Doubling Productivity with Two+ Monitors

I believe I’ve doubled my productivity since I joined the two+ monitor club in 2012. 

A good number of tasks can be completed 100%+ faster with two monitors because these tasks require two or more primary windows, and two or more secondary windows. The last thing I want to do is use dressed up terminology, so let’s get these definitions out of the way:

Primary windows – stuff vital to completing “real” work for your job. In most corporate settings, these applications would be Powerpoint, Excel and Word. Re: information sources, I mean a browser window or PDF reader that has some useful information – if you’re in banking, company financials; technology, API documentation; government, a transcript of a Congressional hearing, etc.

Secondary windows – stuff that has to be monitored but isn’t the bread and butter of your job. E-mail and chat are the most obvious examples for me.

I believe the key to being productive with two monitors is centralizing primary windows and moving secondary windows away from the action. The main disadvantage of one monitor is that secondary windows have to be called front and center far too often – how annoying is it to get an Outlook or GMail notification and suddenly have your whole work space occupied by that reminder that there are still donuts in the breakroom? Like Brady reading a blitzing linebacker from his peripheral vantage point, two monitors allow you to sense potentially important distractions (the client wants a table in the presentation with their competitors’ TTM EBITDA) without losing site of the key action (that presentation due by EOD).

With this core concept in mind, I give you my unofficial guide to all the stuff I’ve learned since I joined the two monitor club in 2012:

Internalize your monitor gameplan – this will be the founding vision that guides all future monitor decisions. I have my setup below (excuse the third grade artwork) that is based on the whole centralizing primary and peripheralizing secondary premise:

monitorsFollow the law of 2s – most monitors can only house two windows split vertically. Thus, as shown above, if you have two monitors, it may make sense to divide your work space into four sections and go from there. I do use my left-most section to house up to three separate windows, mainly because email, chat and news don’t require a lot of space.

Move em with ease – Window managers like Spectacle for Mac give you shortcuts for easy splitting and moving. Even for single monitor workflows, I think Spectacle / any manager is useful (I used Spectacle before I had two monitors and use it now that I have two). Windows is actually built out with moving capabilities by default, and Win + <Arrow-Key> will accomplish a lot of the heavy lifting.

Know thy shortcuts – yes, yes, it’s old hat advice but not heeded enough. IMHO, Alt-Tab is really only the tip of the iceberg here. Since so much work is done in the browser nowadays, I think it’s worth knowing some Chrome shortcuts – specifically, moving to the search bar (Alt L), closing tabs (Alt W), opening tabs (Alt T), opening a new window (Alt N) and switching tabs (Cmd-Alt-<Arrow-Key> – note that you may have to customize some shortcuts if you’re on Mac and using the default Spectacle shortcuts, which conflict with Chrome).

So use your multiple monitors wisely. All space isn’t equal; prime real estate in the center should be primary windows, and far left / right is secondary stuff. Know the shortcuts. And that Matt Berry fantasy sleeper special can wait till after work.

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Moving: A Plunge Worth Taking

I’ll tell you from the start, you won’t regret it. It won’t be easy either, but you’ll learn a lot- about yourself and the world around you. It’s different than studying abroad or traveling. It’s a lot like having to walk down that dark, damp, trash-ridden back alley with an unmarked door that leads to the underground casino (Bringing Down the House, anyone?). There’s a chilling sense of the unknown, mixed with spots of opportunity that are hard to notice amidst the constant bullshit.

I relocated out to the San Francisco Bay Area from Boston over 6 months ago. Here’s what I’ve learned so far…

The payoff is in the form of all the new things you slowly gather over time. Going to meet-ups (blog to come on these), being a tourist again and renting a house in Tahoe with 10 people you barely know become defining moments in your post-move era.

You could totally be lazy and go the easy route- stay at home, crack a beer and throw on House of Cards. Yeah, that’s all good sometimes. I’m guilty, and we’re all guilty of not doing enough of this, no matter where you live.

My good friend, Richie, recently moved out here as well. He brings the best attitude to immersing himself in whatever’s in front of him. He says he’s just shameless about inviting himself to things and getting involved. As in life, as in sales, as in baseball- you’ve got to swing if you want to hit it.  Doors will open the more you turn the knob.

I’d known for a while that I wanted to move and live somewhere else for a few years. I wanted to be able to say, I’ve lived in another city, or two. The hardest part though, was taking the plunge and making it happen. I have family, friends in Boston – my roots. It wasn’t easy.  But in due time, I know I’ll be back in Beantown. For now, I’m learning, growing, reshaping myself, even falling once in a while and couldn’t be happier about the journey.  And if Will Hunting had enough apples to do it, then you do too! There’s no better Spanish word that sums up why you should while you’re young than YOLO.

Now, here’s an overview of the useful stuff I found during the process that you can reuse and will hopefully make for the smoothest transition.

Moving: How to Stay Sane and Not Break the Bank

         U-Haul’s U Box: First, throw away all your shit. Seriously. Anything that you have to think twice about, throw it away. You won’t think about it ever again and will help you trim costs. For those big furniture items and can’t leave behinds, U-Haul has these beastly cargo boxes they’ll ship for you. Honestly, they’re huge and pretty expensive so only worth it if you are moving with other people, have a TON of shit or have a TON of money laying around…or didn’t listen to my first point. What I did like about them was the flexible options and the seamless experience.

         Hotel Tonight: Last minute hotels. If you’re driving you’ll probably have a skeletal itinerary, however things always come up. Double check all the booking conditions and options you get when booking your hotel itinerary.  Hotel tonight definitely came in handy for us one night when we got ahead of schedule and kept going on past Nashville. Worth book marking..

         Audible/Podcasts- Depending on how far you’re going this could become essential.  Music will last you a few hours, but quickly begins to sound like mush. Ben and I have both become big listeners as it’s a perfect intellectually stimulating use of your commuting time. For such a long ride, there’s no reason not to carve out some time for books and podcast. I crushed The Art of Racing in the Rain (a story of a race car driver told from the voice of his dog),  How to Make Friends and Influence People (Would recommend reading beforehand), When to Rob a Bank (newest Freakonomics book) the entire Serial podcast and much much more.  These were my choices. We make some solid podcast recommendations as well in our intellect section, if you haven’t seen them already. Do yourself a favor and listen up!

         Finances: If you want to be able to look back and tell the story of hopping on a plane with a twenty in your pocket- by all means. In our humble opinion, life is ALL about taking risks! However, we prefer taking calculated risks. You want to make sure you plan ahead. Do you have a job lined up? No? That’s fine, but make sure you can cover rent for a few months. Moving is way more expensive than you imagine, so make sure to cushion your budgets. Know where you’re going. I foolishly moved to  the most expensive area in the US…make sure to account for that sort of stuff. And lastly, think about how often you want to go home…Thanksgiving, Christmas (Channukah?), July 4th…etc. Know now that everyone else also wants to go home when you really want to go home. Flights from anywhere to anywhere will be 2x or possibly more expensive during these peaks. A great app to check out is Hopper  (Hahhpaah?!). It won’t help you find a cheap flight for Thanksgiving, but it will show you the cheapest times to fly between two places over a year’s time. It sounds so simple, but you really can’t see this data anywhere else on the web. It’s amazing when searching any travel, especially if you want to know the best weekends to sneak a trip home.

          Renting: This totally depends on where you’re moving to, your budget and comfort level. I’ve heard great things about people finding amazing places and people to live with through Craigslist. Hell, my roommates replaced me with a Craigslister from Dutch-Land! My advice: do your research and come prepared to close if you want it. If it’s good, chances are you’re not the only one. Trulia as well as Craigslist now have super easy apps to use. Trulia gives some decent data on neighborhoods, but the focus is more for buying. For real knowledge and help specifically for people relocating, definitely check out Jumpshell. These boys are taking the status quo and obliterating it and shitting out a golden nugget of info for just you to eat. If you’re moving to a new city, they will learn what you’re looking for and set you up with a real-estate agent that will actually take care of you – because they get rated. Just like everything these days. Transparency or bust!

         Updater: Updater helps you transfer your utilities, update accounts and records, forward mail, and such. This is the last shit you want to do as it’s so tedious, but super important. I didn’t know about this when I moved, but definitely wish I did and will use this when I move next. Ben also interviewed there and speaks very highly of the engineering team.