Email and two-monitor setups


in Economics, Geek stuff, Internet matters

Concrete underpass, Ottawa

One thing I have discovered at work is how pleasant it is to have a monitor devoted exclusively to email. For me, email has become the central clearinghouse for virtually all information and action items. To remind myself of something, I send an email from my phone. I also track emails by applying ‘@Pending’ and ‘@Waiting For’ labels to them. Email can also be searched instantly, unlike having to search separately through blog posts, comments, wiki entries, document files, etc.

Having a second monitor exclusively for email is qualitatively different from having a window open, or even having a second desktop devoted to email use. This is because it is glanceable – you can check almost instantly and with minimal distraction whether anything new has come up. It is also easy to shift information from one screen to another: making reference to a document or website in a message, or adding information from an email to a website, calendar, etc. With a dedicated monitor, email never gets buried or left unnoticed for too long.

Much as I appreciate the 24″ screen on my iMac, I suspect I will eventually go for a two-monitor setup at home. Arguably, such a setup is a mark of excess. That being said, when your entire life is coordinated through computers, it is perhaps an acceptable area in which to devote resources (including a share of your direct and embedded greenhouse gas emissions).

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

R.K. November 23, 2009 at 11:49 am

[W]hen your entire life is coordinated through computers, it is perhaps an acceptable area in which to devote resources (including a share of your direct and embedded greenhouse gas emissions).

Al Gore has three monitors, plus a TV, and heaps of printed materials.

mek November 24, 2009 at 1:54 am

Once you go two-monitor, you can never go back. Even from a strictly professional perspective, the ability to have several documents accessed at once is invaluable. I like to dedicate one monitor to notes/email and the other will be Office/Excel documents I am working on.

When you realize you can use two monitors to play video games and watch TV at the same time, then you’re really in trouble.

Milan November 24, 2009 at 8:33 am

One frustrating thing is how Excel refuses to open spreadsheets in separate windows: it only allows you to nest multiple windows inside one larger frame.

That makes it impossible to have one sheet elegantly displayed on one monitor, and the other equally nicely displayed on the other.

This problem doesn’t exist for Word documents.

Matt November 24, 2009 at 1:20 pm

I’m typing this from a two monitor setup at work:

I sometimes wonder if having one extra widescreen monitor would be the same as two physical monitors. Other than the fact I angle them somewhat relative to each other, I don’t see why it couldn’t be. Windows 7 has a nice feature that allows you to maximize a window perfectly to half the screen. This could be useful on an extra widescreen monitor.

mek November 24, 2009 at 7:42 pm

Excel’s failure to allow multiple windows is one of the more perplexing MS “features”, to be sure. But to give them credit, XP and on made configuring multiple-monitors setups completely painless.

My other major complaint is that fullscreening a streaming video will be broken by a mouseclick on a different monitor – this is Flash’s fault, apparently.

Cost-wise, using 2-3 average sized monitors is much more practical than one huge one. Hardware failure is proportionately less debilitating. You can also turn them off when they are not in use.

Milan November 25, 2009 at 11:04 am

I think the advantage of physically seperate monitors is a bit like the advantage of a physical keyboard over an on-screen keyboard: because things are always in the same place, you can check them instantly without needing to think about where they will be.

As such, I think an email-only monitor is probably preferable to an email half on an extra-wide monitor.

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