Imagine if your desk had a workspace of just 8½" x 11″. All of your reference materials, agenda, files, documents, calculator, calendar, pencils, pens, rulers, phone, everything would have to be stacked in a single pile and the only thing you could work on at any given time was the top document. That is the limitation we work with every day when we have a single display monitor.

It came as no surprise to me when Microsoft Research confirmed what I have experienced for year. Having more than one monitor attached to your computer to extend your desktop space can increase your productivity by 9 to 50%. How?

Here are a few examples:

  • See more of your work at the same time
  • Give clients a larger view of graphs and photos
  • Easily switch between applications which are visible on the screen at the same time. For example, having a web browser and Outlook on one screen and Word, Excel or PowerPoint on the other. I tend to use Skype a lot in my work for making long distance telephone calls, transferring small files to and from people as well as sending a quick Instant Message (IM) and find it nice to have a spot for it on my secondary screen.
  • Do research while writing a document or preparing a presentation. People who do a lot of cutting and pasting or copying would probably get the most productivity gain.
  • Work on one screen while viewing the results on the other? This is especially useful but not necessarily for application and web developers, engineers, and technical support staff.

Have you ever noticed that it takes time to regain your focus after someone interrupts you while you are working? OK, maybe I am just weak but I find this can be especially true if I had to open a web browser to do it? The web can be such a distracting place. Studies have shown that being able to see your original work on the screen can actually enable you to get back to it quicker than if it was out of sight. You know what they say "out of sight, out of mind".

While I don't necessarily think that playing games is productive, you can be productive and efficient in the way you play. People who play computer games also quickly fall in love with multiple monitors as it allows them to either see more of the play area or play on one screen while having email, IM and other applications running on the other.

It's like having two computers but with the advantage of being able to easily move things around between your two desktops and not having to buy two of everything. You don't end up using twice the energy, have two mice, two keyboards, paying twice the amount of money not to mention filling landfills up twice as fast.

The cost? There is an increasing number of computers today who have the ability right out of the  box. If your computer already this, all it costs you is the cost of the monitor. Widescreen 19″ to 22″ displays start at about $200-$300 these days. However, chances are pretty good that you will quickly a return on your investment in a very short period of time.

WARNING: Having two or more monitors attached to your computer can be highly additive. After a few hours of using it, you may never want to go back to a single screen again. When you consider the amount of space we have to work on at a desk or most tables, it's a wonder we manage to get anything done at all on a small tiny screen. It's probably why people still feel the need to print just to read.

I use the built-in monitor in my notebook along with a 24 inch display placed above and behind it. This gives me great a workspace to be highly productive using multiple applications.

When my 24 inch display is not completely covered up by applications, I have a great freeware application called Oscar’s MultiShow which displays my digital photo library behind any windows (not a screen saver!). This is very cool in the age of digital photography as it gives me a way to see my favourite pictures on a daily basis. My kids love to sit in my office and just watch the pictures go by, probably as much as I use to like looking through my parents photo albums when I was a kid. Tip: Don’t have it change the pictures too quickly or it can become irritating and stressing, even when you are not looking at it.

Another freeware gem I absolutely love is ClocX. I have it set to display in the upper right corner of my 24 inch display. Besides the fact that you can set alarms, what’s really cool about it is how it can be configured to stay out of your way. I have set it to:

  1. Be semi-transparent so you can still see what’s under it
  2. Always appear on top of all other windows
  3. Disappear or become more translucent if I move my mouse over it
  4. Enable clicking though it so that I can still use applications behind it
  5. Customized the look and size of the clock. The full installation includes with over 150 different styles of clocks.

And finally, with a TV Tuner in or attached to your computer (yes, there is such a thing), it can also be nice to have the TV on one monitor while you work on the other. The same goes for watching movies and videos, especially if you have one screen that is larger than the other. The possibilities are limitless.

And yes, there are days when I wish I could connect a third display to my notebook.

Life Coach Michael Milette
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