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Tips For The Multi-Display Life

Multiple Displays and Productivity

Anyone who has felt the rush of excitement that comes with placing an extra display on his desk, connecting it to the computer, and turning it on will tell you: The first thing you learn to appreciate with a second monitor is the sheer increase in real-estate that you have to work with. It doesn’t take longto start spreading out icons, widgets, and windows so that more things can be seen at the same time without having to flip through applications and windows to go from a Word to a useful browser window. Don’t be afraid to move some of your icons or shortcuts from your primary display to the new one. Adding a second monitor gives you plenty of room to stretch out and place icons and widgets all over your screen, instead of letting them all bunch up on the left side of your primary display.

Depending on the kind of work you do and the applications you most commonly use, you’ll want to tailor the setup of your two displays.

Photo and video editors, who, for example, do a lot of video editing in Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere, or spend all day doing graphic design in Photoshop or InDesign, would find it helpful to have the main working application maximized in one display while secondary apps including e-mail, a Web browser, or instant message apps are opened in the second monitor.

This way, the editor can glance over at those secondary apps without having to stop what he’s doing and bring another app to the front.

Web developers and desktop publishers may be interested in a display that easily rotates into a portrait view. Some monitors and most graphics drivers support the ability to rotate a wide-screen display to a vertical portrait mode, perfect for editing long documents or sorting through pages and pages of code.

These examples are supported by actual research. A study conducted by the Office21 research project in 2008 showed that one of the best ways to improve worker productivity is to add displays to each workstation. By adding larger displays, you can measurably increase a person’s speed and output while working, and the study showed that workers using a 19-inch display had a harder time accomplishing the same tasks as someone with a 22” display.

Additionally, adding more displays can increase productivity by up to 35%, according to this research. The study added two, then three monitors to a single user’s workstation and measured how long it took a group of 67 people to accomplish the same set of tasks with single, dual, and then triple displays. The study concluded that multiple displays were best suited to people who need to absorb and process digital information rapidly, like scientists, editors, and engineers: anyone who has to sit work at a computer for long periods of time. In the Internet era, we think that applies to almost everyone.

Increased work productivity isn’t the only benefit to having more than one display. Gamers will find that once they experience a favorite game in windowed mode—allowing them to  answer instant messages, check e-mail, or even research the game on the Web during downtime, they’ll never go back to one monitor.

For example, World of Warcraft players frequently ”tab out” to read strategy guides on the Web, compare items, or use voice chat to communicate with friends. With more than one display, gamers do all of those things without taking their eyes off of the action. The same applies for full-screen video; there’s no reason to stop working in one display to play a movie in the other.

No matter your task, you can probably find a way to improve your experience with more than one display. Even if you spend your days doing nothing more complex than editing documents and surfing the Web, it’s helpful to have the ability to move windows around. Some people prefer to put work in one window and  reference material in another window, or to put all “work” apps on one maximized window, and other apps like e-mail, IM, Twitter client, or desktop widgets on the other display. How you arrange your apps is up to you and how you feel comfortable using the space.

In fact, one of the best things about having more than one display on your desk is that you have the freedom to experiment with the way your windows and icons are laid out, and the placement of the monitors on your desk, so that you can determine the best orientation and layout for the way you work and play.