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Using multiple screens efficiently

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I have been using at least two screens whenever I am sat at a computer, at a desk, for about the last two decades.  Whether a desktop or a laptop that I plug an extra screen into, I find the productivity gains so significant that it has become standard for me.  If I am writing an email referencing another email, document or webpage then the gain is obvious and the alternatives of printing or regularly switching applications hopelessly inefficient by comparison.

I genuinely find it surprising how many people still use just a single screen.  Perhaps it’s because to use two or more screens in an efficient way doesn’t come naturally to some people?  In fact, someone very close to my heart (I won’t mention any names), always has tens of applications open, and more documents or webpages open within those applications – she doesn’t have a hope of navigating her way around one screen let alone using two.

So, here are a few simple pointers to help use multiple screens efficiently:

  1. Only keep open the application and pages/documents that you need open.
  2. Learn the windows shortcut keys and mouse actions that enable you to organise those windows quickly.
  3. Split each screen in two (using the shortcuts) if you need more applications visible at the same time.
  4. Use multiple desktops (Windows 10) to give even more desktop real estate.

I would however stress that the danger of too many visible applications is not focussing on a single task and getting distracted by inbound communications. It is not something to take lightly and much depends on the person and the job role when determining the optimum set-up.

The shortcuts

Windows KeyWith an application in focus, hold down the Windows Key and use the cursor keys to control.  Up maximises the application, from which the left and right cursor key snap the application into the respective half of the screen. With a dual screen set-up this will move the application between screens left or right if repeatedly pressed.  Once you get used to this it makes organising the application on multiple screens very easy.  Similar can be achieved by using the mouse to drag the title bar of the screen to the different edges of the desktop.  In Windows 10 by holding down the Window Key and the CTRL Key then using the left and right cursor keys you can switch between multiple virtual desktops.

Windows 10 Multi Desktop

Given the last shortcut above with Windows 10 coming out, my biggest decision was to decide on two or four desktops as my regular set-up.  If you have two physical screens and you create a second virtual desktop in Windows 10 it creates that new virtual desktop on both of your physical screens.  For me though unless I have a particular task that needs so many windows open at once, I will not use the virtual desktop when I have two physical screens.

The screens I use are fairly high resolution and wide and can comfortably fit two applications side by side, meaning that four applications can be visible at the same time without the need for a virtual desktop.  However on the occasions when I travel with my laptop and don’t have the luxury of that second physical screen, I find the virtual desktop feature of Windows 10 extremely useful.  The problem with ALT + TAB or Windows + TAB key combinations is that they cycle through the open applications and it can take some time to get to the application that you want – you have to search for it.

Where the virtual desktops come into their own is that you can place specific applications, documents or webpages on specific virtual desktops and as such will know the shortcut key combinations to navigate to them.  For example, when I am working on one physical screen, I always put my calendar on virtual desktop 2, and my to-do list on virtual desktop 3.  That means if I am working on the default desktop it is the Windows key and one press on the right cursor key to get to the calendar and two presses to get to the to do list. Easy and efficient.


Steve Thomson

With a degree in Computers and Business and an IT background in Market Research, Media Monitoring and Publishing, Steve brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to Priority One.

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