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Computers are essential for productivity in almost every profession — we use them to write, send email, work on spreadsheets, do our banking, and just about everything else. Which is why it can be really beneficial to have a large screen — or even multiple monitors 6 Ways to Set Up Dual Monitors to Be More Productive 6 Ways to Set Up Dual Monitors to Be More Productive Read More  — to work with.

But not everyone has the luxury to use a ton of monitor space. What can you do to stay productive on a small screen?

Get Good at Switching Apps and Windows

Generally, when you’re working on a small screen, you’ll only have enough room to view one application at a time, so using alt+tab Get More from Windows 7 ALT+TAB App Switching: Tricks You Didn't Know About Get More from Windows 7 ALT+TAB App Switching: Tricks You Didn't Know About There’s more to Alt+Tab than just pressing Alt+Tab to switch between windows. There are a variety of hidden keyboard shortcuts that make the Alt+Tab switcher quicker and easier to use. There are also ways to... Read More (or command+tab on a Mac) to switch applications is an important one. Although command+tab doesn’t let you cycle through individual windows of the same app, you can use command+` (that’s the tilde button, in the top-left corner of the MacBook keyboard) to do the same thing.

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You can also use a number of third-party applications that will help you manage your windows: Witch, for example, is a Mac app that quickly shows you a list of open windows in each app and lets you use keyboard shortcuts to quickly get to the one you want. An app called Switcher lets you customize your app-switching views in Windows 8.1.

Use Window Space Efficiently

We’ve covered a number of tools in the past that help you manage the windows in your Windows workspace 5 Little Desktop Apps You Should Check If You Multitask 5 Little Desktop Apps You Should Check If You Multitask Read More  before: KDE Window Resizer and Power Resizer for resizing your windows, DeskTopMost to get at the desktop without losing your application windows, Window Hider to hide windows, and WindowTabs for creating stacks of tabbed windows all help you get your apps set up so that they’re easily accessible when you need them.

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A similar application for OS X is Moom, an app we’ve reviewed before Manage Your Mac Windows Efficiently With Moom Manage Your Mac Windows Efficiently With Moom One of the clumsiest things to do on Mac OS X is Windows management. I don't usually look back on my Windows years with longing, but window management has been integrated far less sloppier on... Read More , which gives you a number of keyboard shortcuts for moving and resizing windows; with just a few taps you can have your desktop set up as you like it.

Set Up Workspaces

Having all of your open apps in the same place can make for a very crowded screen, which is why setting up multiple workspaces can be so useful. You can keep all of your work-related windows in one workspace, your music and video in another, and your social media in a third. Or you could use one for browsers, one for the text editors, and one for other apps. There are many possible ways to put workspaces to use.

Macs have a built-in function for using multiple workspaces How To Organize Your Mac Desktop With Spaces How To Organize Your Mac Desktop With Spaces Read More called, fittingly, Spaces. You can create up to sixteen different workspaces by zooming to Mission Control (F3 on a MacBook keyboard) and clicking the plus sign in the top-right corner of the screen. To switch between spaces, slide left or right with four fingers on the track pad or use control+[arrow key].

Dexpot, which we’ve covered before, is an app that lets you get the same functionality in Windows. It creates a number of virtual desktops Expand Your Desktop Workspace With Dexpot - Cool Virtual Desktop Software [Windows] Expand Your Desktop Workspace With Dexpot - Cool Virtual Desktop Software [Windows] I was talking to one of my friends, who is an avid Linux user. He told me that one of the Linux features he simply can’t do without is "virtual desktops". I can now tell... Read More , allowing you to move windows between those desktops and quickly switch between them. BetterDesktopTool does the same thing.

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Some apps have their own ability to create workspaces as well. Some Adobe products, including Photoshop and Illustrator, allow you to save and move between workspaces that are best set up for accomplishing certain tasks. I’m sure there are other apps that allow you to do this — if you know one, leave it in the comments!

Distraction Free with Full-Screen Apps

In contrast to app switchers and learning to move between your windows as quickly as possible, using full-screen apps will help you stay focused on the task at hand. Scrivener and its composition mode is one of my favorite ways to write, as it allows me to set a background image that I find conducive to writing, and that’s all that I can see — and don’t forget about the other ways Scrivener can improve your writing workflow Power Up Your Writing Workflow: Make Better Use Of Scrivener Power Up Your Writing Workflow: Make Better Use Of Scrivener When it comes to getting a research paper, ebook or novel completed, Scrivener can help you stay organized and motivated — that is, if you know how to use some of its best features. Read More .

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Most email apps, including Airmail, the best email app for OS X The Search for the Perfect Mac Desktop Gmail Client The Search for the Perfect Mac Desktop Gmail Client Need a desktop client for Gmail on your Mac? We put ten to the test. Read More , have full-screen modes available that will keep you focused on dealing with email and keep you from getting distracted on Twitter. Windows’ OmmWriter creates a distraction-free writing environment Meet Your Writing Deadlines In A Distraction-Free Writing Environment With OmmWriter Meet Your Writing Deadlines In A Distraction-Free Writing Environment With OmmWriter OmmWriter is a writing application for Windows, Mac, and the iPad. It is based on the philosophy that in order to concentrate and be creative, we need a calm and largely distraction-free surrounding. Unfortunately, our... Read More , and the NextGen RSS feed reader helps you focus on your feeds How to Use Google Reader, Metro-Style, With Nextgen [Windows 8] How to Use Google Reader, Metro-Style, With Nextgen [Windows 8] Add a beautiful, Metro-style Google Reader app to Windows 8. If you like your reading experience to be clean, quick and smooth – and you're a recent convert to Windows 8 – this is the... Read More .

Again, there are plenty of apps that go full-screen to keep you focused; let us know what your favorites are in the comments!

Hide Menu Bars and Docks

When you’re working on a small screen, especially if you have to work with more than one app visible, you need all the room you can get. Windows’ taskbar has an auto-hide feature that you can turn on through the Control Panel (go to Appearance and Personalization > Taskbar and Start Menu > Taskbar appearance, and check on Auto-hide the taskbar). Now when you don’t need it, it’s not there taking up space.

The same thing can be done with the OS X dock by going into System Preferences / Dock > then selecting Automatically hide and show the Dock.

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You can also use an app called Menu Eclipse to make the menu bar less intrusive, though because it takes up less space and can house a lot of useful things, it might not be as useful. If you get distracted by all of the icons in your menu bar, though, you can use Bartender to clean everything up and minimize distractions An Easy Way To Tidy Up Your Menu Bar With Bartender Beta [Mac] An Easy Way To Tidy Up Your Menu Bar With Bartender Beta [Mac] The menu bar of Mac computers has become, for many power users, nearly as crowded and used as items in the Dock. Besides the default items that appear in the menu bar - including Spotlight,... Read More .

Launch with The Keyboard

On a desktop computer, you can have a window or two open and still have room to see some commonly launched apps or files on your desktop. On a small screen, you’re more limited, and you’ll probably be using the file browser more often to find what you’re looking for. Instead of navigating your way through folders, however, you can use apps that find and launch programs and files from the keyboard.

OS X has Spotlight built in, which can be launched with command+space. Just type in what you’re looking for —once you’ve found it, pressing enter will launch it (you can use the arrow keys to navigate search results). The Alfred app does the same and can help you be more productive with Mac workflows 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows To Make You More Productive 6 Amazing Alfred Workflows To Make You More Productive Now that users and developers are able to extend Alfred's capabilities by adding their own workflows, calling it an 'application launcher' seems a bit limiting. Read More . It is the go-to choice for many.

Launchbar 6 is another great option as an alternative for Spotlight Go Way Beyond Apple's Spotlight With LaunchBar 6 for Mac Go Way Beyond Apple's Spotlight With LaunchBar 6 for Mac Spotlight and Alfred not cutting it? LaunchBar puts applications, web searches and a whole load of functions at your fingertips while you type. Read More . The video above compares the two.

Similar functionality on Windows comes with Launchy, a free app that will allow you to launch programs and files from the keyboard How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher How To Be More Productive with Launchy Program Launcher Read More . It can be customized with a number of plug-ins, making it even more useful.

Executor and Keybreeze will give you a lot of the same functionality with a few tweaks in performance.

How Do You Stay Productive on Small Screens?

Laptops are great for getting things done on the go, but the small screens can be limiting. Fortunately, with a few shortcuts, a couple apps, and some proper organization, you can make your small screen just as useful as a large one. Nothing will get you quite as much space as a good dual monitor setup, but these strategies are a good start!

Do you find working on a small screen to be limiting? What do you do to make sure you can access all of the things you need quickly and easily? Which apps do you like to use on your laptop to make things easier? Share your thoughts below!

Image Credits: Woman working on laptop (edited) via Shutterstock.

  1. carson
    February 19, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    Get one of the programs that makes windows 8 just like 7 There are some free ones that are suppose to be good But this one I'm giving you a link to is only $5 and it has a free trial.Once you get it set up which is very easy you won't care if you have windows 7.Don't forget to turn of all those dumb apps.

    • Dann Albright
      February 22, 2015 at 5:06 pm

      Sorry, I'm not very familiar with Windows 7 and 8—is there better window / virtual desktop management in 7?

  2. Lucy
    February 13, 2015 at 7:28 am

    Using a software program called...forget the name of it to manage all the software together.
    For personal information,using a software program called EfficientPIM (www.efficientpim.com) to manage notes, tasks, contacts etc together instead of using notepad, excel separately.

    • Dann Albright
      February 13, 2015 at 7:33 am

      I've never used a PIM before . . . looks interesting! EfficientPIM looks like a good way to manage a lot of things on a small screen, too. If you think of the name of the other piece of software, please share it!

      Thanks for your comment!

  3. Craig Newstrom
    February 12, 2015 at 6:15 am

    Nice article - Thanks! I use virtual desktops on OSX, Linux and Windows. You get a lot more bang for your buck regardless of your screen size. For a great Windows virtual desktop manager head over to SourceForge and check out VituaWin. It's lightweight and very powerful!

    • Dann Albright
      February 12, 2015 at 10:43 am

      Thanks for the tip on VituaWin—sounds like it could be a really useful tool! Virtual desktops are a great way to get some more space out of a small screen. What do you use on the other systems?

    • Craig Newstrom
      February 12, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      It's VirtuaWin (not VituaWin as I put in my original post). On OSX I use Spaces and on Linux desktops like Gnome or KDE I have found the built-in virtual desktop managers to work just fine.

    • Dann Albright
      February 12, 2015 at 6:44 pm

      You know, I thought it was probably "VirtuaWin," but I didn't take the time to look it up. :-)

      I use Spaces all the time, and I love it. If I ever go back to Windows or switch to Linux, I'll definitely be looking to use the same functionality. Thanks for those recommendations!

  4. Mike Pullen
    February 10, 2015 at 10:32 pm

    Spectacle is an open-source app for OS X that appears to do what Moom does, and more-- including moving windows between multiple displays. Our teaching staff use it to shift windows between Macbook and Projector screens. It's available at spectacleapp.com...

    • Dann Albright
      February 11, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Cool! The ability to move windows between multiple displays is really useful, especially as I often use Duet to use my iPad as a second display.

      Thanks for the tip!

  5. Daniel
    February 10, 2015 at 9:29 pm

    As a free and open source alternative to Scrivener, you could also try FocusWriter, a neat little distraction-free word processor that is lightweight and has high customizability.

    http://gottcode.org/focuswriter/

    • Dann Albright
      February 11, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      While it doesn't look like it can replace the awesome functionality of Scrivener, it does looks like a great way to stay focused while writing. I'll have to give this a try when I don't need all the power that Scrivener provides.

      Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Andy
    February 10, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    When writing code according to a UML class diagram on a small screen I use sublime text which I keep partly transparent and have the diagram in the background so I just don't have to switch windows all the times but just "concentrate" on another "layer".
    Works quite well.

    • Dann Albright
      February 11, 2015 at 2:18 pm

      That sounds like a really great idea! I've never used Sublime Text, but I love the idea of being able to use it without totally obscuring the background. TextMate, the app I use for text processing, has some slightly transparent themes, but none that are quite see-through enough to be very useful. Maybe I'll check out Sublime.

      Thanks for the tip!

    • Lee
      February 12, 2015 at 2:14 am

      If you like Vim, you could have your terminal transparent and choose a color scheme that adopts the terminal background as well.

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