All these tabs are waiting for you
I think it started a few months ago when I got back into making the bed daily.
As bad as this may sound, I just haven’t been the bed-making kind in recent years.
I was raised better, for sure. I even know what hospital corners are. But over time I gave into the convenient rationalization that I’m just going to get back into the bed at some point, so readjusting the pile of covers around me at night would be sufficient. And then, once quarantine hit, there were quite a few days when we never really left the bed. It was the office / conference room / nap area between Zooms, so there was that.
But one day last year I said “enough.” It wasn’t planned, and I don’t even recall when exactly it was, but I decided to make the bed. And I did it the next day. And the next. And the day after that. And here we are, months later, and getting into an unmade bed at night on the rare times that it’s happened just doesn’t feel complete. Rushing out of the house in the morning and not making the bed first is a reminder that I was off schedule. I make it a point to come correct the next day.
So, with that energy, at the turn of the new year I decided to clean my office desk. I have one of those workflows where… okay, I don’t really have a workflow per se. It’s more like an ongoing ordeal, in some kind of vain effort to get as many things done as possible before nightfall. More often than not, I would leave artifacts from these tasks on my desk as a reminder of what was not yet complete. Some of these items could sit there for weeks. Months. There were to-do lists, file folders, printed articles, books, flyers, catalogs, mail (incoming, and outgoing as well, in theory, whenever I got around to mailing it). All sorts of things to perhaps jar my memory, provide motivation, or serve as a critical reference for something that I was supposed to get around to at some point. I guess my mantra was “out of sight, out of mind.” So I had to keep my eye on this stuff, else risk forgetting that it existed and neglecting whatever function it was supposed to be pushing me to do.
But these piles weren’t helping anything. I wasn’t working through them. They were just getting taller and wider. The only good and constantly surprising thing was that, more often than not, I could remember exactly where something was in the piles. But that wasn’t really any kind of consolation. It took me nearly 30 years to figure that out.
So I cleared my desk off in early January after the holiday break. And it feels amazing! It’s just… it’s freeing. It’s a blank slate that let’s me do different things each day without having to work around or pretend to not see the mess that really had no reason still being in my immediate space, since it wasn’t requiring or receiving any of my immediate attention.
There’s still a small pile of sticky notes with random scribbles. I’m working through them slowly to try to remember what I was thinking when I wrote “National Signing Day vs. Early Decision,” for example. It has something to do with Higher Learning, which I really need to get back to asap. But for these sticky notes, as I go through the stack I will trash them, one by one, and either move an idea forward or wait until I have it again. The rest of the stuff that was on my desk and didn’t get recycled is somewhat sorted in a file bin. I will figure out the next stage for it in the summer. Until then I have more than enough other things to do. Such as closing these browser tabs.
I definitely did not plan on having 43 tabs open on my Chromebook in the year of our Lord, 2022. There are even more (likely more than double) on my computer at work. I don’t even want to count them. The quick eyeball estimate is bad enough. I had a solid run back in July where it was under 10 tabs. I even posted about it.
But clearly I knew myself. July was an anomaly that wouldn’t last.
Now I need to go even deeper and figure out why I have 150+ tabs open across multiple computers. As I think about it now, it’s evident that I’m treating these tabs like the stacks* of books behind me in the picture above. They are there in case I need them. I’ve opened them up and left them to sit indefinitely. If I close a Google doc then maybe I will never fully develop the thought. And those five tabs that I opened to research a new Medium piece (that was new six months ago, and still hasn’t been written) need to stay until I finish the essay (which, at this point, isn’t likely). Maybe I’ll purchase those fitness bands. Maybe I’ll share that article with the friend I was reminded of when I read it, if I ever get around to digging up their email address. Maybe I’ll actually read the other eight. But until then, just leave them where they are. They’ll be fine.
But I won’t be. And that’s the part that I easily lose sight of. This is all clutter. It’s unfinished things that perhaps mean well but serve no function in my day-to-day. I’ll say in my defense that I don’t acutely feel weighed down by their existence, and the open tabs certainly don’t distract me or prevent me from opening more. There is a lack of clarity though, which in some ways mirrors my nonexistent workflow. These tabs have no structure, no rhyme or reason, no start or end. They aren’t guiding me to success or fueling any sort of commitment to completion. They are just there, symbolizing a bunch of unfinished thoughts and uncertain action. And maybe, seeing and cycling through them on the occasions that I do may be more mentally taxing than I fully understand.
I am very clear on the pain felt when it comes to closing tabs without realizing their full potential, or the worst, when I finally launch one too many and it brings my browser and/or computer to a halt. I had come across a meme for this that I thought I had kept in an open tab, but that irony would have been too real. I searched for it again but didn’t want to spend more than a few minutes trying to find it (shout out to rabbit hole prevention at work), so this one will have to do:
The one that I had originally seen was more applicable to the life I’m seeking for myself now. It read something like, “when my computer shuts down because I have too many tabs open, I don’t re-open them to recreate the mess that God was trying to move me past.” The old me would have hit the “restore the chaos” button immediately after reboot, without a second thought. The new me wants to close the tabs before the crash and commit to a hard cap. (And in truth, the current me is straddling the fence; if this computer were to crash right now, I probably would re-launch the tabs. But I also closed six before starting this piece, so there’s that. It’s a process. I’m going to work my way through. In the meantime, at least the bed is made.)
As I sign off, let me leave you with this treat. If you didn’t already have the hook in your head, you will soon. Because “all these tabs are waiting for you….”
* I cleared the stack of books off the floor as part of my January clean up project, which was another win for the space and my mental focus.