When I read Melissa Dahl’s piece for New York Magazine a few days ago, I had a strong sense of recognition.
Not only do I often feel the same way as she does but, in over a decade of working as a Technologist-for-Hire, I’ve also met so many people like her who feel totally overwhelmed by their digital workspaces. When I sit down in front their computers, I find that they – almost invariably – have a web browser with dozens of tabs open. Sometimes it’s so bad that not even a single character of the title bar is able to be displayed.
“Why don’t you bookmark these pages or, you know, just come back to them from your browser history?”, I’ll ask. “I’m afraid I’ll lose track of where I was!“, they’ll say.
Now keep in mind – they’re telling me this while we’re both sitting there, watching that rainbow pinwheel spin around and hoping that it stops without the browser crashing.
I understand their anxiety: After all, they’re using Safari or Chrome as their To-Do lists, their Outlines, and their Notepads. Each open tab is a reminder of something that needs to be done: A bill to be paid, a gift that they need to buy, an article they need to read. At the pace of modern working life, it isn’t always easy to clean up the mess you’re making… and browsers crash all the time.
So – What should we do?
A New Strategy
There is no magic bullet for staying organized while, at the same time, producing strong and creative work – and so I’m wary of anyone who claims to have a “one-size-fits-all” solution for this.
In fact, I believe that there can actually be some excellent reasons to have a huge sprawl of windows and tabs going. Sometimes, creativity requires that you have all your stuff out in front of you. Inspiration strikes when you can quickly make all sorts of connections and juxtapositions, right?
But I also know this – If you are not actually having one of those productive moments, you are probably carrying a heavier cognitive load than you need to with every tab you leave open. You might not think you’re noticing them but, if you feel a vague sense of accumulating anxiousness while you work, I think your brain is telling you otherwise.
Here’s a strategy that you might consider trying: Prepare some tools which can, at the moment you’re ready, put all those tabs exactly where you need them so you can close those tabs. If most of those tabs are really your to-do list, line them up in one window and then get them into your actual to-do list. I’ve found that if your tools are easy to use, you’ll be more likely to make it a part of your routine.
That’s the key – Getting in the habit of not letting those open tabs accumulate.
You know where this is going, right?
Tools to Organize Browser Tabs for Mac Users
If you’re new to the Apple world, you may not realize that every Mac comes with something called AppleScript. Think of AppleScript as a sort of instruction list that you can give your Mac to perform routine tasks for you. It’s perfect for doing a job like, say, collecting all the links from your open tabs and moving them somewhere else.
The Veritrope.com Code Library has a number of AppleScripts which work with browser tabs. I recently updated a few of them and I thought I’d collect those below for your convenience.
Me being me, though, I couldn’t leave well-enough alone… and so I created a few new ones to go along with this post. New additions include scripts to save your Safari and Chrome tabs into DEVONthink Pro, Apple’s Reminders.app, and OmniOutliner 4 Professional. Even better, I’ve also pre-packaged them as Workflows for all you Alfred users and LaunchBar 6 peeps.
What can I say? I love you guys.
And now – Here is a sortable table filled with tools to help you tame even the most unruly browser window:
Individual Tabs / List of Tabs
Alfred Extension Available?
Launchbar Action Available?
|Chrome||OmniFocus||List||YES!||YES!||Chrome Tab List to OmniFocus|
|Safari||OmniFocus||List||YES!||YES!||Safari Tab List to OmniFocus|
|Safari||Evernote||List||YES!||YES!||Safari Tab List to Evernote|
|Chrome||Evernote||List||YES!||YES!||Chrome Tab List to Evernote|
|Safari||Text File||List||NO||NO||Safari Tabs to Text File|
|Chrome||Text File||List||NO||NO||Chrome Tabs to Text File|
|Safari||Chrome||List||YES!||YES!||Open Safari Tabs in Chrome|
|Chrome||Safari||List||YES!||YES!||Open Chrome Tabs in Safari|
|Safari||Firefox||List||NO||NO||Open Safari Tabs in Firefox|
|Safari||OmniFocus||Individual||NO||NO||Send Current URL from Safari to OmniFocus|
|Safari||Evernote||Individual||NO||NO||Safari URL to Specific Evernote Notebook (with Tags)|
|Safari||Evernote||List||NO||NO||(JAPANESE) Save Safari Tabs to Evernote|
|Chrome||DEVONthink Pro||List||YES!||YES!||Save Chrome Tabs to DEVONthink Pro|
|Safari||DEVONthink Pro||List||YES!||YES!||Save Safari Tabs to DEVONthink Pro|
|Chrome||Reminders||List||YES!||YES!||Save Chrome Tabs to Reminders|
|Safari||Reminders||List||YES!||YES!||Save Safari Tabs to Reminders|
|Chrome||OmniOutliner||List||YES!||YES!||Save Chrome Tabs to OmniOutliner|
|Safari||OmniOutliner||List||YES!||YES!||Save Safari Tabs to OmniOutliner|