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Mar 29, 2013

The Devil Makes Work For Idle Pixels – Do You Need A Double Headed System?

Your first foray into the world of multiple displays is always an exciting event. For me, it was at university, alongside the wonders of the wonderfully pointless compiz desktop cube. Whatever its effect on my productivity, it felt incredibly cool. Since then, my girlfriend will often connect laptop to TV and indulge in gaming and Netflix in parallel. But is going double-headed really the best option for getting things done?

Multiple Screen

The first issue here is suiting the system to the task. If you’re working on something where you need to skip back and forth between your document and your research materials, then maybe going double-headed is way to go. Similarly, web designers can benefit from having their code on one monitor and the page as it will appear to users on the other. Yes, you could arrange the windows side by side on the same monitor (or constantly alt-tab between them), but having an extra screen just feels more natural; if your work is divided into two parallel parts conceptually, why not mirror that in the physical configuration of your workspace? 

If you are focussing on both sides of your work equally, you will want your two monitors aligned centrally; if one screen is clearly primary and one secondary, you should have the primary one directly in front of you and the secondary one off to one side, facing towards your head (rather than pointing directly forward). It seems simple, but it’s worth spending time tuning your arrangement.In an age where the virtual is becoming increasingly dominant (with keyboards and mice challenged by the touchscreen interfaces), we should embrace opportunities to redress the balance somewhat and take advantage of space and position.

On the other hand, if your work is not divided like this, then multiple monitors can be distracting. Having your email or IM on a second screen, unless absolutely necessary, is a killer – if you must have them running while you work, you can probably rely on system tray notification icons. Similarly, having windows open that relate to tasks other than the one you’re working on right now will divide your attention and do more harm than good.

Whether you are using a single monitor or multiple ones, you may find it useful to have finer control of window arrangements than is generally found natively in your OS – Winsplit and ShiftIt, for Windows and OS X respectively, may be just what you need to allow you to work with multiple screensets. A little time at the start of a new task spent testing different configurations of windows and screens can save you a lot later. As you get more experience of analysing your own workflow in this way, this preparatory stage will get quicker and quicker.

So, much though we may love them, we have to be tough with our extra displays: on the charge of conspiracy to cause distraction, they should be considered guilty until proven innocent.

Image Via Wired.com

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