Deep Work with Focus using a Word Processor

One of the arguments for using a plain text editor rather than a word processor is the ability to focus on the text without the distraction of formatting the text. Obviously there are many reasons one may want to use a plain text editor but avoiding distraction is one that is frequently mentioned. This is a legitimate reason for using a text editor.

That said, it is easy to focus on text using a word processor while having the advantages of rich text. Both Word and Pages make it easy to eliminate distraction so that one can focus on the text while using keyboard shortcuts to quickly and without distraction add title, heading and other formatting.

In Pages, one can quickly hide the tool and formatting bars with simple keyboard shortcuts: Option+Command+I and Option+Command+t produce this result

Pages Focus Mode:

Moreover, one can create function key shortcuts for the formatting as show here:

This means you can type without distraction and insert headings without moving your hands from the keyboard and with no more distraction than inserting markdown syntax in a text editor and without the clutter that markdown creates.

Its even easier in Word:

Word Focus Mode:

As one can see in both Pages and Word, when in focus all tool and formatting bars are removed with only the text remaining. This makes it easy to focus on the content.

Word Style Shortcuts

Finally, Scrivener also has a superb focus mode as shown here:

I’m not advocating for apps or workflows. I’m merely passing this along recognizing that the vast majority here know all of this but for the few who may not, this may be helpful.


Thank you. Of course, the best focus mode is a piece of paper and pencil :slight_smile: Life is better when fewer electrons are involved.


It’s a bit hidden, but you can create different style shortcuts for each Style in Word by following these steps.

This way you can add shortcuts to the above list or even use another shortcut that you like better than the built-ins.


Personally it’s more about the separation of concerns for me. Plaintext is a context shift into focusing on the pure writing, rich text is a context shift into making the writing look presentable. Same reason I don’t use a plaintext editor for things where the visuals are of utmost importance.

That being said, sometimes I just want to bang out a document and neither the writing or the visuals need to be perfect, in which case markdown with a nice PDF export or focus mode on a word processor is a great middle ground.

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There’s also the “Draft View” for that in Word that will significantly pair down formatting. One can even change the defaults to have it use a draft font (I guess it’s Courier or some variation of it) instead of showing the formatting altogether.

Whenever you want to format it properly, then it’s just a matter of reverting to “Print Layout” view.


Also a great tip! For all the hate it gets Word actually has quite a few tricks up its sleeve. In my case my plaintext config has a bunch of customized keybinds, snippets, plugins etc that would probably become cumbersome in Word but thank you for reminding me that this feature exists.

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Yeah, while it’s definitely no vim (man I would love to have a vim mode in Word, just like we do in Obsidian), it still has some tools to help.

For me, work-related items are always Word documents for me as this is industry standard. So it helps to know a few more tricks to make Word behave a little better.

For me too. Word is a common currency. I’ve never received a markdown file from anyone!

While I understand the attraction of plain text/markdown (and I use Ulysses for some writing) it’s usually easier simply to write in word rather than converting later. This thread has been very helpful - some of the distraction-free advantages of plain text editors but retaining full functionality of rich text.


This post reminds me, I was just listening to Gruber on The Talk Show talk about creating Markdown, and he said that he thought that Markdown had actually gotten too big. His reasoning was that people were using Markdown when the right tool for the job was actually rich text. In his mind, Markdown is for writing for the web, but it’s good to use other tools for other kinds of writing.

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I’d like to listen to that show. Do you have a link?

UPDATE: Nevermind, I subscribed to The Talk Show and listened to the latest episode and discovered that Gruber addresses the issue about ½ way through.

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I suppose Gruber’s opinion can be interesting sometimes, though it is usually irrelevant. Bless him for monetizing his whims.

Markdown is good for whatever purpose the user choses; the inventor no longer has a vote.