But maintaining focus is much easier than on digital media. The distractions aren’t nearly as enticing or accessible.

As I’ve said many times before, I generally avoid the news. but when I do read the paper, it’s in print. The experience is much “cleaner” than a session of binging on links, videos and other digital stimuli.

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