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Summary:

Recently, I switched to a dual-monitor setup for working each day, and I’ll never go back. The productivity benefits were immediately apparent, and we’ve written before about how easy it is to switch to this type of setup. Both the Mac OS and Windows have support for dual monitors built-in, and you can get, say, two 20-inch monitors for less money than a much larger display costs. After working with two monitors for a couple months now, I’ve collected some efficiency tips that can help get the most out of them. Here are three tips that have worked for me.

Recently, I switched to a dual-monitor setup for working each day, and I’ll never go back. The productivity benefits were immediately apparent, and we’ve written before about how easy it is to switch to this type of setup. Both the Mac OS and Windows have support for dual monitors built in, and you can get, say, two 20-inch monitors for less money than a much larger display costs. After working with two monitors for a couple months now, I’ve collected some efficiency tips that can help get the most out of them. Here are three tips that have worked for me.

Mixing and matching browsers. In the past, I often fell into the trap of using one browser at a time and collecting tons of open tabs. That can increase crashing and slow performance down. With my dual monitors, I keep Firefox open on my left display, and Google Chrome open on my right display. Chrome is well-known for running applications and pages in tabs in such a way that if one tab goes down, the others won’t. But Chrome doesn’t yet have the customizability of Firefox, with its huge array of extensions. So, in the morning when I start opening all the applications I use, I reserve my “maximum uptime needed” applications for tabs in Chrome on my right display, and I reserve apps for which I can take advantage of Firefox extensions on my left display. This works well.

Mouse Muscle. If you haven’t used dual monitors before, one of the great things about the setup is that you can navigate across both displays as if you had one display. In other words, if I start with my mouse arrow over at the left-hand side of my left display and start moving to the right, I can move the arrow all the way over to the right-hand side of the right display as though I’m working with only one screen. This provides the perfect opportunity to take advantage of advanced ways to scroll, and speed-scroll, using a mouse with a control wheel. I previously wrote a post about many ways to do this, here.  The scrolling tips are particularly useful with two displays.

A More Organized Desktop. If you’re like me, and you use a whole lot of software applications, your desktop gets cluttered very fast. When using one display in the past, I often had so many application icons on one desktop, that it would take me some time to find applications when I needed them. With two displays, I just use a simple organizational rule. I keep operating system utilities, other utilities, and any applications I’m going to open less frequently on the desktop displayed on my right monitor. I keep browsers, browser-specific applications, and all other applications that I open and close frequently on the left display. With this rule, I never find myself wasting time searching for a tool that I need.

Share your dual monitor efficiency tips in the comments.

By Samuel Dean

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  1. One not so obvious tip is to arrange your applications across monitors according to how much time you spend working in them, how much focus (literally and figuratively) they require and which is your dominant eye.

    So, for example, if you are right-eye dominant, put apps that you work in heavily, like editors and spreadsheets, on the right monitor and apps that you just use to monitor things or do less work in on the left monitor. This makes it easier to work more comfortably in the more heavily used apps.

    The productivity gains can be even greater in an OS that supports workspaces (e.g., Mac OS X or Linux) since these make it even easier to find and switch between, and organize, running apps.

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  2. I also do two browsers, though both are Firefox. In one I put “work” stuff and in the other I put “personal” stuff.

    If you can, you might also consider running multiple desktops. While I spend most of my time in my two browsers (which run maximized), I do have occasion to have to run a terminal session or a file browser or even *gasp* a word processor. Rather than start layering, I’ve tried running those on a separate desktop. This usually works well because I don’t often need to see the app and a browser at the same time. When I do, well then I do layering.

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  3. Couple of programs that really help with multiple monitors (both for Windows).

    Multi Monitor Mouse – Allows you to quickly move your mouse between monitors using shortcut buttons (on the mouse) or keys.

    http://download.cnet.com/Multi-Monitor-Mouse/3000-2072_4-10657306.html

    KatMouse – Allows universal scrolling (e.g., scrolling the contents of a window that is under another window).

    http://ehiti.de/katmouse/

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  4. Microsoft’s free Virtual PC (and other virtual machine apps, I assume) will run full screen on either monitor, giving you the effect of separate computers on each monitor — even different OSes. Very cool. peace, mjh

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  5. Another tip: in every OS you can setup “spaces” or “virtual desktops”. Use these.

    Have one with your email and music in one space, have another with a few browsers. Have another with Photoshop, Illustrator. Etc.

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  6. I use three monitors, and I could never go back to a single monitor. I use ultramon software to manage the desktops.

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  7. [...] Staff | Tuesday, June 2, 2009 | 11:06 AM PT | 0 comments 3 efficiency tips for using dual monitors (WebWorkerDaily) When is an SSD slower than HDD? (jkOnTheRun) MySpace and Facebook: two very [...]

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  8. I’ve recently gone to a quad monitor setup myself (from a dual) using two matching video cards. I’ve found that it’s great to keep a task focused in front of you, and other items (email, IM, twitter, etc) on the sides. Also, keeping a browser up for testing sites or to remote into another machine is priceless.

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  9. Is this comments thread going to turn into a contest to see who has the most monitors in their setup? ;-)

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  10. Charles McPhate Tuesday, June 2, 2009

    I’ve been using dual monitors on my Mac for years, but I don’t have anything specific that I use it for at all times — it just helps me spread things out as I need them.

    For instance, I work from home, and I’m frequently connected to the office Terminal Server. When I am, I keep Remote Desktop full-screen on the smaller external monitor (just 15 inches at 1024×768).

    When I’m not connected to the office, the external monitor is more for reference — an email I need to look at while doing something on the main iMac monitor, for instance. Or if I’m coding web pages, the test browser is on the 2nd monitor while my code is on the main monitor.

    My only issue (and it’s been one forever) is that frequently I’ll look at an app on one monitor and start performing keystrokes, only to realize an app on the other monitor actually has focus. I’m still waiting for someone to develop a system that follows my eyes and knows what I want to do…

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