A browser for productivity

Working remotely enables you to take control of your environment and minimise distractions. A couple of months ago, our Engineering Director at Leaf published some good advise on how to optimise your home office.

Whether in a traditional office, at home or on a phone there is one distraction that every employee wrestles with; the internet. A quick google search reveals that the internet is widely reported as the leading distraction and productivity killer in the workplace.

A 2015 survey conducted by Careerbuilder reveals that out of the 2000 respondents 44% cited the internet as one of the biggest productivity killers in the workplace. Another 2016 survey indicated that 53% of employees used time at work to shop online and that the number was increasing yearly.

In 2018 Udemy compiled a Workplace Distraction Report which features a telling section on “Blurred lines between personal and work”. The report reveals that 59% of the respondents believe that personal use of technology is more distracting than work tools.

This presents an interesting conundrum as most companies rely on the internet quite heavily for their daily operations. We can’t switch off the internet, but by tweaking the *multi-tasking machine with which we access the world wide web, there are a couple of things we can do to tame the beast.

*Insert your browser of choice. I use Google Chrome, but you should be able to find alternatives for the extensions referenced below.

Limit your tabs

The single biggest change I made towards more productive browsing was limiting the number of tabs I have open. Tabs were never intended to replace your browser history.

I limit the maximum number of tabs per window to 12 with an extension called xTab. This helps me stay task focused. Within the 9–12 range you can still see the page titles, so I never find myself jumping from tab to tab trying to remember which was which.

When needed, I keep related tabs grouped in a separate window.

Eliminate distractions on new tabs

For many years I used the Pocket New Tab (formerly Trending Stories) extension. It’s a customisable Chrome extension that replaces the default new tab page with three trending stories.

It gets updated throughout the day and generally provides some really good brain food. The idea is that you save it for later, but this presented a problem; I couldn’t keep up with my reading list. The content wasn’t clickbaity, but every time you open a new tab there’s something that grabs your attention and breaks your train of thought.

I now use New Tab Redirect to open a completely blank page whenever I open a new tab.

Set your home / startup page

You can set this from within the Chrome settings. As a friendly reminder, mine currently points to a page that says “Don’t 💩 where you eat.”

Block the rabbit holes

I use BlockSite to permanently block Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. BlockSite automatically redirects me to Harvest, the tool we use to track our time at Leaf.

I don’t have a Facebook account and use Tweetbot as I prefer consciously interacting with Twitter outside of the browser. This works for me as I only follow 50–75 people and use Twitter purely for networking and staying up to date with industry trends. (Tweets older than 1 year automatically get deleted, a decision largely based on this article shared by a friend.)

I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram, but the reality is that Instagram was never intended for the browser (and in most cases, the workplace).

Browse on your own terms

Your browser is meant to be a tool, not a trap. If you regularly find yourself trapped in a cycle of consuming, determine your triggers. This will enable you to take control and outsmart them.

As with most things, a couple of tiny tweaks can make all the difference.