My Tab Superiority Complex

At some point the tabs in my browser reach critical mass:


And I asked myself, “How can I live this way? Am I a tab hoarder?” That’s when the despair hits. What can I do about this? Am I beholden to forever live with these tabs, hopelessly trying to dig out my social media from a stack of Stack Overflows?

I still struggle with my tabs; I’m not perfect. But I have found relief with a few key strategies for tab management.

The Zen of Letting Go

Look at a tab and ask yourself, “Does this bring me joy?” That’s a joke.[1] But as absurd (or as obvious) as it may sound, I’ve identified the character flaw at the heart of tab excess: fear. I cling to my tabs, horrified I’ll never be able to find them again. And in refusing to let them go, I create the situation wherein I can’t find any at all.

Alanis Morissette

And, in this weakness, it’s ok to use a coping mechanism or security blanket. Such as:

Bookmark Folders

Bookmark a tab to save it for later. But if you go the bookmark route, it is very, very important to use appropriate folders. Without folders you will soon find yourself in the same sprawling, out of control situation as before, just in your bookmarks menu. I have watched people[2] who reach the arrow at the bottom of their bookmark list and subsequently scroll for eons. Don’t do that. Bookmark responsibly.

Notes Software

I really like this second option. Create a note for your project in a program such as Evernote or Agenda and paste links. I find this reassures me that I’ll be able to find my links again and makes it easier to close the tab. On rare occasion I even have cause to look up an old link. But even if I never open it again, it’s now someplace out of the way, freeing precious tab bar space.

Issue Management Software

This is the business or collaboration variant of Notes Software. Notate issues with applicable links, possibly with some descriptive text. This sort of documentation will impress your bosses and also make you more expendable, as a younger, cheaper employee could replace you and resume your well-documented progress at the point you left off.

Multiple Windows

As a developer, project preemption is a real problem. I can be in the thick of studying solutions to a task, only to have a higher priority assignment fall into my lap. Unwilling to lose my progress on the former project, I keep its dozen-or-so tabs open, in addition to dozens for the new one, and I quickly have an unnavigable situation on my hands.

What to do? I don’t have time to record my tab state before I move on, but if I don’t clear them out I’ll soon be mired in a bog of tabs.

So I open a new browser window. Now I have an organizational construct for separating the tabs for different projects. Layer the new window over top of the old one; you’re not working on that project anymore, so it’s ok to hide it, and this can aid focus. Be disciplined: should you wish to task switch, make sure to group tabs in the appropriate window and not mix them. If you break this rule in the heat of inspiration pause later on and move tabs around. A few moments of preparation can save a lot of frustration later.

Close Projects

One simple solution to tab proliferation should not be overlooked: close tabs when you’re done with them. Break periodically to audit your tabs and close the ones you’re not using. If you use the window-per-project method, you can even close entire windows at the completion of a project, sending a plethora of tabs into the void with satisfying finality. “You don’t have power over me!” you could yell, while wiping their sad tab lives from their sad tab existences. Or, I don’t know, yell “Excelsior!” if you want. Make it your own thing.

Final Thoughts

Only a handful of tabs were harmed in the making of this post.

I am melting butter by the heat of the dog's judgment.

  1. Haha. ↩︎

  2. Hi, dad! ↩︎