The Browser Inbox- Organization by Tabs

A lot of times people try to find the latest and greatest tool to fully organize their lives. I can tell you up front… it’s not gonna happen. What makes the self-help/productivity arena so interesting is there there isn’t one tool to “rule them all”. Some have come close, but tools aren’t meant to organize everything in our lives. That’s not their strength.

Because as of yet there hasn’t been the mythical app that controls every detail in our busy lives, we should focus more on becoming more productive with our existing tools. So in that spirit, I’ve decided to share a little trick that works pretty effectively with your online tasks. I’ve used this system mostly for blogging, but the uses are practically limitless. I call it the Browser Inbox.

the browser inbox- organization by tabsThe basic premise is this: use your browser’s tabs to track your things to do. If you have a modern browser like Firefox, you can have multiple tabs open within the browser. Each tab can be thought of as a task (or Next Action for the GTD Junkies), and once you’re done with the task, close the tab. It’s extremely simple, but it’s surprisingly effective.

Here’s an example.


I’ll crack open my trusty Google Reader and start browsing feeds. If I see a story that’s compelling and a possible post topic, I’ll hit V and open the original page in a new tab. By the time I’m done reading, I may have 6 or 7 tabs open. I systematically go through and read each story, deciding whether each one is blog-worthy. If it is, I write the post. If not, I close the tab. Easy, right?

I love this approach because

  • The tabs are physical reminders that I can’t ignore
  • I’m not bringing any other tools or extra processes into the mix
  • I have everything I need in one spot

Granted, this system has some obvious limitations (like all tools). The browser inbox only works if I know I’m going to be writing in the immediate future. Also, if Firefox crashes and the system can’t restore your session, or your browser is accidentally closed, you’re screwed.

But, at the same time, the simplicity forces you to quickly get through the “inbox” of your browser’s tabs quickly. The physical closing of each tab is pretty satisfying too, so that’s a subtle motivator as well.

So there you have it. The Browser Inbox: Gently forcing people to finish their online tasks quickly. A nice tagline, don’t you think? ;)

I’d love to hear any thoughts or suggestions on this system. Can anyone think of other uses for the BI?

[Update: You guys had some great suggestions! Be sure to check out the comment thread for incorporating the BI with offline tasks as well.]

Leave a Comment

{ 8 comments… add one }
  • michi June 1, 2008, 7:41 pm

    Great suggestions, I do these things all the time now (a year later…I’m sure lots of people do too.)

    But, instead of copying links and so on, *click* the wheel button on your mouse (it’s a button too!) to open a link in a new background tab.

    To get to the google search bar, hit Ctrl+k (or Cmd+k on a mac) on a mac, Cmd+w closes the current tab.

    Also, every now and then I discover some new interesting top and end up opening 40+ tabs on it. As I’ll never be able to read them all in one day, I “save all tabs” to a bookmarks folder and then can open them all up in tabs on a later date, delete the original tabs folder, and at the end of that day, resave the remaining in a new folder again.

  • glen April 12, 2007, 11:52 am

    @Leo: Great Idea!

    I don’t even think you’d have to hit enter, if you didn’t want to. You could also achieve the same effect by typing the task into the address bar and not hitting enter.

  • Doug April 12, 2007, 11:15 am

    I didn’t know about ‘V’. I ctrl-click a lot from within reader for the same reason. It also lets me stay within the google reader tab without digging through preferences.

    If only our inhouse tools at worked worked in firefox.

  • Leo April 12, 2007, 2:05 am

    OK, how about this:

    If you have a task that comes up while you’re at the computer, and it doesn’t have to do with any site, just pop open a new tab (control T in firefox), press tab to get to the google search box (it may vary on your computer), type the task name and hit enter.

    This will result in a google search result page, but you could ignore the results. For example, if I need to call my mom, I could quickly pop open a tab, type call mom, hit enter, and I’ve got my bookmark for that task. When I’m done, I close the tab.

    Quick and easy! This is an interesting idea, Glen.

  • glen April 12, 2007, 1:26 am

    hrm… interesting question. If you had some other tasks that had to be done at a specific site, those would work too.

    IE. paying bills, research… I’m sure there are more, I just can’t think of any off the top of my head.

    I imagine this could be even more powerful with the help of a web sticky program where you can attach virtual sticky notes to web pages.

    Anybody else have some other physical examples?

  • Leo April 11, 2007, 11:10 pm

    Good post, Glen. I do the same thing with Google Reader, except that if I don’t have time to read it, I bookmark it in Google Bookmarks under the tag “Inbox” … then I process my inbox at some point in the day.

    Question: could the Browser Inbox be used to bookmark other types of tasks (not just reading/writing about web pages)?

  • glen April 11, 2007, 2:08 pm

    Yeah, I used to do the same with, but I am tentatively trying out Google Notebook right now.

  • Kaj Rietberg April 11, 2007, 1:40 pm

    I mostly do that to. But when it is to much I have top open or I think that it can wait to write about. I put it in my furl account under still to write about.
    And sometimes when I don’t have anything to read. I take a look there.