Charlie Harvey

Browser tabs are not a do-list

Today, something of a rant. Or at least a reminder to myself not to do something that I do all too often. You see, I keep tabs open in my browser. Sometimes for weeks on end. Why, I don’t know, at least on a rational level. Whenever I try to close a tab, I get an overpowering sense of panic. As if there is something life-threatening that I will somehow forget to do unless this particular tab remains open.

Browser tabs are not a do-list!

My browser chews away at my CPU, eating cycles, gobbling memory. It radiates an almost visceral air of impending doom. And the guilt. My God, the guilt. "What," I ask myself, "if I were to close one of those tabs?" I might forget to read that story from Hacker News that was somehow tangentially related to some project that I half imagined that I might one day do — and then what?

And it isn’t just my browser. That would be too easy. There is tabs open in my email and my file manager. Even my terminal for the love of [insert religious or secular figure of choice here]. Tabs everywhere.

Well, it stops today.

Don’t get me wrong. Tabs are a very cool and useful idea. The TDI is a lightweight and tidy way to open another window without having to open another window. Tabs don’t present quite as much of a context switch as hopping into a new workspace. They let me flit between this thing and that thing. It isn’t that I am somehow against tabs.

It’s just that they are not a do-list.

  • Tabs are hard to search
  • Tabs are impossible to filter
  • Tabs can’t be filed away to do later
  • Tabs can’t be prioritised
  • Tabs enable my procrastination 1 — want to avoid doing stuff? flip between tabs vaguely for a bit
  • Tabs enable my procrastination 2 — open up a tab with it in, that way it’s almost like I actually did it, isn’t it?
  • Tabs take machine resources. OK, not many per tab (assuming no flash ads), admittedly, but it all adds up
  • Tabs make me feel guilty about all of the things I maybe ought to do, but I can’t decide if I am going to or not
  • Tabs are local to my machine. Some browsers have a send tab to feature. But I probably forgot to do that whilst procrastinating and looking at my many tabs.
  • Tabs are not trustworthy. My browser crashes sometimes. Sometimes even my computer. I have backups, but not realtime ones. In fact I had a tab open about that the other day …

Now, it is entirely possible that some readers will have all discovered all sorts of plugins for Chromium or Firefox that let you use your browser tabs exactly like a do-list. Good for you. But it isn’t for me — I have just closed 24 browser tabs on iceweasel alone, and I feel liberated. In fact I have a pledge that I’ve made to my self, working title: "tab-bar zero" (I might have nicked that).

Tab-bar zero

My tab-reduction pledge is simple

  • Each time I am finished with a tab, I will close it
  • If there is something I want to read later, I will add it to my read later list
  • If there is something I need to do, I will add it to my do list

Please join me in my pledge. Or at least close this tab …


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