Get More Monitor Real Estate Without a Second Monitor

Many web workers talk about the benefits of larger or dual monitors. I currently have a 17-inch monitor, and although it works well, I can see how I can benefit from a more spacious and organized virtual desktop. But the truth is, not all web workers can afford that kind of workspace upgrade – including me.  For now, at least.

So how can we achieve a more effective desktop without shelling out some cash? First, I need to get as much workable surface area as I could from my existing setup and find a way to use it better.

The first thing I did was to install RocketDock (nlauncher is another alternative). This program allows Windows users to have a Mac-style application dock. Naturally, this would make my desktop’s appearance neater.

I didn’t want to clutter my dock, so the only buttons I added were for the programs I use everyday – including my web browser, Photoshop, Excel, and ToDoList. As you can see from the screencap, I placed the dock at the left side of the screen (as you can see from the screencap), which is the area my mouse cursor spends the least time on. The reason behind this is because I didn’t want to accidentally access the dock.

Since I only have a few items on the dock, I needed a way to launch the other files and programs that I don’t use as often. This is where an easy-to hide keystroke-based app launcher can come in handy. My tool of choice was Launchy, but other programs such as Enso Launcher work in roughly the same way.

You can access almost anything with keystroke app launchers, so you can use them exclusively without something like RocketDock. However, I find that it’s less of a hassle for me to access my favorite programs via mouse rather than keystrokes.

Getting rid of the Windows taskbar was something else I had to take care of. Since I already had RocketDock and Launchy (which were more customizable and minimalist), it became redundant to keep the default Windows taskbar. When I was looking for ways on how to remove it, most of what I found was code that you had to input into the registry. I’m not a programmer, so this seemed very intimidating. But I did find a simpler approach myself:

  1. I opened the Taskbar and Start Menu Properties panel by right-clicking on the taskbar. I unchecked “Lock the taskbar”.
  2. I resized the taskbar until it was a thin blue line.
  3. I opened the Properties panel again by right-clicking on the blue line (what was left of the taskbar). Then, I unchecked “Keep the taskbar on top of other windows”.

Doing the above things has given my new desktop two (2) benefits over my old one. First, it gave me a slightly bigger surface area to work with. With the taskbar gone, my work area got a bit bigger. It’s not 24-inch big, but the change is still noticeable.

Second, I’ll have less access to distractions such as games, instant messaging windows, and other less important applications – mostly because the access points (whether via RocketDock or Launchy) will be out of sight as I work. One of my main problems with the old setup was that everything was so accessible, I found myself doing some unneccessary multitasking (working while playing Spider Solitaire and writing on my personal blog).

There are other things you can do to maximize your current monitor size without spending much money. You can install virtual desktops such as Dexpot and Deskspace. These programs mimic the functionality of having more than one monitor.

Of course, you don’t have to do all these things. Enormous willpower and efficiency can also do the trick. But both these things are a lifelong work in progress for me, and if there are some tools out there that can help me, I see if I can use them.

Larger monitors are beautiful and functional, but until I can afford them, I’ll have to stick with maximizing my old school monitor. After all, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter so much what you have – what’s more important is how you use it.

Do you sometimes wish for a larger monitor? Have you used multiple virtual desktops or any of the above methods to somehow simulate it?

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