Dual Windows: Improved Productivity

A long while ago I wrote an article titled, “Wide Screen Display: Productivity Enhancer?” In the post I argue that not all wide displays are equal but one with at least a 1920 x 1200 pixel format can allow you to have dual windows and therefore improve your productivity. So why does having two windows improve your productivity? It’s quite simple: you don’t have to ALT-TAB (on a Windows machine) to switch back and forth from one application to another.

Interruptions When I am conducting market research, I often have all of my market research data open in an Excel spreadsheet in one window with hundreds of rows and columns filled with numbers, charts, tables, etc. In the other window I have Word or FireFox open. I can look at the numbers, trends, charts, etc. on Excel and write about them in Word or FireFox. If I was limited to a single window I would need to go back and forth from Excel to Word/FireFox, constantly pressing ALT-TAB. That takes away my attention from what I am doing (writing) and the window-switching activity briefly and constantly interrupts my stream of thought. Not having to do that greatly improves my productivity.

Q&A I was checking my email as usual and a reader, Michael, sent in a very important question about dual-windowing:

What application would you recommend for managing windows in a dual-window setup?

I use Windows on my work PC and Microsoft has made it very easy to work with dual windows. The operating system has a built-in windows manager that lets you either “Show Windows Stacked” or “Show Windows Side by Side”. This is the wording in Windows Vista. I believe it is a little different in Windows XP but you should be able to find equivalent functions fairly easily. Tips after the break.

Unfortunately I am not aware of a built-in tool that allows you to arrange windows side by side or stacked in OS X. My family uses a Mac mini and Expose is quite useful for bringing a particular window on top of others, but it does not align all the windows.

Tips Let me share with you a few tips that I have learned over the years. These tips are limited to Windows.

  1. Minimize If you have a lot of windows open the best thing to do is to press the Windows key and the letter ‘M’ together to minimize all windows.
  2. Open 2 Windows Then open just two of the windows that you would like to set up in a dual-window format.
  3. Find Empty Space This next step might be a little tricky if you have a lot of windows. Find a blank space in the taskbar. The taskbar is the bar that is on the bottom of Windows and has the infamous ‘Start’ button on the far left. If you have managed to find some blank space on the taskbar, put your mouse pointer there and right click. You should see something like the picture below:

windows_vista_taskbar_rightclick_menu
Now click on “Show Windows Side by Side” and you should see the two windows you had reorganized side by side.

There is one interesting behavior that Windows exhibit when using this feature that will help you manage which window gets to be on the right and which gets to be on the left: the last window that was active (meaning the one you clicked on or the one that was on top of the other) gets to be on the left. If you want to switch it around, just click the window on the right and redo step 3. You should now see the window that was on the right, on the left.

I hope this was helpful to you and thanks Michael for your question! If you have other tips for managing windows please let me know by emailing me or clicking on TIP! on the menu bar on top.

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