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So you set your Mac up with a second monitor, which was really exciting – but now you’ve no idea what to do with all that space. It’s a first world problem, sure, but if you’re wondering how to get more out of your multi-monitor setup here are a few thoughts and ideas

Research On One Screen, Output On The Other

Most of us have jobs that require us to, at some point, gather information and act on it – it’s just part of what working on a computer means. Once upon a time this meant having a paper information source on your desk alongside your computer, but these days your research is more likely to be happening online.

On one monitor, this can get annoying quickly: you’re constantly switching between the app you’re working in and the information you need to do that work. With multiple monitors, though, all you need to do is turn your head.

It’s for this reason that I usually have a browser window open on one monitor, and whatever I’m writing on the other. Obviously this is because I’m a writer, but I think the pattern applies to most people’s work – a programmer, for example, would have specifications and documentation on one screen and the current project on the other.

If you’re not sure what to do with your second monitor, try this first.

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Use A Screen Entirely For Communications

It’s probably not a good idea to look at email constantly Can't Put Off Email Every Morning? Try This Ritual Instead Can't Put Off Email Every Morning? Try This Ritual Instead Starting your day the email way is regularly put down – even though most of us do it. Is checking email after waking up really so bad? Read More , or to be in touch with the world while you’re working. For some jobs, though, it’s necessary: clients expect quick responses. If you’ve got a second monitor you’re not sure what to do with, use one to keep tabs on your communication situation.

The site I write for uses Slack for group communication Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Slack Makes Group Communication Faster and Easier Group emails can really kill productivity. It's time to put mail clients to rest and use collaboration services like newly launched Slack. Read More , and I also try to stay on top of email during the day. For me, a communcations monitor would look like this:

For you it might look different: for example, you might do most of your chatting using Facebook. If that’s the case, I recommend using Current for Mac so you can chat outside the timeline Chat Outside The Browser With Current, A Facebook App For Mac Chat Outside The Browser With Current, A Facebook App For Mac Sick of opening Facebook in your browser, just to use chat? Current for Facebook is a Mac app that brings your favourite social network to the OS X desktop. Read More .

Of course, you could also just set up Messages to work with Facebook chat How To See And Respond To Facebook IMs in Messages for Mac How To See And Respond To Facebook IMs in Messages for Mac Love Facebook chat, but don't want to leave Facebook open for fear of entire days disappearing? Here's how to integrate Facebook's chat service with Messages.app and more. Read More , if you’d rather not buy an app for the job.

The apps you use don’t matter, what does is the idea: using one monitor to stay on top of communications, so you can keep working (and focused) on the other one.

Keep Tabs On Particular Information

Some jobs require that you stay up-to-the-minute on particular pieces of information. For example: if you buy and trade stocks you might need to monitor prices constantly.

So having an app like Stock + on one monitor is a good idea. If social networks are more you’re thing, of course, you might prefer Tweetdeck. Again, the apps don’t matter: just use one display to keep track of information, and another to do your work.

Use A Dedicated Widget Display

Widgets, it seems, are a dying breed: Apple is working on making the Dashboard irrelevant These Notification Centre Widgets Make Dashboard Irrelevant These Notification Centre Widgets Make Dashboard Irrelevant The Dashboard is dying. Most users ignore it, and not many developers are building things for it. Replace all of your Mac's Dashboard widgets using the new Today view in Yosemite. Read More , and iGoogle died a long time ago. Just because widgets are less popular now doesn’t mean they’re useless. In recent versions of OS X, you can turn the widget into a dedicated Space that stays open.

Head to System Prefrences > Mission Control to change this setting:

We’ve pointed out Dashboard widgets you’ll actually use 11 Mac Dashboard Widgets You'll Actually Use 11 Mac Dashboard Widgets You'll Actually Use How long has it been since you used your Mac's Dashboard? If you're like most users, it's been a long time – and that's too bad. Read More ; odds are you can probably combine them to make an screen full of useful information. You can then, as outlined in the above section, keep tabs on this information throughout the day.

If you’d prefer not to use the dashboard, you can also turn any Dashboard widget into a dedicated Mac app Turn Any Mac Dashboard Widget Into Its Own App Turn Any Mac Dashboard Widget Into Its Own App You probably haven't used Dashboard in years, but there is that one widget you wish you could just turn into an app. Guess what? You can! Read More .

Myself, I prefer to avoid Dashboard entirely and use Übersicht’s beautiful widgets Add Beautiful Widgets To Your Mac Desktop With Übersicht Add Beautiful Widgets To Your Mac Desktop With Übersicht Übersicht aims to replace the likes of Geektool, letting you add the output of any console command to your desktop – formatted with HTML5. Read More instead. These are drawn directly on your laptop, meaning you can see them in combination with any other

It’s a bit of work to set up, but it’s entirely worth it.

Business On One Screen, Party On The Other

Working late sucks, but a little bit of a diversion can make it that much better. When I’m stuck working after 5 pm, I like to use one monitor to watch a hockey game while I wrap up my work on the other. I can watch the game out of the corner of my eye, and turn my head to watch when something exciting happens. It’s not productivity central, but it gets me through that final stretch.

Or, if you’re done with work entirely, you could just play a game on one screen while watching something on the other. Embrace your ADD – your workday is done, after all.

Assign Specific Apps To A Monitor

Here’s a tip you might not know: you can actually assign apps to launch on a particular monitor. On the dock, right-click the icon of any app then hover over “Options”. You’ll see the option to assign the app to a particular monitor:

If you use a particular app exclusively on a particular monitor, this can save you the time of dragging it from one screen to the other.

Just Put It Away

If you don’t find any of these suggestions useful, I’ve got another piece of advice entirely: put that second monitor away. You don’t need it. It’s wasting space on your desk, it’s wasting energy, and it’s wasting your time (you just read an entire article in an attempt to justify your second monitor’s existence!).

Of course, I could be wrong. That happens (a lot). If there’s any use for a second monitor I’ve overlooked here, please fill me and your fellow readers in using the comment form below. I’m looking forward to hearing from you!

What do you use your Mac’s second monitor for?

Images: Chance Reecher Via Flickr, BJ, ????? (Last Train Man) (moogs)

  1. Jan Peterson
    February 1, 2015 at 9:28 pm

    I'm a devops engineer for a large hosting provider. I'm constantly spinning up terminal windows. The CLI is my friend!

  2. Jan Peterson
    February 1, 2015 at 4:47 am

    I use two external monitors plus my laptop's built-in display at work. Like you, I put communications apps (e-mail, IRC, and other chat-related apps) on one screen while the other is the home of several web browsers. I also use iTerm a lot, and there are terminal windows scattered across both external monitors. My laptop's display, meanwhile, is the home of Radiant Player (my music player) so I can glance at the playlist any time something good comes along. It might also be used for terminal windows, but not ones I'm actively typing in.

    For me, having multiple monitors definitely increases my productivity.

    • Justin Pot
      February 1, 2015 at 3:21 pm

      Sounds like a great setup! Could I ask what you do for a living, with all those iTerm windows?

      Radiant player looks nice.

  3. Flint
    January 30, 2015 at 3:48 am

    Work on one monitor - party on the other - wouldn't that be called the mullet setup? ????

    • Justin Pot
      January 30, 2015 at 4:22 pm

      It would indeed!

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