In-Depth Guide Against the "Too Many Tabs Syndrome" (TMTS)

Like most people, I struggle with a great number of tabs every day. I recently discovered the term “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMST), which best describes how much I suffer from my use of Google Chrome. 

I dug deeper into the topic and I want to share my findings with you. ✌️

To best share my findings on the “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS), I will answer the 5 following questions. 

Each part is rather independent, so feel free to use the dynamic table of content to jump to get on your topic of interest.

Here’s the plan:

1. how do people manage their tabs today?

2. how does the "Too Many Tabs Syndrome" (TMST) impact people’s focus?

3. why do people feel the urge to open more tabs?

4. how do first-party and third-party solutions address the hoarding tabs issue today?

5. the best way to solve the “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (easy, simple, efficient)?

Let's start...

rihanna talking about tabs

The “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS): Why Should You Care?

Because I believe the medical term “Syndrome” says 3 things about this trend: 

1) It represents a modern pathology induced by an unmanaged use of the Internet

2) It spills over other aspects of people’s life - focus, self-esteem, critical thinking capabilities, etc.

3) It self-develops with certain a type of users

1. How do people manage their tabs today?

1. The browser paradox of infinite liberty...

People fall in what I call the browser paradox of “infinite liberty”. It basically says that browsers provide users with lots of possibilities to search (the goal) but users often need fewer options to match their needs (the means). 😲

Yes, there is a big mismatch between the goal you pursue on Google and your needs on Chrome.

Think about it. 

Most users will just select, group or remove tabs.

Optimized users might even want to protect tabs by pinning them or splitting them into different windows - for you, I gathered the 16 chrome tab shortcuts I use everyday.

2. ... leads to bad user-experience for “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) users

TMTS users act differently.

They might just be super curious so they like opening tabs in bulk and jumping from one to another.

But they might also be lazy or distracted. Old tabs stay opened and therefore clutter the browser view

It becomes a nightmare to find your work tabs like Google Hangout calls, Spreadsheets, Stackoverflow, the right Airbnb...

The hoarding of tabs in the tab bar drains them both physically and mentally. Finding important tabs, reordering them, removing the irrelevant ones... these actions represent hundreds of useless clicks every day. 

Plus, the hoarding of tabs on the tab bar pollutes the browser view which causes also a drop in productivity.

🔥 Tabs are too many and everywhere. They end up causing stress and drop in both focus and productivity.

So, what are the consequences of cluttered browsers on focus?

2. How does the “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) impact people’s focus?

1. Having multiple tabs opened creates "scattered focus"...

Scattered focus happens when you are distracted from your task. Even though you look at one page at a time, your brain is constantly thinking about the other tabs you opened as they could be relevant for you. 🤯

Your brain thus splits your attention span between your main and your secondary tabs. This makes you have shallow interactions with the content you’re reading.

Multiply that situation with the number of times it happens every day, no wonder you finish your day with a feeling of “unfinished business”. 😩

user having too many tabs

On the contrary, direct focus happens when you do one thing at a time before going to the next. It’s best for productivity, for memory and emotional engagement (I’ll come back later to that). 🧠

🔥 It doesn’t seem so, but multiple tabs opened on your browser amounts to multitasking for your brain. It prevents you from engaging deeply with what you do.

2. …which has spillover effects on our life, way beyond our management of tabs

In the introduction, I said the “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) could be compared to a modern pathology. Let’s examine some of the facts. 

As having open tabs is a sort of multitasking for our brain, people are more likely to multitask in other parts of their lives, such as studying.

I draw two conclusions from Ohio State University Communication Assistant Wang. First, there is a cognitive bias. People tend to multitask for the emotional satisfaction it provides them for, even though it affects their performance. Second, there is a self-reinforced behavioural impact. The more you multitask, the higher the chances you are to multitask in the future. (Source: Ohio University Communication)

user struggling with tabs on browser and multitasking

Please remember that multitasking affects our ability:

- to recall information - What was the other tab about? Where was my work?

- to perform long-lasting tasks - it is harder and tiring to focus on the main tab

- to fully understand a task and grasp its complexity - you know you opened 5 tabs, but can you remember why or what was the goal you pursued? What was exactly at stake?

Because multitasking is a whole different topic, we will cover it in-depth later (article in construction).

🔥TMTS users may have a tendency to multitask in other parts of their life, which lowers the performance. Performing simple, yet essential tasks like spending qualitative time with your kids, or emotionally engaging in a conversation with a colleague or your spouse require more effort.

Okay, TMTS users are more prone to multitasking. But where does this urge to open tabs come from in the first place?

3. Why do people feel the urge to open more tabs?‍

👋To answer this question properly, I distinguish the situations between work (focus time) and querying Google (search time). I want to focus on search time.

I see 3 combining factors.

1. People benchmark information and search for products

It’s a good thing, because people are more demanding. Most users, as well as “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) users are looking for better content. That’s probably why the number of Google queries grows by 10% every year. 😉

📈 Want to know how many tabs are opened every second on a computer? Let's do a quick exercise.

- More than 40,000 queries are typed every second on Google. (Source: Internet Live Stats)

- 40% of Google queries are made from desktop (Source: Sparktoro)

- 70% of desktop queries convert to a website visit (Source: Sparktoro)

- 20% of the time, searchers will click on more than one Google result (Source: 99firms)

😇 Now the maths are easy:

> the number of queries made from desktop every second is 40,000 * 40% = 16,000
> the number of queries made from desktop that leads to a website every second is 16,000 * 70% = 11,200
> the number of tabs opened every second from desktop after 1 query is 11200*1,2 = 13,440 tabs opened.

volume of clicks on google from desktop

🔴 My personal usecase

Personally, I would say that 80% of my Google queries happen on desktop when I am at work. Every day, I make 20 to 30 queries, which leads to 20*1,2 = 24 tabs opened via Google Search. But only 20% of them happen to be truly useful in the end. 

> Total of relevant tabs from search every day = 24 tabs * 20% = 5 relevant query tabs.

On the work side, I open between 15 to 20 G Suite tabs, of which 50% are unique - yes, half are duplicates.

> Total of professional tabs every day = 15 * 50% = roughly 8 relevant professional tabs.

All in all, the range of my relevant tabs are:

> best day scenario: from 39 to 13 useful tabs = 33% efficiency ratio. This goes up to 17 tabs in the worse day scenario with the same efficiency ratio. I make the same reasoning with 30 instead of 20 and 20 instead of 15.

To conclude: 1 tab in 3 is useful for me every day and the visual pollution on the browser increases by 30.7 % when I am not careful enough.

It’s a big issue for me. I solved it in part V. 🔴

Anyway, remember that people benchmark more.

2. People crave for eliminating the feeling of "knowledge deprivation"

I am confident that “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) users like me fall in this cognitive trap. 

Professor George Loewenstein from Carnegie Mellon University developed the “information-gap” theory. When users perceive a gap in their knowledge they will want to fill it in.

Why? Because it’s uncomfortable to not-be in the know. AND, people are curious. (Source: Science Direct)

Yes, I often feel I am not knowledgeable enough. 

In the real world, people would sometimes refer to the “Fear Of Missing Out” (FOMO). Honestly, it does not surprise me it exists an equivalent for our online activity.

If you are interested in managing your online activity more wisely, I suggest you read “how to spend your time online more wisely?”. I share a bulletproof framework that I developed and I illustrated it with examples.

3. People simply fall in love with clickbaits

Clickbait titles draw the user attention. It makes them think something new or unexpected will happen if they click on this publisher website.

Why do we fall in this trap? Because publishers put a lot of effort into it.

For us, it’s just a click. For them, it’s potentially millions of dollars. Indeed, they vie with each other for page views. (Source: Techcrunch)

clicks and clickbaits increase too many tabs syndrom

🔥 Let’s quickly recap.

“Too Many Tabs Syndrome" (TMTS) users have a very chaotic way of managing their tabs as they clutter on their browser view (Part. I).

Unfortunately, this leads to focus drops as well as spillover effects in other aspects of their life for which “multitasking” is just a symptom (Part. II).

And now, we’ve just learnt that they are experiencing mix forces. Internally, users are more aware so they benchmark more websites - without removing the tab after their search. Externally, users are more likely to fall into the “information-gap” cognitive bias and clickbait titles that are all over the place (Part. III).

Now that we have a clear overview of why TMTS users suffer from their online activity, let’s fight back. 🔥

4. How do first-party and third-party solutions address the accumulation of tabs issue today?

1. The ecosystem dilemma behind major browsers...

Browsers host search engines. Google properties (Google Search, Google Image and YouTube) capture 95% of the queries and a growing number of users (already +1.7 billion users). 

Needless to say that building and sustaining Google Chrome is an everyday challenge. With a myriad of different users, it’s practically impossible to find the common denominator that will satisfy them all. Even a minor product release affects millions of users in the very first second.

tabs come in legion in your browser

This is my personal opinion but I believe that, to respect user preference and a sense of equity (think of all the major releases to include people with disabilities for instance), Google Chrome is bound to offer an average user-experience.

Indeed, maintaining a great volume of users is a main industry driver and the competition between browsers is fierce.

2. ...leaves room for third-party developers to customise our own experience

In a very googley way, Google Chrome has developed an ecosystem of +200,000 extensions registered on the “Chrome Web Store”. (Source: the Verge)

These extensions are called “third-party” solutions. They are made by developers that aim at helping specific type of users with specific actions. As people spend more 8 to 10 hours every day before a screen, I believe the impact of third-party solutions is huge.

So the deal at stake is enormous for Google and the other browsers. The better extensions you host, the more people will remain on your network.

🔥 So we’re beating around the bush, because we’re talking about one simple thing: the battle for the best user-experience. In next part, I’m telling you how I solved my own “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” in an easy, simple and effective way.

Let’s introduce a new concept: the “Tab Relevancy Score”.

5. How I solved the “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” in an easy, simple, and effective way.

how to close tabs super effectively

Let’s go back to the original problem: tabs clutter the browser view. This causes a drop in focus and productivity and, to some extent, it undermines your "Serenity at Work" (read about the Tabby Team and our "Serenity at Work" initiative)

1. How do tabs pop up on the user journey?

When a user searches for something, Google returns lots of results to them. As we said, 70% of desktop users will open a result in a new tab. In 20% of cases, this result will even be put in comparison with another result. 😗

What happens next? 

In most cases, TMTS users will leave the results OPENED in a new tab and MAYBE come back later. The tab accumulates on the browser and it contributes to polluting your view.

Then, if the user comes back later to this tab, they decide either to keep it opened for postpone usage, bookmark it or to close it.

2. The "Tab Relevancy Score" (TRS), the new KPI for a successful search user-experience on desktop 🎉

If you read the example above, one detail must have struck you. 

The tab is only relevant for you when you interact with it, ie. 20% of the time after you opened it (1 action in 5). 

As soon as you let it open or you don’t interact with it, it becomes irrelevant if not a burden. You feel stress because you want to read that tab later. You feel uncomfortable because of the visual pollution. Something bugs you because you feel you miss an incredible piece of information, etc.

So What? 

Browsers can’t fix this because of the market structure (see above).

Tabby, a user-centric solution can fix this by maximizing the "Tab Relevancy Score". 

3. the 3 new drivers to achieve a successful search user-experience for desktop? 🏆

To follow up with my analysis between first-party and third-party solutions, it seems that the 3 prime drivers of a successful user-experience online for “Too Many Tabs Syndrome” (TMTS) users are paradoxical.

- simplicity: When you fight tabs cluttering the browser, it’s a huge challenge. Why? Because tabs are like a pebble in the shoe. It’s nothing until it really hurts and becomes a thing. Tabby removes irrelevant tabs automatically. 

- integration: TMTS users suffer from a “fragmented online experience” (read here why we built Tabby). Therefore it must be key for a solution to integrate seamlessly with the user habits. Tabby removes irrelevant tabs without distraction.

- right-level of automation: TMTS user are somehow attached to their tabs… until they aren’t. Only a TMST user could define when it is the “right time” to remove a tab automatically. Tabby self-manages your tabs on the fly, and you can restore them with just one-click.

Tabby solves all of those very tangible pain points.

The tool is free. So if you struggle with your tabs, we highly encourage you to have a look.

Thank you so much for reading that far. 🙏

- your tabby team.