Two screens, how to use them?
November 7, 2019 2:02 AM   Subscribe

Please tell me about your dual-monitor setup and how are you using it to be a (more) productive business professional.

I usually use my secondary display when cross-referencing information and to have my to-do list constantly visible, but I think I could do more with it, I just don't know what!
posted by gakiko to Work & Money (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I have three... one for email/Outlook, active webinar, Google, etc.; one for the applications/programs/development of whatever I am working on; one for the production site or rendered outcome of whatever I am working on.

Also three monitors serve as a shield against the horror that is the Open Office.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 2:21 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I work off a laptop hooked up to two monitors on mounts on my desk, set up from left to right as monitor-monitor-laptop screen. For whatever reason, my laptop's graphics card doesn't support two digital displays (DVI or display port), so one of the monitors is hooked up to VGA, and we'll call that one "meh" monitor; it's the far left one; center is DVI. I work in architecture, so my primary program is Revit. Modeling window goes fullscreen on the central "good" monitor, with design pallets pulled off onto the "meh". If I need to work off of existing drawings or markups, usually in a pdf format, those will also go on the "meh", and that seems to match your cross-referencing format. I mostly use the laptop screen for communications/calendar stuff like Outlook and Teams.
posted by LionIndex at 2:51 AM on November 7, 2019

I'm similar to you. One monitor is for active work, and the other is for reference. I may also have a music player, a video, a calendar, etc. For me part of being productive is not having unnecessary distractions, so I don't do a lot of other things with it.
posted by jander03 at 3:40 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I always have small windows open on one screen with my calendar, my email, my to do list, my work Twitter account, and the rain radar (I cycle to and from work).

When I need to concentrate on writing something or another task where distractions are not useful, I can just turn that monitor off and use the main screen only.

I also have one of my monitors in portrait mode instead of landscape (you can turn most monitors 90 degrees at the bit where they connect to the stand, and then set them to portrait in the settings.) It's especially good for reading pdfs or having a full screen word document open.
posted by lollusc at 4:25 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think I just do the standard email and calendar always open on one, active work happening on the other. I move things around as needed if I need to cross-reference or have two documents open at once. One if them is at a slightly more oblique angle to be than the other due to the shape of my desk, so the one that's less in my 100% frontal direct line of sight is my "secondary" monitor where my calendar and email and to do list live.
posted by soren_lorensen at 4:29 AM on November 7, 2019

I don't have any specific use for one or the other. I just know that when I have to use a single monitor, I feel like I'm constantly minimising and restoring windows. So for me it's just that I have more space. It's nice being able to have two Excel documents side-by-side, or an email window and a web browser, or a text editor and the website I'm working on, or... There are just so many ways in which having two windows visible helps. One super-wide monitor would actually be less ideal, as you can't maximise a window to half of the screen (OK, you probably can, but I'm too lazy to find out how).
posted by pipeski at 5:12 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also don't have specific uses for one monitor vs the other, but I find it especially helpful to have two monitors when adding information to spreadsheets so I don't have to go between applications.
posted by wicked_sassy at 6:12 AM on November 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

One super-wide monitor would actually be less ideal, as you can't maximise a window to half of the screen (OK, you probably can, but I'm too lazy to find out how).

Drag left or right and keep dragging until you see a little shadow that covers half the screen. But, I agree, one wide monitor is worse than two monitors. I made that mistake at home. I need the physical break of the monitors to force me to fully focus on one window.

To answer the actual question, pretty much all of my bog standard work goes on the left screen and I just flip between apps, as needed. When I have to research something it goes on the second screen. Second screen is where all the "communication" apps live, too (MS Teams, Skype, etc.)

Largely, I see dual monitors used as left screen is work, right screen is reference. But, really, however you use it is fine.
posted by a non mouse, a cow herd at 6:17 AM on November 7, 2019

my left screen has outlook and teams on it. right screen has whatever i'm working on. if i need two documents open, the one i'm putting info into is on the right, the one i'm getting info from is on the left.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:44 AM on November 7, 2019

I'm usually more of a right-active, left-passive screen person. Like if I'm making a video (using an animation web app, a thing I do regularly), the script will be on the left and the video maker on the right. Honestly I would be miserable trying to do that work with one monitor. My email stays open on the left in the background, web browser on the right with MeFi & whatever.
posted by wellred at 6:57 AM on November 7, 2019

A second monitor is great for any software involving checking documents into and out of a revision control server. Server "lives" on one, my workspace on the other.
posted by muddgirl at 6:58 AM on November 7, 2019

I have a laptop and second monitor setup at work. Because the monitor is a bigger, fancier 4k job, I use it for graphics work (Photoshop, Figma, etc.) and use my laptop screen for typing, email, calendar, etc. I'm on a Mac so I also have multiple desktops on each monitor for different things. The laptop might have Spotify open on one, a different browser open on another, etc. while the second monitor has Figma on one and Sketch on the other or something.

I have also had the sneaking suspicion that I could be using the second monitor for more than I currently do, so thank you for asking this question!
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:04 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I do a lot of writing in my job, and I often need to refer to source or reference material. So I keep my open, draft document in one window, and my source/reference material in the other.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:19 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

you can't maximise a window to half of the screen (OK, you probably can, but I'm too lazy to find out how).

New job assigned me a couple of really large monitors, and learning these window movement shortcuts has been a lifesaver.
posted by asperity at 8:33 AM on November 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

I constantly have lists of data going into or coming out of or going back into my CRM. So I will have the data spreadsheet open on one monitor and the CRM on the other, so I can copy and paste various data bits from one to the other.

I often get emails requesting that I build a report including a list of particular fields; or an address I need to enter into the system; or a list of account numbers I need to look up, etc. I open the email on the second monitor so I can easily copy and paste data from the email into CRM.

Sometimes I open and drag a number of different emails with requests to second monitor leave them open there until I work my way through them, closing each email as I finish its task until the screen is clear.

Now when I work from home on my laptop and have to keep maximizing and minimizing various windows to do these things, I feel very dramatic about the hardship.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 9:07 AM on November 7, 2019

The biggest thing for me was realizing that looking at one monitor, straight ahead of me, most of the time, was much more comfortable than trying to look back and forth between two or three monitors that were both angled to be in my vision. At my last job I had two external 27" displays as well as the built-in display on my laptop, so here's how I usually used three displays:

When I wasn't working on a specific, all-consuming task I'd have email on my laptop, to one side; a "most of my work" display in the middle aligned with my keyboard and desk, and a "messaging" display off to the other side, where Slack and Slack-related browser windows lived. This allowed me to respond to new notifications as they came in, such as new ticket assignments, questions from QA, or dev team chatter that required inputs from a quorum, but mostly I just sat straight at my desk, looking straight at the middle display. I had a lot of tickets that only required a little focus for a little while, like small bug fixes, so in this mode I could knock those out in between interruptions.

But when working on complex tasks that take complete focus, interruptions like Slack or email are fatal to programmer productivity. In that mode for me, mail and messaging would go into hiding with notifications suppressed (I hid mail simply by angling my laptop display down, and set Slack to Do Not Disturb before minimizing it to the dock) . I'd still mostly have a work display and a secondary display, but the arrangement on the secondary display changed depending on the task at hand. The work display usually had my code editor and however many tabs of reference, but the secondary display varied with the work at hand. When developing interfaces for the web I'd have two different browsers side by side so I could make sure everything worked across dependencies. For back-end stuff, when the display layer was either not my job or not yet a priority, I'd have just one browser next to my database management tools so I could make or revert the changes I was testing in the browser.

At home I now have a 27" iMac and a 27" external display. The iMac has priority because its screen is so much nicer than the external display. The external display mostly has, yes, mail and calendar, although periodically I'll swipe that to another desktop when I need multiple browser windows side by side for … something (usually just paying bills or doing the taxes). I could live without the second display but it's nice to have. I feel very strongly that the only comfortable way to do this is to prioritize what goes where, so you spend as little time as possible twisting your neck or contorting your body to work with something that's off to one side or the other.
posted by fedward at 10:05 AM on November 7, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have my right monitor (the one I mainly use) in landscape orientation and my left one in portrait. It's nice to be able to choose which orientation to use depending on what I'm doing (for example, I usually use the left one when working in Word and the right one when working in PowerPoint or Excel).
posted by Lexica at 12:05 PM on November 7, 2019

Things I've used my second monitor for
- Reference
- Watching videos
- Keeping tabs on social media, chat or email
- Debugging Javascript code in a browser
- Jotting down notes while working on something else
- Keeping tabs on some long-running process

Basically, I think of it as a place to put anything that I'd like to have readily available, but isn't the thing I'm currently devoting most of my attention to.
posted by Aleyn at 1:12 PM on November 7, 2019

Right monitor is for generating work, or writing, etc. Left monitor is for reference materials. If I'm using three monitors, right monitor is for Slack/Messages, center is for work, left is turned 90 degrees so that it's tall, and used for viewing PDFs for reference, or for long text files/source code, etc.

I write with my right hand, and this is how I was taught to set things up in grade school in the 80s. Put your textbook on the left, put your notebook/homework on the right so that you can write on it without covering up your textbook.
posted by Wild_Eep at 1:16 PM on November 7, 2019

Crucial for me for any kind of video/audio editing - I use one monitor for waveforms etc. and the other for monitors/mixers/plugins/faders.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:54 PM on November 7, 2019

I have two: one is for Outlook and I have it in the usual landscape mode. The other is for whatever Word document I’m working on and I have it in portrait mode. Having one monitor in portrait mode was a massive improvement. It’s so much easier to read on it.
posted by fso at 3:57 PM on November 7, 2019

If you are on Windows, windows key + left and right arrow keys are a game changer.

I keep email and calendar in separate windows. I drag chrome tabs into a second window if i am copying and pasting text and images from some site into a spreadsheet / google slides / airtable.

Writing code in one window and watching the results in a second window.

Basically if you are going back and forth between two windows you want a two monitor setup. I could never go back.
posted by jasondigitized at 5:49 PM on November 7, 2019

I work in healthcare and have FOUR monitors. Upper (landscape) and right (portrait) are for the medical chart system, lower (landscape) and left (portrait) are internet-enabled. I manage a help desk for both the company I actually work for and a side-business under the parent company, so I can put the side business' email inboxes on the left-hand monitor and the main one on the lower landscape monitor and not have to click back and forth between things all day to avoid missing an email.

This has been my use case overall -- using the second monitor to... well... monitor something that I don't need to interact with as often but that I really do need to make sure I can glance at or will rapidly notice changes to.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 6:13 PM on November 7, 2019

It depends on what you're doing as a business professional.

Just about everyone in our company has dual monitors and a laptop. Our less technologically enthusiastic people don't even use their laptop screen and span the two monitors and treat it as a "big(ger) screen."

Our more comms people use one monitor for MS Teams, another for Outlook/Calendar, and the laptop screen for what their working on, or some combination.

I have a ton of different hats and how I use them depends on which one(s) I'm wearing, but I generally keep one for Outlook/Calendar (browser) and use that as the 'scratch' screen for browser searches and backup reference screen.

Use the laptop screen (in between the two externals) for Metafilter (only semi-joking), primary web browser (research for work), and the right screen (windowed) Teams, references, (more than) a few (file) explorer windows, "active" work if I'm using the laptop screen for another "active" task.

If I'm doing detailed work requiring a larger screen, I tend to use the rightmost one and use the leftmost in backup role as the reference or another instance of the program on the rightmost with a different file open and use my laptop screen for keeping scratch info or web browser.


Logitech's new (higher end?) mice lets you hook a single wireless mouse via bluetooth to multiple computers. I was using three different laptops during a crunch time writing SOPs concurrent with stress-testing for a new regulatory compliance required piece of software that I was unfamiliar with (yeah, I know), on a deadline in a resource-constrained environment. My laptop screen was my writing screen (and repository for screenshots), the two other laptops were production support machines running the software and I was doing A/B testing on a deadline - the mouse could take a screenshot from one computer and paste it onto my screen/ graphics software via bluetooth. Thought that as cool - but this was a bit of a rare situation.

Haven't really needed to use that machine-spanning function since.
posted by porpoise at 8:09 PM on November 7, 2019

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