Ask LH: How Can I Work Using A Slow Internet Connection?

Ask LH: How Can I Work Using A Slow Internet Connection?

Dear Lifehacker, I’m going home for Christmas, and my parents have a very poor connection. Do you have any tips for getting my work done effectively when everything’s moving slower than molasses? Thanks, Cumbersome Connection

Dear Cumbersome Connection,

There are quite a few strategies you can use here. Depending on your parents’ location, taking along your own prepaid mobile broadband could be an effective solution, but even that won’t be reliably fast all the time. If that’s not an option, implement the tweaks we discuss below.

Separate Your Internet-Heavy Work And Postpone It

Before you start making tweaks to your browser and computer, it’s a good idea to take stock of what work you have and separate it into two categories. GigaOM explains:

Divide your tasks into bandwidth-heavy and bandwidth-light. Evaluate your routine web tasks and see which ones you can do with a slow connection, and which ones require a faster, more reliable one.

This is particularly useful if you know you’re going to be stuck on a slow connection. If you have some internet-heavy tasks that can’t wait, you should delegate them to someone else if you can.

Tweak Your Browser For Low-Speed Connections

Chances are, your browser isn’t exactly primed for slow internet speeds. So, we recommend grabbing a second browser that you can tweak to work better with slow connections. Opera is an excellent choice, since it offers a Turbo Mode that optimises the web for faster loading. In any browser there are a number of tweaks you can make to speed up your browser, including:

With these tweaks in place, you should find things run a little smoother and you won’t be stuck waiting for pages quite as long.

Use Mobile Or Other Low-Footprint Sites


Many web sites contain content that’s fine on a normal connection, but work poorly on slower connections. Fortunately, some of them have alternatives in place. Gmail, for instance, has a handy HTML version that you can use to cut down on the crap when you need to get into your email quicker. You can also see if a specific site has a mobile version, designed for smartphones . Many mobile sites will only load if you’re actually on a mobile device, though, so you’ll want to change your browser’s user agent to make sites recognise you as a smartphone.

Work Outside Your Browser Whenever Possible


The more you stay in your browser, the longer you’ll be waiting for pages to load. Travel web site Gadling recommends transferring as much of that work outside your browser as possible. For example, if you write on a blog or do any work in Google Docs, transfer that to a desktop app such as Microsoft Office or LibreOffice. More simply, you can compose an email in Notepad while you wait for it to load — don’t waste any time watching a progress bar when you could be doing something else.

When you do have to work in your browser, try not to put too much stress on it. Open one tab at a time, so you aren’t trying to load a lot of pages at once (that will take them longer, and you can only read one at a time). Close tabs you aren’t using, as they can often take up bandwidth even if you aren’t looking at them.

Turn Off Bandwitdth-Sucking Background Apps

With all the focus on your browser, you may forget that other apps such as Dropbox might be taking up precious bandwidth in the background. Close any and all of those you don’t need to do your work, or put them into offline mode so they aren’t constantly checking if they need to sync. Some apps may require some foresight for this to work: Notational Velocity and ResophNotes will work fine without a connection, for example, but Evernote will require you to go into its settings and download your notebooks before it will work in offline mode.

We’re looking forward to the expansion of the National Broadband Network (NBN), which will eliminate the need for a lot of these strategies. Until then, we hope this helps!

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Good suggestions in the article, but I think you missed the most obvious one.

    Don’t do work when you go home to see family for Christmas. Spend the time relaxing, catching up with family, reading a book, enjoying the outdoors etc.

  • Hi – when away I often use the smartphone data plan I have. I login to my androids hotspot. But that’s too obvious ? I suppose that’s not always an option if your data plan sucks 🙂


  • The article didn’t mention using remote desktop?

    That bandwidth intensive work – that can be done on your home PC, on your faster connection in certain cirumstances. There are decent protocols around (especially with VNC) that will scale down extremely well to very slow connections. So instead of taking the video with you to edit and upload, why not leave it at home, if possible, edit it over remote desktop, and upload it from the home PC?

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