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How To Streamline Your Law Practice by Using Multiple Monitors

multiple monitors 1Using more than one monitor at your desktop workstation was once considered to be a luxury for hard-core gamers and graphic designers. However, since the implementation of the flat-panel monitor, valuable real estate on your desk has opened up. Combined with rapidly falling prices for desktop monitors, and it’s the perfect time for you to upgrade your desktop with another monitor.

But that second monitor isn’t just a status symbol. It’ll most likely improve your efficiencyby as much as 50% when performing certain tasks – and it’ll save you time. Did you know that when you switch between programs on your computer using Alt+Tab, not only do you have to wait for that new window to load, your brain actually experiences a short delay as both it and your eyes readjust. Over the course of a day, you lose a considerable amount of time, potentially measurable in hours, due to those delays.

So instead of wasting your time on non-billable tasks, you can be providing actual legal counsel to your clients, or spending some valuable time with your friends and family. Or drinking and watching the game. Who am I to judge?

But before you run out and get a second monitor, check out these tips on How to Streamline Your Law Practice by Using Multiple Monitors:

1) First, make sure your computer (and desk) supports multiple monitors.

“Measure twice, cut once.”

Before you even begin shopping for  your glorious new monitor setup, you have to know what you’ve got to work with. The ideal size for today’s computer monitors is likely to be in the range of 20-24 inches (screen size). (For reference, this ASUS 24″ widescreen display has a total width of just over 22 inches.) Measure your desk to find out how much room you have. If you don’t have enough space to use two monitors side-by-side, consider going with one extra-wide monitor instead.

You should also make sure that your computer is designed to support multiple monitors. Pretty much all desktop computers will have this capability built in to the video card. However, for those of you using a laptop plugged into a docking station, it’s possible – although still rather uncommon – that your system will not support multiple monitors. If that’s the case, I strongly recommend purchasing a new computer. Preferably one from the decade we currently occupy. (Also, see this article for instructions on setting up multiple monitors in Windows 8.)

2) Get two identical monitors.

multiple monitors 2Why does it matter if the monitors are identical? A monitor is a monitor, right?

Wrong. Using different monitors creates a situation, inevitably, where the displays of the respective monitors are somewhat different. Between total screen size, aspect ratio, pixel size, and bezel thickness, there are a lot of ways that monitors can be different. Amazingly, these little differences can really impact your productivity. One author actually recommends buying all your monitors at the same time, just to avoid this issue.

The impact may be minor, but efficiency is about adding up the seconds you save throughout the day. Monitors of different sizes won’t match up evenly. If one screen has a much lower pixel density than the other, your eyes will actually have to take time to adjust when you look between screens. Don’t believe me? Try plugging in a desktop monitor as a second screen for your laptop. If one has lower pixel density, switching back and forth forces your eyes to re-focus. It’s also pretty annoying when your eyes start getting strained.

3) Make sure your monitors are adjustable.

One of the reasons that multiple monitors boost efficiency is their adaptability. It’s important that your multi-screen setup can be adjusted for different situations. One day, you’ll need two screens lined up right next to each other, essentially serving as one screen. But in the afternoon, you may need one primary screen for writing, another with source documents. Other times, you just need one screen.

The ideal arrangement for multiple monitors is where they can be adjusted to adapt to your needs. The most adaptable setup relies on two separate factors: relative position and  orientation.

multiple monitors 3To address your monitors’ relative position, I strongly recommend using an adjustable support arm or monitors with VESA Mounting support. These systems allow you to adjust the position, angle, rotation, and height of your monitors. To understand how important the relative position of your monitors can be, check out this article discussing the different ideal monitor height for people with and without bifocal glasses.

The ability to adjust the orientation of your monitors, while not nearly as necessary for your multiple monitor setup, will likely be very helpful for attorneys. Do you routinely use your second monitor to display documents that have traditional 8.5 x 11″ orientation? multiple monitors 4Imagine how helpful it would be if you could turn your monitor on its side and review the document in considerably larger font. That’s what adaptability of orientation does for you. (Check out PC World’s recent review of three monitors designed to rotate into “portrait” view.)

4) The “little” things really make a difference.

So you’ve now got your perfect multi-screen system set up on your desk, arranged just how you want it. Here are a couple tips that can dramatically improve your experience:

Make sure your operating system is set to a mode optimized for multiple monitors. The visual settings on both Windows and Mac devices are designed to provide smooth operation of a multi screen system, with some helpful shortcuts for switching displays or docking various programs. However, there are also a number of third-party programs that allow you to operate a multi screen system even more easily.

Also, make sure that your system’s mouse settings are optimized for multi screen use. By enabling “mouse acceleration,” you significantly increase the speed of your on-screen cursor when fast mouse swipes are detected, allowing you to move the cursor from one screen to another much more quickly. I also recommend enabling the option that shows the location of your cursor when you press the CTRL key.

5) Don’t fall into bad habits.

Remember, it’s always possible to take a good thing and use it poorly. Just because you have multiple monitors doesn’t mean that every use you put them to will actually increase your efficiency. Sure, they’re awesome for reviewing documents while having a brief or pleading open on the other screen, but you’re doing yourself no favors if you only use your second screen to display your Outlook email or your Twitter page.

If you use your second screen as a sort-of zero-click access to distractions, be prepared to watch your productivity plummet. Sam Glover at the Lawyerist had an excellent suggestion: if you’re using a second screen to display something you think you might want to have visible at all times, it’ll only serve as a distraction. Despite what my generation so firmly believes, “[t]here is no such thing as multitasking.

Have good or bad experiences with a multiple monitor setup? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.

Photo credit: creecher94 / Foter.com / CC BY