More screens, more productivity

Using multiple monitors is a means of maximizing both space and productivity.

If your desktop is only connected to one or two screens, you’re not taking full advantage of the tools available to you and you’re not being as productive as you could be. Using multiple monitors is the digital-age equivalent of spreading out a series of pages on your desk, or flipping through several file folders to find the information you need, only with the ability to navigate much more quickly. Plus, in this day of close quarters and cubicles, monitors secured onto a single multimonitor stand (some can hold six or more screens) is a means to both maximizing space and optimizing your productive output. This is not about being a techno-geek; it’s about catching up with the times and being as efficient as possible.

Operating in a one-screen environment is fine if you’re just sending and replying to email, watching a video or undertaking any other single-action objective. One or even two screens simply aren’t enough when you’re in production mode and you’re uploading multiple comparative documents, supporting working papers and emails in order to prepare financial statements and tax returns. Think about the number of documents you’re navigating between. Now imagine how much easier the process would be if each document appeared on its own monitor and you could quickly glance at an adjacent location to access what you need when you need it. The cost for this convenience: about $200 per 22-inch monitor.

According to a survey commissioned by Fujitsu and conducted by the German technology research institute Fraunhofer IAO, productivity jumps 35.5% when you go from one to three displays. In my view, in order for a CPA to be truly productive in the digital world, you need at least four monitors connected to your desktop (I use seven). This is true whether you are in public practice or a CFO in industry.

It is also true when you are on the road visiting clients. Portable screens are available for your notebook. They cost about $140, weigh less than two pounds and do not need a power adapter or video port because they plug into a USB port. If you travel with an external USB port hub, you can have as many portable monitors as you can carry. Simple and completely mobile.

Here’s a quick guide to working in a multiple-monitor world:

  • Start with making sure your main monitor is centred to your body. This is where your primary work will take place. Then think about where it’s most comfortable for you to access your comparison information: right, left or up? Arrange your monitors accordingly.
  • You can open the same document on multiple screens, which allows you to have different areas of the document displayed so you can easily find the information you need. All changes are made on all locations.
  • Two monitors stacked vertically allow for continuous scrolling of up to four pages at a time, making it possible to see both the main body of a document as well as accompanying notes.
  • Opt for a 22-inch or 24-inch widescreen monitor. The viewable area mimics the space used by two 8.5- x 11-inch pieces of paper placed side by side.
  • Consider having one monitor dedicated to administrative functions. This is the equivalent of a planner/calendar/Rolodex/calculator in the paper world.

Navigating in the paper world is achieved by spreading documents across your desk. In the electronic world, there are plenty of ways to open up multiple locations of the same document to work smarter. It’s not geeky to have multiple monitors. It’s productive.