Most of us know that clutter doesn't make us feel good. When you get home to your apartment at the end of a long day, only to find that your roommate didn't do any of the dishes she said she would, the messiness only compounds your annoyance at having to deal with it. The same principle applies to your digital life, too: specifically, having too many tabs open in your browser. Yes, you feel productive AF for getting all that research done, on top of scrolling through social media and reading every single headline you get a push notification for, but that digital clutter can have a very real impact on your focus and your mood.
As CNN reported in 2016, one survey found adults in the U.S. spend close to eleven hours a day on their laptops, smartphone, or other devices (a number that has almost certainly grown, as projected, over the past two years). So basically, for many of us, our laptops and phones are virtual spaces we spend just as much time "in" as our homes and offices — whether it's time spent emailing people, working, or scrolling through social media.
"I see open tabs as a reflection of our routine, lifestyle and interests," therapist and founder of She is Strong and Mindful, Lorena Ramos, MA, LCSW, tells Bustle. "Many of my clients find themselves immersed in an ocean of information and choices, but having many tabs open on your computer can be overwhelming and tiring at times."
Much like clutter in your home, Ramos explains that having a cluttered computer screen can overstimulate your brain, making it more difficult for your mind to process information. "We tend to associate having more tabs open with being more productive," Ramos says, "When at times, this fear of 'missing out,' and need for planning ahead can generate mental exhaustion, as well as higher levels of anxiety and stress."
What's more, spreading yourself too thin and taking on multiple projects — even virtual projects or tasks, no matter how small — can have consequences on your performance at work. Ramos says multitasking on your laptop "could result in fatigue and boredom, causing a decrease in productivity and performance" in the workplace. In fact, a 2014 study conducted at Stanford University showed multitasking can actually affect your cognitive functioning and impede your career goals.
"Even though accessibility to information facilitates our work, it also interjects with our ability to focus on one thing at a time," she explains. "Open tabs could generate unnecessary distraction, which increases anxiety and stress levels, especially when having a deadline at work."
"We know our computers slow down with too many opened tabs, and don’t work as quickly. This is a perfect analogy how our bodies work, and what happens if we are going in a million different directions," Dr. Elizabeth Trattner, a Chinese and Integrative Medicine expert, tells Bustle. "Energy flowing in too many directions makes us ungrounded, and unfocused."
The verdict? If you don't need a tab open, or your desktop is a mess, it's probably time to prioritize your work, close social media, and organize your bookmarks. In the end, Ramos says, "Decluttering your computer will allow you to invest more quality time, and energy, on things that you want to accomplish." If you want to stay on top of your job, and avoid mental burnout, cleaning up your digital workspace is key.