How to Effectively use a Single Monitor

Published 2020-03-27

Many people I know love working with multiple monitors. Personally, I’m not a huge fan. The only times I find myself using a second monitor are when I’m on a video conference (or watching a video) and want to keep working while I listen. Other than that, I’m generally a single-monitor user.

I feel like using a single monitor helps keep me focused. Instead of moving my head left and right between monitors, I use keyboard shortcuts to quickly switch windows on my screen. With many people working from home these days, I imagine many don’t have the space for two monitors anyways.

Here are some tricks I use to make the most of my single monitor:

Virtual Desktops

I use virtual desktops the way many people use multiple monitors. In Windows, you can press "win+tab" to view all your windows, and at the top you’ll see a list of virtual desktops. Press the "+" sign to create as many as you need.

Switching between virtual desktops is fast and easy: hold the "ctrl" and "win" keys down, and press left or right to move between desktops. If you’re not already comfortable with the “alt+tab” keyboard shortcut, then I highly recommend mastering it to quickly switch between windows.

Split the Screen

The most common justification I hear for two monitors is: “I need to see two documents side-by-side.” For most cases there’s a simple alternative: Split Screen. In fact, I would argue that split screen is better than two monitors, since the two documents can be placed closer together (or even overlapping!) to make side-by-side comparisons even easier.

In Windows I use "win+left" and "win+right" all the time for this purpose. That keyboard shortcut will automatically size a window to occupy the left or right half of your screen respectively.

Invest in a Good Monitor

In my home office, I use a 27” Dell LED monitor. Not all 27” monitors are created equal. Consider getting a high-quality monitor and not the cheapest one possible. And definitely consider getting one high-quality monitor over two low-quality monitors.

Your Laptop is your Second Monitor

My laptop is my primary work machine. I have docking stations at work and at home, so I just plug in and start working wherever I am. Usually my laptop’s screen is turned off while I’m plugged into the docking station. For the few situations where I want a second monitor, I simply turn that screen on.

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