Why WordPress is becoming more like Notion, and why that might be bad for productivity

If you spend any amount of time watching YouTube productivity videos (oh, the irony) then you will be aware of Notion. But if not, then Notion is basically an app that allows lots of flexibility in how you store and manage content.

I'll start off by saying that Notion is a great app, it's really flexible, powerful, and useful if that's what you need. I started using Notion to take notes, manage projects, keep track of life stuff and it was pretty good – except that I noticed that I was spending lots of time perfecting how I used Notion rather than actually taking notes, managing projects, and keeping track of life stuff.

Essentially, I was procrastinating.

And this is a problem with Notion. It's very easy to fall into the trap of creating the perfect workflow. Just search YouTube for Notion workflows or templates – lots and lots of videos covering this. It's easy to spend all of your time creating Notion templates, databases, formatting content, rather than focussing on the tasks at hand.

I've now reverted to using Things 3 for my task app. It's really simple and I can manage it in just a few minutes on any device. It puts the focus back on doing the work rather than organising the work. For notes, I've gone back to using Bear for the same reasons – it's really simple to use and puts the focus back on the writing rather than the organising.

What this means for WordPress

I used to love using WordPress for the same reasons as I love using Things 3 and Bear. It used to put the emphasis on the writing rather than the formatting and layout. You would set up your website, install a theme (or hire a designer to create a bespoke theme for you if it's a business website) and then go about creating your content.

However, with the rise of Gutenberg, and more recently the Full Site Editor (FSE), the emphasis is now on creating layouts. Even if you have a pre-designed set of content blocks, you are still plonked into the mindset of which blocks to select, which block options to use, which layout to create – none of which is related to doing the work or writing the content.

Is this really bad?

You could argue that this provides much more flexibility and will save businesses money because in-house team members can now create those layouts. But I would ask, how many times have you sat down to write some content only to find yourself procrastinating on trivial things like formatting and layout, to then discover that an hour later you have completely lost the will to write anything at all?

Isn't it better to have a designer create your website for you, based on your brand guidelines, so that you simply fill in the gaps and focus on the important task of writing and editing copy?

Of course you can get around this by setting time aside to focus on each part of this process. Write your copy in a plain text editor and then copy and paste it into your layout, but WordPress is still forcing you or your staff members to make those design decisions, taking your copywriters and editors out of their focussed role. They now need to be aware of design and how design choices can impact how your readers interact with your website – copywriters and editors now also need to be designers. They need to understand HTML semantics such as which header type to use. Which colours they should select to ensure that content is accessible. How blocks create visual interest and page flow. Is this the best use of their time?

Why do we need these apps and tools?

We are seeing new tools emerging all the time. The app market is absolutely (appsolutely? 😇) swamped. Existing tools have to find ways to keep up and to stay interesting so that users keep on using them. WordPress and Notion are no different here but what is really important about the apps and tools that we use? Why do we use them in the first place?

Why are you using WordPress? Is it because you want design control or is it because you simply want to be able to manage your own copy?

Why are you using Notion? Is it because you want to create lots of different templates and complex databases? Or is it because you want an efficient way to take notes?

Of course there is nothing wrong with WordPress – it's a fantastic platform and most of the websites that I build today are still using it. Just be aware of why you are using it. This will then guide you to the best way to use it to meet those needs. Have these discussions with your designer or agency and be honest with yourself about what you want from it.

Do you just want to focus on writing content? Then make sure that you are not getting carried away focussing on creating lots of different block-based layouts.

Focus on the real work.

Other CMS platforms such as Ghost offer a really clean way to write content without getting distracted with layouts and formatting (other than the basic italic, bold, header selection). If your goal is to have an efficient way to mange your website then it's worth considering these other options.