Make Multiple Monitors Work for You

Be More Productive

We've all heard that having multiple monitors will make you more productive. Many of the studies touting this finding were performed by monitor companies, which undermines their credibility to a certain extent--still, the general consensus is that increasing your screen real estate will help you get things done faster. It's the same idea as having a larger desk; If you can spread your work out, you can move from one item to another more easily.

Still, having multiple monitors won't do much to increase your work output if you dedicate one of them to, say, watching Netflix or Facebook. Here are some tips on how to be productive with multiple monitors.

Use portrait orientation for reading documents. If your job requires you to read documents, set up one of your monitors in portrait mode. This way, you can display an entire document (or more of it, at any rate) on one screen without having to scroll.

Use one monitor for reference work. Since I'm a writer, this is probably the most common use for my second monitor. Instead of having to switch back and forth between windows when I'm trying to find sources for an article, I can have a word processing window open on one screen and a browser window open on the other.

See your Windows windows simultaneously. If you want to see all of your windows at once, right-click your taskbar and select Show Windows Stacked or Show Windows Side by Side. The Show Windows Stacked setting will resize and tile your windows horizontally, while the Show Windows Side by Side option will resize and tile your windows vertically. If you do this while using dual monitors, the windows in each monitor will appear horizontally or vertically across your screens.

Dedicate some of your new screen real estate to widgets. Rather than filling your screens with windows, tack some helpful widgets to the desktop. Useful desktop widgets include to-do lists, multiple clocks and calendars, and CPU monitors.

Make comparisons. Website designers can compare Websites in different browsers. Photo editors can compare photos. Editors can compare drafts. Shoppers can compare prices... The list goes on.

Try not to multitask. I know this sounds counterintuitive to the multiple-monitor setup, which seems to invite multitasking. But studies have shown that multitasking interruptions--such as e-mail, instant messages, and a constant Twitter feed--make you less productive. Having a monitor dedicated to your e-mail will only distract you from your real work.

Keep your computer folder open in one screen. Though many people don't realize this, you can open files by dragging and dropping them into applications. If you want to open a photo in Photoshop, for example, just drag the file into the Photoshop window.

Multiple-Monitor Spaciousness on One Screen

Once you get used to using multiple monitors, switching back to a single screen can make you feel claustrophobic. Here are some ways to maximize your screen real estate on a single screen.

If you have a Mac, maximizing your screen real estate on one screen is easy: Use Spaces, Mac OS X's built-in "virtual desktop" feature. To enable Spaces, go to System Preferences, Expose and Spaces, Spaces, and click Enable Spaces. You can have up to 16 virtual workspaces with Spaces.

If you have a PC, maximizing your screen real estate is still pretty simple with virtual desktops. The only difference is that you'll have to set them up yourself using a program such as VirtuaWin. VirtuaWin is free and officially works with every version of Windows you can imagine. The program, once installed, appears as a small icon in your taskbar and allows you to establish up to 20 virtual workspaces. You can also create your own keyboard shortcuts for moving between spaces, and even name each space.

There you have it--multiple monitors, multiple ways. Enjoy your newfound productivity, and let us know in the comments if you have any genius ideas for multiple-monitor setups!

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