One Browser Tab Only

It scares me when people tell me they have 10+ web browser tabs regularly open at the same time. For some it’s well into the dozens. This isn’t intelligent behavior; it will have a negative impact on your mental functioning if you make this a habit.

How is it possible to have 10+ browser tabs open regularly and not have some part of you crying out to learn single-handling?

You probably don’t even see how distracted your mind is while doing this. If you’ve been doing this long enough, it may even seem normal for you. That’s a dreadful situation to find yourself in. I suggest you break the habit.

Each tab is an open loop. Each tab is a distraction from the task you’re focused on – if you can even call a multi-tabbed life focused at all. Each tab weakens your self-discipline.

Look at all those open tabs and say to yourself, “This is NOT intelligent behavior. This is weakness. This is distraction. This is indecision. It’s time to put a STOP to this.”

Here’s a challenge for you. Do a 30-day trial of using only one browser tab. Never open a second tab during that month.

One tab is plenty.

Multiple tabs can be a useful feature in limited situations, but it’s so easy to abuse it. If you regularly have 10+ tabs open – seriously even 3+ tabs – it’s a safe bet that you’re well into abuse territory. Your focus, productivity, and discipline will almost certainly improve during a 30-day one-tab-only challenge.

Yes, you’ll make a few minor sacrifices where having multiple tabs open would be a nice feature to have, but it’s way more important to put a stop to the abusive pattern. You may be surprised to see how little you actually need multiple tabs. This challenge will make you pause and think before you act impulsively and keep opening more and more.

That isn’t to say that you can never use tabs again, but it’s wise to use them judiciously and not just keep adding open loops. Every open loop sucks part of your attention away, and this makes you less attentive to what you’re doing.

If a single tab is too boring, you’ll probably realize that you don’t need to be web browsing at all. Multiple tabs can drown you in false tasks that don’t need to be done at all. A single-tab challenge will get you turning towards more meaningful challenges. While multiple tabs may look like a form of abundance, they create scarcity in your ability to focus.

If you can’t do this challenge, then I assert that you’re addicted to distracting yourself. Lots of people are, so there’s nothing extraordinary about that. It is powerful to recognize (or to at least suspect) that this behavior is degrading your mental functioning, and challenge your brain to break the habit. At least give yourself the gift of self-awareness, so you can see the difference in what it would be like to use only one tab for a month. Then you’ll know what this is costing you.

At first this challenge will make you feel awkward and stunted. It will be tempting to open one more tab. But it’s only for 30 days. Tell yourself that you can open all the tabs you want on Day 31. See it as a new experience to raise your awareness and build more discipline and focus. Accept the awkwardness of it; it will get easier after a few days.

Don’t cheat by opening multiple browsers or by using multiple devices at the same time. Put your focus on one window and one task.

You could also extend this to using one app at a time.

This is meant to be a temporary reset. You can have a productive relationship with multiple browser tabs once again. If you have other tabs open right now that aren’t 100% needed for your current task at hand though, close them.

When I use a web browser, I normally have only one tab open. Occasionally I’ll open multiple tabs to queue up tasks in a linear progression, like multiple course lessons to go through or different articles to read. Then I go through the tabs in linear order, one by one, closing them when I’m done with them.

When I’m not actively using my web browser, I close the browser app, and any open tabs are closed automatically, but usually there’s only one tab anyway. I always open my browser to a blank slate. When I’m not active using my computer, all apps are usually closed.

As I’m writing this blog post, I have only one tab open. That’s normally the case when writing. Why would I want my visual cortex processing anything in my visual field that could distract me from writing? That would only slow me down.

If I wanted to regularly keep 10+ tabs open, I’d have to be drunk in order to silence the part of my mind that would be screaming about the damage I’d be doing to my long-term ability to focus. I think it’s healthy to develop this part of your brain – the part that will staunchly defend your focus from incursions.

There are some decent use cases for having multiple tabs open, and a few of them may apply when you’re doing certain tasks. But that isn’t a justification for abusing the tabs feature to the point of scrambling your focus every day. Look at your current open browser tabs, and name the use case that makes this intelligent behavior. Or just shake your head in disgust and admit that it’s really not intelligent to live like this. It’s not a cute habit. It’s not funny. You really are hurting yourself.

Thirty days from now, you could emerge with more self-control and self-awareness. You could know what it’s like to step back from a habit that isn’t serving you. You could free up more mental and emotional capacity. You could refactor the way you use an important tool that you’ll be using for many more years. You have little to lose and a lot to gain.

Will you do the challenge?

Receive Steve's new articles by email.