How to Multi-task on the Internet

Often you will find that a task you need to complete has several steps, and this can also be the case when using the Internet as the most efficient way to complete the task. 

Using the Internet to complete a task has many similarities to the way we (used to) do things offline.  Only it’s faster and easier.  However you may have realized that the Internet doesn’t come with an instruction manual, which makes it hard for those without the opportunity to learn tricks and tips from colleagues to capture the full efficiency it offers.  Hopefully the tips below will help increase your familiarity and productivity when looking for answers online.

When advising people who haven’t had a lot of experience using Search (eg “Googling”), I’ve found it’s useful to have them think about this in a way that’s similar to how they would have done research before the Internet.  It’s helpful to think of opening new tabs whenever you would want to take out a fresh page of paper or draw a line to indicate a new bit of information.  And bookmarking tabs when you’d want to flag a page with a post-it note in the offline way of researching.  And highlighting when you’d, well, use a highlighter pen on paper.

Let’s take a look at examples of these productivity hacks.

Say we want to find a shop selling bikes near you.  Open your preferred search browser (eg Google Chrome, Safari, Explorer, etc.)  If the browser wasn’t already open, you should see one blank tab ready for you to type your question.  You can do this directly in the blank field at the top.  It is not necessary to select an option for Google, for example, in mid-screen.

If you already have your search browser open, you may have one or more tabs already in use.  On your PC, to the right of the last tab you should see a “+” which is a blank tab.  See picture below. Tick on the “+” to open a fresh “sheet” and then type your query at the top. 

Note: as search engines work off the basis of key words, you do not have to type in full sentences and should not punctuate.  So in this example simply type something like “bike shops near me”.  You will quickly see from the results if the search function is reading your current location.  Or “bike shops near XYZ postal code/ ABC City/ XYZ neighborhood” if you want to know about options in an area other than where you are currently located or want to be precise as to your desired location. Happily, search functionality has been fine-tuned over recent years, and if you look at your screen as you type you’ll probably notice that Google (or other search engine like Bing) has already predicted what you are probably going to type and is proposing the full search option in a drop-down menu. If so, you can simply use the mouse/trackpad to select that phrase and the search engine will get right to work bringing up the corresponding search results. Of course if your search is really individual or customized, you’ll want to complete the search query by typing the specifics before hitting “Enter”.

Depending on your search query, the results at the top may be indicated on a map with summary information corresponding to each of the listings indicated on the map.  You will discover that on the map, the listings are not exhaustive and often include paid listings to the detriment of more convenient and appropriate listings for you.  I usually skip down the page past the map and the paid ads (Indicated by the icon “Ad” before the listings) to get to the best generic (unpaid) results.  Note that even if a company has paid for an ad, they will still come up again as a generic listing, so don’t feel like you may be missing the best results by skipping the ads.

Often after a few listings, partway down the page, you may see a list of related questions that have been popular with other searchers (see pic below).  You may find that one of these is a better version of the question that will lead to the information you’re looking for (eg. you forgot to add “cheap bikes” and are looking for discount options).  You can see the results to those searches by selecting the drop down arrow to the right of the question.  Feel free to ignore that section if you think you’ll find the information you’re after with the query you typed in.  Scroll down to see a quick summary of each search result.

If you’d like to see more information (for example location of the bike shop), you can click on the link, which is indicated with blue underlined font.  Here’s where it’s helpful to know the following tip:  If you want to avoid having to use the “Back” button multiple times or worse, having to retype your query over and over as you sift through the results, instead of simply clicking on the link, use the mouse or trackpad to right click on it.  Then choose “Open link in a new tab”, which is the first option that appears.  The website corresponding to the link you chose will come up on a new tab to the right of your current tab.  In this way you can then browse the site to determine if it has the information you want.  If not, simply close the new tab by clicking on the “X” on the right of the tab at top and you will still have your original search results in the tab which remains to the left of the closed tab.

In this way you will easily be able to return to your original page of search results to choose another link to follow in the same way without having to hit “Back” to return to it.  Simply scroll down the results page or choose “Next” page to continue to review search results.  Remember search engines return results in order of how closely the web page matches the key words in your query, so you are best off searching in order (page 1, 2, 3) or trying other terms in a new search query if the results weren’t so relevant.  For example if you were seeing lots of results for bike repair shops instead of retail sales, simply modify your search query by putting in relevant terms like “buy”, “retail” or “NOT repair” if you want to avoid all websites also offering repairs.

Digging Deeper on Your  Search Results

If you’d like to get more information on the business whose webpage you have open or independent information (eg consumer or expert reviews) on a specific product you found on the business webpage, you can open a new tab (again the “+” symbol at top, to the right of the open page).  From there search for reviews of the business or product.  You can do this by going to a trusted review site (for example Trustpilot for reviews by website) or by entering a search (Googling) phrases like “consumer reviews of Schwinn XYZ model bicycle”.  When you’re ready to proceed with the original website, simply tick the corresponding tab (left of the new tab you’ve opened).  If you’ve decided it’s not for you, then clicking the “X” will close the tab.

Just like in paper filing, it’s good management to get rid of files when they are no longer of use.  You can do this on your browser by closing the “X” to any tabs you no longer need.  Unlike paper files, however, you can always get the electronic files back by launching the same search again.

Having many websites open at the same time will tend to slow down your computer, so it’s good practice to close what you don’t need.

Tab management on the iPhone

Start your search as you would on a PC by opening your browser of choice and inputting your search query on the search field (see below left). 

If you already have one or more tabs open, you can open a blank page ready for a new search by ticking the “+” at the bottom of the screen (see below right).

When finished with pages, you can simply tick the “X” on the upper left corner of each tab.  The process to close all tabs at once is not intuitive, so the tip below may help.  Hold down the “Done” button found on bottom right of the screen (see picture below, left).  An option should then appear to close all tabs (see picture below right).  If you do want to close all, just tap to select.

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