Dual Monitors...

For years I ran dual monitor configurations on my main PC for gaming and found that the extra space that the second screen afforded me was invaluable, although for some strange reason I never really transferred this logic over to my preferred working environment.  Well actually that's not entirely true, I actually ran two machines, a Windows machine and a Linux machine side by side with each performing different tasks.

Since starting my PhD, one of the first things that I wanted to get setup was a decent laptop for writing and modelling on so that I can literally work anywhere.  My colleagues tell me that I'm 'idea rich' but 'time poor' so I need to be very opportunistic about how I work and write if I'm ever going to stand a chance of getting close to completing my PhD.  Don't get me wrong I still use fountain pens and notebooks a lot too for when I'm just too impatient to wait for things to turn on and boot up...

023:365 - Journal...

I've tinkered and meddled in true engineering fashion and now I think I've got a fairly stable writing environment setup that works for me, I use Scrivener for papers and articles to get the framework of the idea set out and then do the final push in Word 2011 (although a warning to other users disable autosave on the Mac version as it has a habit of killing and corrupting your files).  For my figures and diagrams I flit between OmniGraffle Pro and Visio 2010 Pro.

For referencing I use EndNote x4, I know that it's currently on version x6 but I've got x4 spanning between a Windows environment and a Mac environment using a common database that is shared via dropbox, it works perfectly, and so until someone utters the words "Congratulations Dr Currie you passed your viva with no corrections" I'm not changing it... even if one of the Minogue sisters came round on bended knee begging me to upgrade, it's not happening... if both Minogue sisters turned up simultaneously however I may start to waiver...

But the downside of having a laptop is the limited area that you have to fit in all of these different windows etc on a single screen, of course one of the beauties of a UNIX based system such as MacOS is the different workspaces you can have configured, but sometimes you need everything in one space.

To overcome this I bought a cheapish (£90) 22" monitor with HDMI connection (with a TB to HDMI lead) for my office so that I can have a reference document or EndNote library up and running in the secondary monitor and my writing document in the primary window.  So far it's working well, I'm finding it is making my life a little easier, particularly when I want to merge two documents together into a single document, copying and pasting between the two when writing and combining my lecture notes into larger handouts.  One of the key things to consider though when picking a second monitor is get one with an identical or similar resolution to your primary monitor so it makes moving your cursor between the two painless, if the resolution is different then sometimes the mouse can get caught at the top or the bottom of the screen where the resolutions are just off.

I'm finding that the dual monitor configuration is really helping my writing, I spend a few minutes setting up the documents and then I can throw myself into my writing.  Of course if I find myself on the train or in a coffee shop with half an hour to spare or so I can still write and seize that opportunity to write on my laptop on a single screen, but the dual screens is still my preferred way of writing... there are a few articles kicking about the internet that extoll the virtues of double screen writing and how your productivity will double, I can't vouch for the doubling in productivity but it might just make your life a little easier with your various software packages competing for screen footprint space.



  • Michael Reeve
    October 2, 2012 - 08:15 | Permalink

    I have worked with dual screens for a couple of years now and I can't remember how I managed without!

    I ran a small time/paper saved study to persuade my boss to roll them out to all our engineers. We spend a lot of time creating tolerance stacks, so having two screens flitting between drawing(CAD) and excel is a massive saving in running to and from the printer or wearing out alt-tab keys!

    I calculated a time reduction of approx. 1/3rd over my old way of working. But somehow checking a printed out drawing still reveals mistakes you don't spot on the screen!

  • October 2, 2012 - 09:15 | Permalink

    I can't comment on long form writing (I've not done it since finishing my Masters), but I prefer the dual computers set-up to dual monitors. I use my laptop for design work (so I've got it on the go if need be - case in point, floods in York last week), and my work PC for emails and referring to drawings etc. I find I have much more focus having just one screen with work on it.

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