Friday, September 15, 2006

Closing Windows

Like most computer users, I often have a bunch of windows open all at once. For example, if I’m in a meeting, I might turn my screensaver off, and have all of these open, to be able to easily look up any information I need during the call:

(As you can see, the screenshot looks a little bit odd, because I have multiple monitors, both with different resolutions, and one is set to be a bit higher than the other.)

Or, if I’m working on a blog entry, I might have HTML-Kit open on one screen, and Firefox on the other, like this:

Aside from the multiple monitor thing, this probably looks pretty normal to most people. We all have to multitask, these days, and it’s normal to have a bunch of things running all at once.

Unfortunately, I’ve developed the nasty habit of closing programs as soon as I think I’m done with them. For example, a scenario like this would be a normal sequence of events for me:

  1. I need to call a colleague, to tell him some piece of information. So I open up a Visio document I have, that includes the information, to refresh my memory. I read what I have to read, and then close Visio.
  2. I open an Excel spreadsheet that has a phone list for my office, to look up his extension, and call him. As I’m dialling the phone, I close Excel.
  3. He’s not there, so I decide to call back in a couple of minutes. At which point I re-open the Excel spreadsheet, and look up his number again (and close it again as I’m dialling).
  4. This time he is there. But he also needs another piece of information, so I need to re-open the Visio document, and read the information off to him. While I’m talking to him, he asks me for so-and-so’s extension, meaning I have to re-open the Excel spreadsheet.
The problem is that I’ll keep doing this. The situation above didn’t happen, but it’s realistic. I do indeed have a Visio document, with some useful information in it, and I must open it up 20 times every single day, because I keep needing to look things up, and then foolishly closing it right after. I waste a lot of time every day, opening and closing and re-opening and re-closing documents.

And it’s not like it’s even necessary. It’s not like I have a crappy laptop, that can’t keep more than 5 things open at once; I have a pretty good machine, and it’s rarely over-taxed. With the types of programs in the screenshots above, I don’t even get close to running out of memory or other resources. It’s just a habit I’ve developed.

Actually, it’s more psychological than anything. I get a feeling of satisfaction, when I close a program. It’s like I can feel the computer reclaiming resources—even though, as I said, the computer never comes close to running out of resources in the first place. It probably goes back to some of my first computers, when I was in college. Back then, it really was useful to close programs as soon as I was done with them, because the computers just couldn’t handle the load if I opened too many things at once.

I decided this afternoon to try and train myself out of this habit. I was going to assign a sound, in Windows, to the Close Program event, so that every time I closed a program, I would hear it. In fact, my plan was to assign a very annoying sound, and try and use negative reinforcement—eventually, the sound would annoy me so much that I would start closing programs less.

Unfortunately, the Close Program event in Windows is a bit more finicky than I would like—Windows apparently has a very loose definition of a “program”, in that context. For example, if I walk away from the computer, and the screensaver comes on, and then come back and deactivate it, well, Windows considers that closing a program, and plays the noise. Or if I go to my Display settings, and change the screensaver, as I change it, Windows plays the noise. There were some other examples that I can’t remember, where Windows played the sound when I didn’t expect it, and the net result is that I wouldn’t have trained myself out of anything, but I would have annoyed all of my colleagues within listening distance.

I guess I just need to be more aware of my actions, that’s all…