How to increase productivity with multiple monitors: 3 tips

More employees are using multiple computer monitors to get work done, but experience some common challenges. Here's how to avoid them.

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More workers have adopted extra monitors to pair with their laptops or desktops in recent years, as these devices have increased in quality and decreased in price. But many employees fail to use multiple monitors in a way that actually increases their productivity, according to Eric Wanta, CMO of Zive, inc., maker of Kiwi for Gmail and Kiwi for G Suite.

People with jobs involving large spreadsheets or making comparisons obviously benefit from a multiple-monitor setup, Wanta said. "When the applications start to become more complex and the use cases become more challenging, having everything limited to the browser really limits what you can do from a product UX point of view," he added.

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However, "if you have two screens and on one you have your email and the other you have a Word document, you're not going to get a huge productivity bump, because all you're doing is making everything bigger," Wanta said. "You're not improving the ability to access things."

Here are three tips for increasing your productivity using multiple monitors:

1. Determine how you work

To find out if using more than one monitor is right for you, you must first figure out how you work, and if you are limited by your current screen size, Wanta said.

2. Organize your screens

If you have multiple monitors, try putting the main content or application you need to complete your task on the monitor directly in front of you. Then arrange the other supporting applications that you're using as input or reference to the side.

"I don't think there's any one-size-fits-all solution, but those are common threads to keep in mind in terms of getting the most from the amount of desktop space that you have," Wanta said.

3. Eliminate distractions

Multiple screens allow for multi-tasking, Wanta said. However, they only increase productivity if you are accessing and interacting with items that are all related to the task at hand. Multiple screens decrease productivity when they are used only to keep an eye on multiple things, like social media, email accounts, and stock market tickers while trying to complete a project. "It's a double-edged sword, because sometimes when people have the space, they fill it up," Wanta said.

Having multiple monitors also does not mean needing to see and respond to all requests in real time, Wanta said. Even if you have the screen space to watch all applications at once, users should still snooze notifications when trying to get deeper work done, and respond later. "People who are really productive tend to minimize those email and phone call distractions and schedule time where they deal with incoming requests, unless something is really important," Wanta said. Use email flags and filters to determine which messages are worth paying attention to, he added.

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How IT can help

When it comes to purchasing and implementing multiple monitors, "a lot of times, the IT folks are not the end users--they're more sophisticated in some ways and less knowledgeable in others, because they don't do the same tasks as the people they support," Wanta said. "Sometimes the IT manager or managers in business units will approve a request for a monitor, write the check and hand it off, and assume the worker will know how to use it most efficiently. Some people innately get it and optimize it. Others won't."

IT's responsibility should extend into guiding employees on how to get the most out of multiple monitors, Wanta said. One option might be to find the people who can act as user or subject matter experts, who have optimized their monitors and can show other employees in similar functions how to do so as well, Wanta said.

"That way, the light bulb tends to go on more quickly," Wanta said. "You're not leaving it up to each individual person to connect those dots on their own."

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Image: iStockphoto/Andrey Popov