8 great productivity tips for Chrome

Save time and get more done with these handy tricks for the Google Chrome browser.

Chrome browser logos
Google / Gerd Altmann (CC0)

In your workday, you probably spend more time using your browser than any other application. And you probably waste more time using your browser than you do any other application as well. Inefficient web browsing is one of the biggest productivity-sappers there is.

If you’re a Google Chrome user, help is on the way. We’ve got tips that will help you make your time browsing the web far more productive — everything from opening your most important sites automatically every time you start Chrome, to organizing important sites into tab groups so you can get back to them more easily, to tapping into Chrome’s many hidden powers.

These tips were written for Chrome in Windows, but most work in macOS, Linux, and, naturally, Chrome OS as well. Some also work in the Chrome mobile apps.

So fire up Chrome and let’s begin.

1. Organize your browsing with tab groups

If, like plenty of people, you keep multiple tabs open in Chrome as you’re browsing the web and doing research, you know how hard it is to find the tab with the exact information you want. Chrome has an answer for that: tab groups help you keep everything organized so you can get to the site you want with only a few clicks. The feature lets you group web sites into different categories — for example, one about a product launch and another for economic research. Rather than seeing dozens or more open tabs, you only see your groups. You can then open a group and see the site you want right away. It’s a little bit like Microsoft Edge’s Collections feature.

To use it, right-click a tab for a website you want to put into a group. Select Add tab to new group, then type in a name for the group and choose a color. Create as many groups as you want in this way.

To put a tab into an existing group, right-click the tab, select Add tab to group, and select the group to which you want to add the tab. To remove a tab from a group, right-click it and select Remove from group.

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Adding a tab to a Chrome tab group. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To collapse all the tabs in a group, click the group name. To display them again, click the group name again. To ungroup all the tabs in a group, right-click it and select Ungroup. And to delete the group entirely and close the tabs in it, right-click the group and select Close group.

If you’re a big emoji fan, you can use emojis in any group name. When creating a new group, right-click in the text box that lets you name it and select Emoji, then pick the emoji you want to use. (You can combine text and emoji in a group name.) You can also add an emoji after you’ve already created the group by right-clicking in the text box and selecting Emoji.

2. Send a link to highlighted text on a web page

If you find yourself wanting to share text from a web page with others, you’ll appreciate this tip: It lets you quickly send a link to someone that sends them straight to the text you want them to read, provided they use Chrome as well.

To do it, highlight the text you want to share, then right-click it and select Copy link to highlight. That creates the link and puts it into your clipboard. Copy the link from your clipboard and send it to someone. When they click on it, they’ll be sent to the section of the web page with the text you want to share — and the text will be highlighted in yellow.

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Here’s how to share text from a web page with someone else. (Click image to enlarge it.)

3. Sync Chrome across devices

If you use Chrome on multiple devices, here’s one of the easiest and most useful ways to boost your productivity: turn on sync. Without sync turned on, Chrome on each device is an island unto itself. Your bookmarks, history, passwords, credit card information, extensions, settings, and more remain separate on each device. You’ll have to spend a substantial amount of time creating all that duplicate information among them all — and then keeping them all updated.

Instead, turn on sync on every device. For every desktop PC you want to sync, do this:

  1. Launch Chrome.
  2. At the top right of the screen, click the profile icon.
  3. On the screen that appears, click Turn on Sync, then confirm that you want to turn it on. (If you’re not already signed into Chrome, you’ll be prompted to do so first.)

That’s all it takes. Your information will now be synced. Do this to every device you want to keep in sync. Every time you make a change or addition, it will be synced among all devices.

If you want to turn sync off for a desktop PC, click your profile icon, click Sync is on from the screen that appears, and then click Turn off on the page that appears.

You can also sync (and unsync) your Android and iOS devices. For details, go here for Android and here for iOS.

But that's not all. You can control what you sync and how it’s synced. On a desktop PC, click your profile icon, then click Sync is on from the screen that appears. Click Manage what you sync and you’ll come across a long list of everything you can sync. First select Customize sync, then move the slider for anything you don’t want to sync to off.

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Here’s the data that Chome syncs for you. Turn the slider off for anything you don’t want synced. (Click image to enlarge it.)

If you’re worried about the privacy of your data, you can encrypt it. To do it on a desktop PC, click your profile icon, then click Sync is on from the screen that appears. Click Encryption options, and from the list that appears, click Encrypt synced data with your own sync passphrase. Follow the directions for encrypting the information.

4. Find useful websites fast

Searching for information on the web can be a long, frustrating and ultimately fruitless experience. But Chrome has a way to make it far easier to find useful websites.

When you come across a site that gives you exactly the kind of information you want, you can quickly find others just like it. To find sites similar to any site, type related:URL into the address bar, where URL is the address of the site you’re currently visiting. So, for example, to find sites like Computerworld.com, type related:computerworld.com into the search bar. You’ll then get Google search results for similar sites.

5. Use search engines without navigating to them

If you use more than one search engine, you’ll appreciate this tip. It lets you perform a search on any search engine with having to navigate to the search site, saving plenty of time every day.

To do it, click the three-dot menu icon at the top right of Chrome and select Settings > Search engine > Manage search engines. Under the “Default search engines” section toward the top of the page, you’ll see a list of search engines you can search through without having to navigate to their sites.

To perform a search using any of these engines, such as Bing.com, type bing.com into the address bar and press the Tab key. The leftmost part of the address bar changes — it reads “Search Bing” or whatever search engine you’ve typed in. Now just type in your search term and press Enter, and you’ll do a search with that search engine.

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This Chrome page in Settings lists the search engines you can use without navigating to them. (Click image to enlarge it.)

You can add new search engines to the list by clicking the Add button. But you’ll have to know the search syntax to use for each engine. To add a new engine, click the Add button to the right of “Other search engines.” Then fill out the short form that appears. In the “Search engine” text box, type the search engine’s name. In the keyword text box, type in the word that you need to type into the address bar and then press Tab in order to search through the site. And in the “URL with % in place of query” type in the search syntax required to search the site. Then click Add. (Note that you can search through any website in this way, not just search engines. The key, though, is finding out the site’s search syntax so you can add it properly.)

The Manage search engines page automatically adds additional search-driven sites to the “Other search engines” list on the “Manage search engines” page after you visit them, and theoretically you can search through all of them in this way. In my experience, though, it’s hit or miss as to whether any individual one works, because the search syntax isn’t always right.

6. Open a specific set of pages when you start Chrome

It can be useful to have a set of pages that you always have open in Chrome — Gmail, your company’s web page, a stock market tracker, favorite news page, and so on. But it can be annoying and time-consuming to navigate to each site and open it every time you launch Chrome.

There’s an easier way. You can tell Chrome to open the same set of pages every time you launch the browser. To do it, click the three-dot icon at the top right of Chrome and select Settings > You and Google, then scroll to the “On startup” section at the bottom of the screen. Select Open a specific page or set of pages, then click Add a new page, type or paste in the page’s URL and click Add. Add as many pages as you want this way.

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Here’s how to tell Chrome to launch a specific page when you start a new Chrome session. (Click image to enlarge it.)

To delete any page from the startup group, click the three-dot icon next to it and select Remove.

You can also add all of your startup pages in one fell swoop. To do it, first open tabs for all the pages you want to start when you launch Chrome. Don’t open any others, though; they should be the only tabs open in Chrome. Then come back to the “On startup” section and click Use current pages. They’ll become the pages that automatically open every time you start a Chrome session.

7. Tap into Chrome’s hidden superpowers

Google is constantly experimenting with adding new features to Chrome, including many that can boost productivity or save you time as you browse the web. If you’re the type who wants to get the latest and greatest productivity-boosters before the rest of the world, there’s a way you can begin using them without waiting for Google to give them the official, final thumbs-up.

To do it, turn on Chrome’s hidden experimental features called “flags.” Type chrome://flags into the address bar. You’ll come to a page chock full of them — dozens, the last time I checked.

To turn on a flag, scroll through the list, then click the box next to one you want to try it out. Select Enabled from the drop-down list, then relaunch Chrome.

After that, just use Chrome as you would normally. If you want to turn off the flag, go back and select Disabled from the list.

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Here’s how to turn on an experimental feature in Chrome. (Click image to enlarge it.)

There are typically dozens of flags to try out at any time. (Note that the available flags may vary by platform, and they tend to change over time.) Here are a few you might want to give a spin:

  • Parallel Downloading: Turn this on and you’ll speed up file downloads. It splits each download into three parts, then downloads each part concurrently. This can make a big difference when you’re downloading big files, but it won’t make a difference with smaller files.
  • Smooth Scrolling: If when you scroll through a web site it feels herky-jerky, turn on this flag, then restart Chrome. Scrolling should feel smoother. This might not directly affect your productivity, but you’ll enjoy your time more when you scroll.
  • Scroll Anchor Serialization: If, like me, you want to start reading a web page the moment content appears, you’ll want to turn on this flag. Frequently, if you start reading a page while other parts of the page are still loading, you’ll lose your place and have to re-find it after the other elements download. Turn this on and you’ll no longer lose your place.
  • Enable Reader Mode: With Reader Mode, you’ll only see a page’s content. Everything else, including ads and side panels, gets stripped away. It lets you more easily focus on your work. After you turn the flag on, see a Page icon appears to the right of the address bar for turning on Reader Mode.

8. Save time with keyboard shortcuts

Many people use keyboard shortcuts to speed up tasks in certain productivity apps, like Microsoft Word, but forget all about them when it comes to web browsers. That’s too bad, because keyboard shortcuts are a big timesaver.

To improve your productivity, check out these keyboard shortcuts for Chrome in Windows and Linux. (Most of them also work in macOS if you substitute the ⌘ key for Ctrl and the Option key for Alt.) For even more, see Google’s complete list of keyboard shortcuts for Chrome.

Useful keyboard shortcuts in Google Chrome

Copyright © 2021 IDG Communications, Inc.

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