Are you feeling anxious? Demotivated? Discombobulated, even? If the answer is yes, you may want to ask yourself one thing: How many browser tabs do you open right now?
Students at Aalto University in Finland recently studied the cause and effect of what they call ‘browsing clutter’ on people, and the different ways they have of dealing with it. They surveyed 400 participants and interviewed over a dozen people who spent more than 10 hours a week online about their browsing habits and feelings once the tabs started piling up.
So what counts as clutter? Most of the participants commonly have 1-3 windows open with around 5-10 tabs open in each window, so you’re talking about more than a dozen tabs open at once on average. Over half of the people who participated in the study consider browser clutter “a serious problem.”
Those who consider their excess tab usage a problem said it made them feel overwhelmed, anxious, frustrated, and demotivated. And if that wasn’t enough, some said the visual overload resulted in decreased work efficiency, increased levels of distraction, and difficulty sorting through information.
Just think about when you’re shopping for something online, like, let’s say, the best gaming PC: You’d probably open a search engine, type in ‘best gaming PC,’ and then open tabs for a bunch of PC hardware sites. You might also want to check out some reviews for those sweet gaming rigs, leading to even more open tabs. Once you’re done with that, you’ll go look for the best price on whatever desktop you’ve chosen on various retail sites. And if you’re doing this during work hours, you probably have a bunch of other-work related tabs open like email, spreadsheet, and other docs open as well.
So. Many. Tabs.
And that’s just shopping for something. I can only imagine how many tabs a college student researching a paper might have open. The unorganized nature of browsing leads to something the researchers call “interface-level visual chaos,” which contributes to many of the negative emotions these people feel.
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There are some strategies you can employ if you’re finding yourself swimming in a sea of windows and tabs that’ll help set some boundaries against clutter. Browser extensions like Session Buddy let you organize your tabs as collections for later use. Some users give themselves a hard limit on how many browser tabs they have open. Another effective strategy is developing better “tab closing habits”: Closing tabs related to a task once the task is complete and ensuring all tabs and windows are closed (instead of minimizing) at the end of the day to prevent “tab hoarding.”
Unless web browsers are drastically redesigned to accommodate tab clutter, this is an issue that isn’t going anywhere. If you’re struggling with the “Too Many Tabs” blues, your only real option is to actively adjust your browsing behavior. So good luck with that! And in case you’re wondering, I had about 13 tabs open in relation to writing this story. I won’t say how many windows, though. That’s none of your business.
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