Have you ever thought about adding a second screen to your computer setup at home? If you’re never able to cram in everything you’d like to see on a single screen, investing in a second one might be the way to go. In this post, John Espirian discusses the value of increasing our screen real estate ...
Working with two screens can be a great timesaver
As anyone who works in the editorial field knows, it can be difficult to work onscreen when one has to juggle lots of digital files. We often have to switch between Word documents, PDFs, web browser windows and lots more besides. A single screen often isn’t enough to cope with all this at once, meaning we have to use the keyboard or mouse to jump between windows.
If this sounds familiar, you could make your working life easier by using a second screen, which is what I and many of my editorial colleagues have done.
Before we go any further, here are a few general tips that could help you work better with your current setup.
Tip 1: Use the keyboard to switch between programs
When switching between programs, you can save time by ignoring the mouse and keeping your hands on the keyboard. If you aren’t already using these keyboard shortcuts, start practising them now:
Active Mac programs shown when pressing Cmd-Tab
Here’s how to use these key combinations:
Tip 2: Increase your screen resolution
Increasing your screen resolution really just means making everything appear a little smaller, which allows space for more items to fit into the viewable area.
Steps for Mac users
Mac screen resolution – options may look different on older machines
Steps for Windows users
Windows screen resolution
Your screen will work best at its ‘native’ (default/recommended) resolution, but the performance may be perfectly adequate at different resolutions.
Tip 3: Be wary of straining your eyes
The above tips should help us get the best from a single-screen setup. Let’s move on and see how we can boost productivity by adding a second screen.
Adding a second screen
The best advert I can give you for the benefits of having a second screen is summed up by the extended screenshot below, taken from my own desktop. This image shows four quite wide pages side by side with space to spare. This makes for an excellent user experience and has been the perfect way for me to get things done more quickly than ever before.
A view of my two screens – view full-resolution image (4.8MB)
Aligning and positioning screens
It’s important that your eyes are at the same level as the top of your screen(s). There’s a lot more information about how best to sit at your desk on Apple’s Eyes and Vision page.
When using two screens, try your best to keep both at very similar levels, so that your view adjusts easily between them. A pair of good quality stands with adjustable height settings will allow you to equalise the heights of the screens. This adds to the cost but is best for your long-term health – plus you should gain a little storage space underneath the stands.
Here are my general recommendations if you’re looking to buy a second screen:
Making the connection
There are numerous systems for connecting computers to screens. All are categorised by the ports (the physical connection points on the computer and the screen) and the type of cable that connects the ports.
Here are the commonest options:
For completeness, I ought to mention that Apple’s new MacBook laptops now use a USB-C port. This means yet another type of adapter and cable is required to connect these new machines to a second screen (and at around £60, Apple’s official adapter isn’t cheap). The latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops still support Mini DisplayPort/Thunderbolt.
My own choice
There are a number of ways to improve productivity when working with a single screen, but none of these offers the convenience provided by working with a second screen. You don’t need to spend a fortune to get a good quality screen, and the investment should pay for itself in the long term.
What do you think? Have you added a second screen and wished you’d done it a long time ago? Post a comment below or catch up with me on Twitter.
John Espirian is a freelance technical writer with more than 15 years of experience in IT and the web. His services include copywriting, screencasting and editing. John is the internet director of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) and an area group manager of The Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators (ISTC).
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I'm an Advanced Professional Member of the UK's national editorial society. Visit the SfEP website for more information.
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