Double your monitors for double the fun
If you've ever walked into someone's office where they had more than one monitor set up for their computer, you may have asked, "Why?" Extra monitors can come across as geeky and a bit extravagant. But, if used properly, they can be a huge benefit.
Chances are, you work just fine on a laptop screen or the single monitor connected to your desktop, and that's okay. However, hooking up that second screen can certainly make your workflow more productive. Even with a high-resolution monitor you can only fit, and see, so much information on one screen. By incorporating that second screen, you can easily view multiple items. A simple usage example would be vacation planning. On one screen, you can have an open spreadsheet tracking potential costs. On the other monitor, you can put your web browser that has tabs, or windows, open for each item you're tracking. Rather than switching windows, you can just glance over.
See all the things
We touched on this a bit above, but working with two monitors drastically enhances the amount of information you can see at one given time. If you're working in a spreadsheet, or editing the family vacation movie, combining two monitors gives you more space to expand horizontally. The benefit is that rather than scrolling to see new cells or keep up with editing frames, the screen displays as much as possible. If your monitor has the common resolution of 1366 (horizontal) x 768 (vertical), and you pick up a second monitor of equal resolution, connecting both monitors to your computer will yield a wide resolution of 2732 x 768.
While working, you likely have certain programs always open: email client, web browser, document editor, music software, etc. Some of this is key to work getting done, but some of it doesn't need to be front and center. With a multiple monitor setup, the second display can be utilized to put these quick-look-type software off to the side. Instead of having to switch to your email client, a quick turn of the head can show you what you need to see.
How do I make this work?
If you have an Apple desktop or laptop there should be a miniDisplayPort, Thunderbolt port, HDMI, or DVI port. Using these ports you can add an extra monitor to your MacBook or iMac setup. If you have an iPad you can get a little more creative with Air Display, though it wont be as responsive as a regular monitor.
After you get your monitors hooked up you can adjust how they will work in System Preferences. To get there open System Preferences -> Displays. From there you will be able to adjust the arrangement and resolution for each monitor.
On a Windows laptop there should be an HDMI, DisplayPort, or VGA port. On a Windows desktop, you will need to check the back of the device to see if it has two display ports; sometimes they may be a combination of DisplayPort and DVI or they may just be a single port with a dongle. If you're not seeing multiple ports, you will need to consider purchasing a new video card that provides multiple monitor support. Don't worry, you can find ones for fairly cheap. Optionally, you can use Air Display in Windows too.
To get further control of your monitors in Windows you'll need to head over to the control panel. For Windows 7, open Control Panel -> Adjust the Screen Resolution. In Windows 8, you will need to swipe from the right edge and select Settings -> Devices -> Second screen.
Photo: Sean MacEntee