Cleaning up my tabs

On trying to maintain focus by keeping my browser tabs to a minimum.

I'm starting an experiment. By almost any measure, I'd be considered a power user of browser software. I use some of the edgiest features that are hidden behind feature flags. I know the shortcuts the same way I know all the buttons and levers in my car. And most importantly, I dance across 60 tabs with ease. But just because I can dance across 60 tabs with technical ease, doesn't mean that it doesn't have any impact on my mental space. Because managing mental space is a lot harder than remembering how to jump to that tab you kept your work waiting in.

So the experiment is this:

Can I, keep my tab usage to under 5 tabs for the whole day? With a goal of 1-2 tabs open at max.

There's a small caveat here. I shy away from native apps these days since so many of them use Electron which tends to eat up memory quite heavily. So I have a few long running processes which are always on and I keep in pinned tab. In no particular order they are:

  • Slack - For communication at Buffer
  • Todoist - Manage my todo lists for the day
  • Toggl - Keep track of my time
  • Jira - Work related project management
  • Calendar - Because I like to timebox my day

The difference in all of these tabs is that I need to reference them at a moment's notice, but I never jump to them as a distraction. It's just more convenient to keep them open.

The problem is with all the other tabs that get opened up. The process will usually go something like this:

"Hmmm time to open dropbox paper. Check on my notes."<opens 3 tabs for 3 separate paper documents>
"Ah I remember. There's that conversation on Discourse I should check too."<opens tab>
"What's this notification? Looks like a conversation I should check on in Discourse."<opens in new tab, goes back to paper>
"Right.. so there's this other paper linked to this one. I should check it."<opens in new tab>
"Ah right. That's a pending github issue."<opens github repo in new tab>
"Oh ok. 2 issues and a PR to look into. Right."<opens across 3 new tabs>

This goes downhill very quickly. The act of opening new tabs is enabling my self destructive attention deficiency behaviours. The process should follow a streamlined flow where I complete one paper document and make notes of anything I should refer to after I'm done. Otherwise it's like following various branches on a tree to the point where I forget how I even got there.

And once the browser has 50 tabs open, or even 20, you look at it and think

"Well... Now which one should I go to next?"

It was this repeated thought that made me reflect that I need to get my tabs under control. There should never be a choice of what is next. There should only be 1 answer to what's next. That's it.

So the challenge:

  • Outside of the essential pinned tabs, I can only have a maximum of 5 tabs open at once
    • While I want to have just 1 tab and 1 process going on in my mind at any time, sometimes it is essential to have a second referral tab opened up. Maybe to view an image, maybe to view a preview of a blog post. Maybe 1 tab needs to be kept open for testing. Could be any reason.
    • The goal is to go to no more than 1 tab open at once unless absolutely necessary.
  • The maximum limit can be broken only in a case of an emergency such as when a server is going down and we need to open several tabs because information is needed from multiple sources at once.
  • If a document needs to be referred, I'll do my best to open it in the same tab and go back to the original page I was on, rather than splitting across two tabs.
  • Track my usage for a month/two months. Reflect on how much has changed.
    • I already had to stop myself from opening multiple tabs and splitting my attention to see if I can find a tool to do this for me. Better to finish this post, and then check rather than get lost down a rabbit hole of searching for a tool and then reading documentation to see how I can build it myself if one doesn't exist.

Let's begin :)

Posted on February 26 2018 by Adnan Issadeen