Too Many Tabs

There is a great internet meme that has been floating around for a while:

“My mind is like an internet browser. 17 tabs are open, 4 of them are frozen, and I don’t know where the music is coming from.”

I think of this meme whenever I am working with a client who has a lot of tabs open. These clients may also have multiple Word documents or Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations open and unsaved. They are also likely to have many e-mails in their Drafts folder.

When you start something on your computer and then don’t finish it — whether it’s a browser tab, a file, or a partially-written e-mail — it’s easy to lose track of what you were doing and what is still left to be done. This leads to inefficiency and duplication of effort.

One way to practice good computer hygiene is to close all of your windows and shut down your computer before you go to sleep. This ensures that you evaluate everything you left open during the day. If something is incomplete, make a note of it so that you can deal with it tomorrow or another day. You may think that leaving a tab or a file or a draft e-mail open will remind you to get it done, but there is too much visual noise on your computer screen and the result is overwhelm, not clarity.

The idea of turning off your computer may leave you in a panic. That is because you are under the illusion that by leaving your computer on and all of your windows open, you won’t lose track of anything. But here are some of the realities:

  • By working on files and leaving them open, you run the risk of losing your latest changes because the files haven’t been saved. You also run the risk of having multiple versions of a file.
  • By having a lot of unfinished e-mails in your Drafts folder, you run the risk of thinking you replied when you haven’t. You remember writing the reply but then you got distracted and never sent it, which is how it ended up in your Drafts.
  • By keeping tabs open indefinitely because you don’t want to forget about a page you found, you run the risk of losing track of it completely. Better that you should save a bookmark of the page.

The more you have open on your computer, the slower your computer will run, and the more likely it will crash or hang up. Then you will be forced to reboot it and you will lose track of everything. You will have better control over your time and your work if you take control of your computer instead of leaving it to chance.

Leave yourself some winding-down time before shifting gears from one activity to another. Save your work with a name that will help you to remember what it is. A file name default like “Document1” is not going to be much use. A file name like “NYSCA Grant Application DRAFT 9-29-23” will make it much easier for you resume work on that document at a later date.

Look in your e-mail Drafts folder. Delete the old ones that you will never send. Look at the more recent ones and see if it’s still worth sending these (with an apology for the delay). Your goal should be to have NO drafts in that folder. Then it will be noticeable if it a number shows up next to the folder name. At the end of each day, make sure you clear those out, either by sending or deleting them.

Now, about those tabs. If you get into the habit of bookmarking pages you want to find again and then closing the tabs, you’ll be in much better shape. Your browser will let you organize your bookmarks into folders. You can rename the bookmark before saving it so that you can remember why you want to find it again.

Getting out of the habit of leaving everything open will be tough at first, but, like all other organizing habits, it will give you greater peace of mind.

Redefining My Relationship with Books

For the past three years, I’ve kept track of how many books I read each year. The first year I did that (2020) happened to be the pandemic shutdown year. I read 82 books that year, not surprisingly since there wasn’t much else to do.

In 2021, I outdid myself by reading 91 books. Then in 2022, I read 92 books. This was a shock to me, as I went into 2022 knowing that my schedule was going to be much busier than it had been during the pandemic years. I only read 30 books in the first six months of the year when I was at my busiest, directing a demanding musical while also seeing a lot of clients. But I made up for it in the second half of year, reading twice as many.

Part of the pressure keeping me focused on reading is that I read mainly e-books from the library. Knowing that each book has a due date — and that I may have already waited weeks or months for it to become available — drives me to finish each book and move on to the next one as soon as possible.

I’ve given some thought as to what modifications I’d like to make my reading habits in 2023. I do much of my reading while riding public transportation or while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, and those are two great places to be reading. But I’ve also been known to kick back with a compelling book for an hour or two in the evening. In lieu of automatically reaching for a book during my free time, I’d like to take a tally of unfinished (or unstarted!) projects in my home and get more of those done. Relaxing with a book can be my reward for moving those projects along.

What activities are you using to put off things you know you should be doing?

Carving Out Time for Yourself

When 2020 rolled around, I decided to keep track of how many books I read. I had no idea that we were about to get hit by a global pandemic and I would have more leisure time than ever before. When the year ended, I was delighted to see that I had finished 82 books!

At the beginning of 2021, I wondered if I would be able to keep up that pace, as I expected things to become more “normal” as the year went on. To my great surprise, the total number of books I read in 2021 was . . . (drum roll, please) . . . 91.

That’s a lot of books. Some of them (like Barack Obama’s book A Promised Land) took me more than two weeks to read. Others, like some of the murder mysteries I love, took only a couple of days.

So how did I do it? It wasn’t just more leisure time. It was time management techniques.

First of all, I start each day with list of things to do. When I review my list each morning, I identify which of the items must get done that day. These are my “A” items. It may take me all day to finish up my A items. But on days when I get my A items done and there is still time available, I have a choice. I can get started on the “B” items on my list, or I can do something fun as a reward for getting all my A’s done — like reading a book.

Second, I remove barriers to reading. I read e-books using the Kindle app on my iPad or my iPhone. That means I can read anywhere. If I’m riding on the subway or sitting in a doctor’s waiting room, I pass the time by reading on my iPhone. If I am lying in bed waiting to get sleepy — or I wake up in the middle of the night and am unable to fall back to sleep — I can read on my iPad without disturbing my husband. If I finish a book and want to keep reading, I can log on to the library app and take out a new book — even in the middle of the night!

Third, I keep a list of books I want to read. They may be recommended to me by friends, or written by authors that I have already enjoyed, or the next book in a mystery series I’m following, or something I read about in the newspaper. I keep this list in Evernote so that it’s always handy, no matter which device I’m near. So when I’m ready to find a new book, I have a long list to choose from. Not everything is available from the library when I’m ready for a new book, so I end up putting books on hold. Most of the time, I’ve got one or two books in my Kindle app and another one or two on reserve.

These are some of the ways that I can keep my reading going. You can apply these rules to any activity that you want to do more of:

  • Use the activity as a reward for getting your work done (and not as a way to procrastinate).
  • Remove any barriers to performing this activity.
  • Be prepared by having on hand what you need to perform this activity.

I hope 2022 brings a lot of time for you to do your favorite things!

I’m Still A Fan of Deadlines

When I got the idea to write this post, I remembered that I once wrote a post called In Praise of Deadlines. I searched for it and was surprised to see that I wrote it 11 years ago! Well, I’m still a fan of deadlines to get us motivated and push us through to the finish line. (Don’t worry, the sports metaphors end here.)

As many of you know, I like to read. I read 82 books last year and I’m on my 10th book of this year. The book I’m currently reading is Barack Obama’s latest, “A Promised Land”. I read both of Obama’s previous books last year and knew what a great and compelling writer he is. When this newest book was published in the fall, I got online at the library website and reserved the e-book.

It took three months, but I finally got to the top of the list. I checked out the e-book from the library last week. Because it’s such a popular book, I could only take it out for two weeks, instead of the customary three. This is a LONG book — 768 pages — and I figured that I would not be able to get it finished in only two weeks and would probably have to buy it to finish reading it. But I’m now 5 days into it, and I’ve read almost 30%. The race is on!

I’m contrasting my approach to this book with my approach to Michelle Obama’s book “Becoming”, which I read and loved last year. I had purchased it in May of 2019 when I saw a deal on Amazon for the e-book. I already knew I wanted to read it and figured it would be great to have on my Kindle for when I was in between library books. But I didn’t actually read it until a year after I bought it.

There is something compelling about a library book. The pressure is on to read it by the due date. I am more likely to clear the decks and make time to finish this book because I only have 9 days left.

If there is something that you are dragging your heels about — and beating yourself up because of it — set a deadline for yourself. Make it public: tell your family, your friends, everyone on Facebook. Challenge yourself to get started, and put time in your calendar to get it done.

Now, back to my book.

When One Project Begets Many

Have you ever avoided a project because you knew the end result would be a lot more projects?

I had that experience a few days ago. The task “Organize photo shelves” has been on my list since the pandemic began.

All my life, I have put my photos in albums. I used loose-leaf binders, which fit very nicely on my bookcase. When I became a parent, however, I became a scrapbooker to better document my daughter’s life. I switched to 12″ by 12″ albums, which were too big for the bookcase. So I purchased a narrow but deep bookcase that I used just for the scrapbooks, photos, and the larger supplies that scrapbooking requires. The bookcase lives in my bedroom.

Thirty-seven scrapbooks in the living room!

Eventually the number of scrapbooks outgrew that bookcase and I relocated all of them into my living room, which was nice because they are very attractive, and it’s handy when I want to show someone a photo. The photo bookcase continued to hold photos and supplies, but also became a dumping ground for anything memorabilia-related, including documents I took from my parents’ home after they passed away.

Four years ago, I stopped scrapbooking and started using online software to create my albums. (See my post The Last Scrapbook). No more physical photos! In recent years, I started thinking that my bedroom would look better if that bookcase weren’t there. But I knew that clearing it off would be a big job that would require a lot of decisions, so I put it off.

Finishing up an album

Last weekend, I tackled those shelves. After I went through everything on the bookcase, I made a list of all of the things I need to do to be able to get rid of that bookcase. I ended up with a list of 8 additional projects!

Three of those projects involve finishing up some special albums that I started years ago. I tackled two of them over the weekend, and I hope to make some progress on the third one this weekend. Eventually I plan to sell or donate most of my unused scrapbooking supplies.

I know that I have more work and decision-making ahead of me before I can achieve my goal of getting rid of that bookcase. But I feel good that unfinished projects are getting done and that progress is being made towards getting unneeded things out of the house.

Photos and memorabilia are so important to us, and getting them into an accessible and enjoyable format is worth the time and energy put into it. Otherwise, they are just clutter.