Photo adapted from Kari Shea on Unsplash

How To Set Up Firefox For Simple Productivity

Niklas Göke
Jan 12, 2018 · 6 min read

Mozilla created the new Firefox with one thing in mind: speed. While they’ve succeeded — the browser is lightning fast — it is now up to us to maintain that speed. You can’t do that if you clutter your browser with countless add-ons, customizations and pseudo-productive clickbait.

A simple browser needs a simple setup, in order to simply function. Hence, I’ve thought long and hard about these three aspects:

  1. The home page.
  2. The interface.
  3. The add-ons.

Here’s how you can adjust them for minimal friction and maximum productivity.


1. Configuring Your Home Page

In almost all browsers, the home page defaults into showing you your favorite websites, highlights, maybe a search bar and sometimes even the news. Here’s the standard home page in Firefox:

All of those are distractions, because they’re trying to get you to click on them. That’s not productive. Therefore, you don’t want a homepage that prompts you to do something. You want a homepage that prompts you to think.

When you open your browser, you do that because you’ve thought of a place you want to go, or you’ve just started thinking about what that place might be. Your home page should allow you to go there as fast as possible or help you figure it out faster, not block your path.

Hence, my home page looks like this:

Whether you choose an inspiring wallpaper, a thought-provoking question, or leave the page blank, all of those are better than starting your session with 20 minutes of mindless browsing.

Here’s how to do it: First, click the gear icon in the top right corner on the standard home page, then uncheck all four options and hit ‘Done.’

Now your home page is blank. In order to set a custom image as wallpaper, you need the extension ‘New Tab Tools.’ Once you’ve installed it, go to your blank home page, right-click and select ‘New Tab Tools options.’

It will have a few ‘tiles’ set up by default, all of which you should delete. Set ‘Rows’ and ‘Columns’ to 1 on the right, then click ‘Browse…’ under ‘Page background image’ in the bottom left corner.

Hit ‘Set’ and voilà, you have an uncluttered entry point into your browser.

2. Customizing What You See

Another common theme among browsers is that the content takes up 90% of the space, which means interfaces are a.) small and b.) densely populated.

The idea here is that the less you see of the interface, the more you can focus on the content. That’s a good thing, so you should make an effort to finish this job that the dev team started.

Here’s my Firefox interface, which is essentially limited to what’s called the ‘Bookmarks Toolbar,’ the URL/search bar and a few buttons:

If you click the menu icon on the far right and select ‘Customize…’ you can adjust this small, but important aspect of Firefox.

In the default configuration, you will see a lot of the draggable items placed left or right of the URL/search bar and below it in the Bookmarks Toolbar. I’ve removed all of them, including ‘Home,’ ‘Library,’ a few I had added before and the ‘Flexible Space’ bars.

On the bottom you can choose to show or hide the ‘Title Bar,’ make the interface a bit bigger with ‘Drag Space’ or smaller when setting ‘Density’ to ‘Compact.’ I chose the dark theme, because it’s easier on the eyes.

The reason you don’t really need any of these, let alone the ‘Overflow Menu,’ whose name says it all, is that they’re either available via a shortcut or just a click away if you really need them.

What I’d rather sacrifice the precious space for is a line of well-selected bookmarks. If you add a bookmark by pressing Cmd/Ctrl + D on any web page or clicking the star in the URL bar, but leave ‘Name’ blank, it will only add an icon to the toolbar.

This is neat, because once you click that icon, it usually turns into that websites favicon, which means you can recognize what link it is without needing to describe it further. The folders on the right contain a lot of links from the same websites, which is why I left their names in, the last one being a few social media sites I only check once a week in one go.

After you add all your most important and commonly used sites, you’ll have a non-invasive interface that you can tweak as needed down the line.

3. A Minimalist Add-On Setup

In sci-fi movies, the villain often builds some sort of robotic, superhuman device. As he adds more and more features and power-ups to it, eventually, one leads to a fatal weakness the hero can exploit to blow up the whole thing.

Firefox is like that. A few enhancements here and there make it better, but if you stuff it to the brim with add-ons, it’ll get clunky, slow and will drag you down. To be productive, I’ve only installed three add-ons, next to ‘New Tab Tools:’

  1. uBlock Origin. This is a brilliant ad-blocker. It works better than the two I have in Chrome combined.
  2. Tomato Clock. A dead simple Pomodoro timer which tracks your blocks.
  3. MinimaList. What a digital to-do list should really be: a post-it note from which you can cross off items.

With this setup, I can open my browser, think about what I need to do, put it on my to-do list or work through what remains from the day before.

I pick the most important item or what fits into my current time block, then set the Pomodoro timer and off I go.

It sounds almost too easy to work, which is exactly why it works.


Yes, there are many other helpful features in Firefox Quantum, like automatically opening new windows in tabs (under ‘Tabs’ in preferences’), typing on any page to search it (under ‘Browsing’ in preferences’), or searching on Amazon straight from the URL bar.

However, all of those are best found by using the browser until you naturally end up with the question: “I wonder if it could do that?”

The new Firefox reminds me of Apple products: it is clean, elegant, plug-and-play. You turn it on and it just works. But if you want to do the same — just work — you need to keep it that way.

In a world of customization that worships individualism, this is harder than it sounds. It’s tempting to make every single product you use your own, and so we often forget that the people who make them are much better at it than us.

If we trust them to do their job, we can focus a lot more on doing ours.

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

Niklas Göke

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Writing for dreamers, doers, and unbroken optimists since 2014. For more personal, infrequent updates, be my email friend: https://niklasgoeke.com/friends

Better Humans

Better Humans is a collection of the world's most trustworthy writing on human potential and self improvement by coaches, academics, and aggressive self-experimenters. Articles are based on deep personal experience, science, and research. No fluff, book reports, or listicles.

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