3 Efficiency Tips for Using Dual Monitors


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 (s aapl) and Windows (s msft) 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 (s goog) 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.


Charles McPhate

@Deserttaxguy: My primary monitor is a 20″ widescreen at a resolution of 1680×1050. The second monitor is a standard 15″ LCD that I’ve had for almost 7 years. It’s at 1024×768. I actually like having the smaller monitor — when I do web development, I can move the browser over there at full screen, and see it the way most people are going to see it.


I wonder what the factors to consider are when buying that 2nd Monitor? Does it need to have a similar resolution or size? What about mixing two sizes? Does one small and one big work Ok, or should you seek to have 2 of approximately similar size?
I tried out two 22in wide screens, and its nice, but its HUGE! I cant even look around it. Maybe two smaller 19in is better?

Nick W

I interned at a multimedia edu facility in the late 90’s set up for Director 4, when CD Roms, later CD-Is, were all the rage. One screen palates & code (global puppet sprites) the other stage. It seemed quite Star Trek at the time.


I have only one tip for dual screen usage:

Use Ultramon or a similar software to enable dual screen task bar (when not using NVidia drivers), and to enable hotkeys (I use it mainly to change the screen the current program is being shown on)

I tried using a program that arranges programs in predefined screen space. The idea sounds great but it wasn’t very convenient.


I’ve used dual monitor setup for over 5 years now. The most useful tool I found for it is MultiMon Taskbar – expands the tasksbar on two monitors and adds some other useful functions. Very light and free.

And it’s true – once you switch to dual monitor, you will not go back.

Vlad (Small Business Blog)

I use dual-monitor setup for over a year already. Since most of my communications happen over e-mail and IM I have a smaller laptop screen dedicated to communication activities. The larger screen (either 22″ or 24″, depending on where I am) is tasked with productivity apps. Whenever I write code (usually in Visual Studio), all the properties windows go to laptop screen, and I have full estate available for code.

Overall it’s been a tremendous power boost. I feel literally deprived when I travel and have to limit myself to 1024×768 screen of my X61s.


Thanks everyone – my weekend geek experiment now seems much less daunting. Appreciate the help!

Charles McPhate

@Lauren – My iMac has a mini-DVI port. To connect my external LCD monitor, I had to buy an $18 adapter from Apple and plug it in — that simple.

Simon Mackie

@Lauren most Macs should be able to do it out of the box, so super-easy (unless your computer is really old — then your video card might not support it)


@Mark – Sure you’re not just being greedy?

I’ve read statistics in the past that 2 monitors (or 1 enormous one) shaves hours off a typical work day — so much less time clicking between things.

Here’s my question. Out of 10 (1 being “where’s the on button”), how easy is this to set up on a Mac?


xm: I oould see how that might be true. And yes, personally, I am more productive with three. :-)

I still want to 6 or 10 or 15!

Heck, I want to levitate inside a sphere with images all around, above and below.

Ian Brown

Ultramon is really useful, not just in having a 3840×1600 wallpaper across two screens, but also in being able to flip the current application back and forth between the two screens with simple keyboard shortcuts.

Both my screens can rotate, so I often use one in portrait mode, to get two to three times the working depth in a web page, or in development code. It can be useful to have development code on one screen, and browser/help on the other, or the running application on one and debug code on the other.


There were some experiments carried out last year that indicated that moving from a single monitor to a dual monitor set-up produced a large increase in productivity. However, moving up to anything more than a two-monitor set-up actually saw productivity start to decline again, i.e. you are more inefficient with a three monitor rig than dual monitors. At four monitors you might as well be back to using one.

Yeah, I understand that you are undoubtedly the exception to this rule. Every single one of you. Don’t shoot the messenger.

Jack Bremer

Use UltraMon – FAB! Allows one giant toolbar along bottom (ot whereever) with screen-aware app buttons… Just do it!


Spaces on the Mac allows me to have six work spaces in which I have assigned my different apps. I totally agree with using more than one browser, I use Safari for my Google mail and Firefox for regular browsing/previews.

Charles McPhate

@RoyK: The tips may seem obvious to you, but they aren’t to everyone. Instead of criticizing the post, why don’t you offer some of your own not-so-obvious tips?


Seriously lame tips. Sorry, but they are either obvious or personalized.


I also use dual monitors. My monitors are different, so i have a problem to calibrate them correct. But it is perfect to work with them, i will never go back or will never by only one in big size…


There’s nothing here that isn’t inherently obvious to anyone who’s hooked up dual monitors.


Two monitors are good, three even better. I could make use of six even 9 or 10 or more.

I too use Chrome on the left to watch for incoming email, my middle one for my active work with Firefox, and my right for a notepad on my current work and some indicators I need up.

I can only work on single screen laptops now for short periods and one or two tasks.

Most guys if given several thousand dollars and told to go spend it on themselves would probably go buy a class car, I’d get the most monitors I could for the money.

Shanky Baba

I would definitely try dual monitors! Everyone who has used dual monitor say that it increases your productivity, after your brain get optimized to use dual monitor.

Charles McPhate

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…

Simon Mackie

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


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.

Michael Thompson

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.

mark justice hinton

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


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.


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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