Whether you work from home or in an office, you'll probably experience similar distractions on your time and attention. Some of those distractions you have more limited control over, like meetings, phone calls, or urgent tasks that pop up throughout the day, while others, like your own inability to resist making yet another cup of tea are interruptions you can (try to...) manage.
With so many possible distractions then, it's a great idea to reduce the smaller annoyances to free up time and focus to work as seamlessly as possible.
Working at a computer can lead to all sorts of distractions which not only drain your focus but can drain your computer's speed and battery. While there are many different ways to increase productivity at your computer, in this post I want to focus on the idea of being as productive as possible with your browser use.
Sounds exciting, I know, but bear with me while I explain why I think making a couple of changes can make a difference to your daily workflows, counteracting any slowness or chaos you might be experiencing using your browsers day-to-day.
By the end of the workday, it's so easy to have accumulated dozens of open browser windows, each with their many tabs. To be honest, I find it all too easy to end up with this scenario by midday, if I'm not careful with the way I work!
Having all these browser pages and tabs open can cause your whole computer to slow down and lead to frustrating moments when trying to open a new tab or use one that's already open. It also means that you're running the risk of losing track of an important tab that has unsaved work in it or a great blog post.
Then comes the task of trying to find something by searching through multiple browsers, windows, or tabs. It can become very frustrating and it's also a waste of time. Minutes spent looking for something throughout the day doesn't sound like much but those minutes can certainly add up, not least because searching for that one tab can easily become very irritating and that will slow you down in other tasks.
Having a huge number of tabs open is also not very conducive to staying focused on one task at a time. Granted, having fewer tabs doesn't guarantee that you won't keep opening Twitter or Facebook to check up on your friends but there's no doubt that having a long and illegible row of tabs at the top of your browser runs the risk of becoming a distraction and a point of additional stress.
With just a couple of changes to the way I work though, I've found small but significant ways to increase my productivity while working at the computer; it's just a matter of changing a habit or two. If you also struggle with staying on top of tabs and windows, then perhaps the tricks that worked for me will work for you too.
During the day
If you frequently find yourself accumulating tabs throughout the day, you can make a big difference by building the habit of being disciplined about closing them as soon as you've opened them. I find that if I'm more aware of opening tabs and closing them as soon as possible, I'm more likely to really read what I've opened up.
Once I've opened something, I check whether it's something that I want to read right now or refer to later and I try to make sure I close things as soon as possible. Apps like Pocket and Evernote can help a great deal with staying on top of closing tabs, especially if you're worried that you'll forget something if you don't keep it open or simply add it to your browser bookmarks.
If I know that I don't have time to read something long and in depth right now, or I see that it's something that I'll need to read over and over because it's such great advice, then I can add that page to my Pocket or Evernote accounts to read later. I can then close that tab unafraid of losing it because it's saved somewhere and I don't have to worry about reading it then and there. Most importantly, it no longer clogs up my precious screen (and head) space.
By reducing my window to a minimum number of tabs, I also find that it helps me focus on the job at hand, especially if I then put the window into fullscreen mode and have fewer tabs staring at me from the top of the screen.
One of the biggest difficulties I find with managing tabs is working with a large number of web apps. If, like me, you work with a large number of web apps, you'll be familiar with the ever-open tabs that remain in your browser window day-in-day-out. Having one or two open is easy enough but more than that and those tabs clog up your browser, making it difficult to see important updates within the app. It also makes switching between apps a rather frustrating affair.
So, to combat an ever-growing number of tabs, I use Fluid, a great app that allows you to turn web apps into Mac desktop apps with their own windows and icons in the dock. One of the biggest advantages here is that you can use keyboard shortcuts to scroll through your windows rather than having to work out where that particular tab might be. This makes for a much more productive use of web apps.
Sadly, Fluid is only available for Mac so this solution won't work for you if you're on a Windows machine. If that's the case, then I find that reducing the number of tabs per window can help a great deal so that any notifications are more easily visible in the tabs themselves. Having one browser window exclusively for your webapps can also help keep everything you need to use throughout the day separate from the pages your open and close after reading.
All of these tricks help me keep my computer much speedier and mean that I'm much more productive: I stop wasting time trying to find that one tab amongst the others and no longer have to wait for my ever-slowing browsers to catch up. By smoothing over those individually small annoyances, I can make sure I stay as productive as possible.
At the end of the day
Another trick that I've started using is to shut down all my browser windows at the end of the day. I find this has two rather pleasing effects.
The first is that I feel I'm really finished work for the day, a feeling that can be elusive at the best of times, especially if you work from home. Shutting all the browsers and tabs down at the end of the workday then can be very helpful to create a more defined cut-off from work, especially if you then use the same computer to work on home-related projects.
The second effect is that when I get to my computer the next morning to start work, I begin with a completely fresh slate rather than being met with a mess of tabs and windows (as long as I've also shut any windows from non-work browsing the night before). It also means that I can truly develop a routine for first thing in the morning whereby I open up all my apps in Fluid and get everything in order before jumping in to any particular task.
Over one day or even one week, these tips might not seem like much, but I've found that when I'm more disciplined with my use of browsers, tabs and Fluid apps, I can remain focused for longer and certainly avoid any frustrations caused by tabs hogging browser power.
At the very least, feeling more productive is definitely a good way to start and end the day, and that feeling itself can spill over in to the work you're doing, resulting in really making you more productive. And that's no small thing!
Do you have any tricks you like to use to make sure you stay as focused as you can while working at the computer? I'd love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments below!
Image Credit: Alejandro Pinto