I’ve been getting questions from co-workers and friends about how I have my desktop setup so I can get to any application I need quickly. I’ve been flattered by a few people adopting variations of my setup, and realized that I should share it just in case it might benefit some of my readers.

I know that your needs are different than mine, so pick off what you like. I’m happy to give quick setup guides for anyone that asks.

First things first: 2 Monitors

For as small of a cost as an additional monitor is, I’m disappointed that more employers don’t provide a multi-monitor setup for their developers.

Do the math: if you get an extra monitor for $250US and it increases your efficiency by even 1%, it pays for itself in 6 months or less!

Anyway, I have a somewhat typical laptop + monitor setup, and the extra screen real estate is quite helpful, especially since I can keep my browser on one monitor always and then move to all my other applications with a keystroke. Nothing too special there, but the point here is play the smart money card to get a multi-monitor setup if you can.

Desktops: 4-5 wide, 1 deep

Linux definitely makes it easier on me since I get multiple desktops built-in. Obviously, you can use Spaces on a Mac or VirtuaWin on Windows (and I do) to get the ability.

I use 5 desktops (VirtuaWin can only assign hotkeys for 4, unfortunately) and assign a hotkey (Ctrl + 6 to Ctrl + 0) to immediately switch to the appropriate one:

  • IM clients and chat windows
  • E-mail
  • Browser(s)
  • Shell(s)
  • IDE/Text editors

The advantage I see here is that I never have to think to get to any window, I can seamlessly move between exactly what I want all the time. I never have to search through an expose-like interface or alt-tab through a giant list. However, I don’t have the ability to open up a ton of windows or it degrades quickly. I’m also lucky in that I don’t need a whole lot open all the time.

If you don’t need to keep a ton of different things open constantly, you might give this a shot.

Why it works for me

Any possible time-saving aside, I like to keep complete focus on what I’m doing. I don’t want to have to think about where that IM window is. I like to think that keeping everything easily accessible saves me brain cycles** that can quickly go toward the task at hand.

I’m hoping this will inspire some of you to consider how you can setup your screen real estate for maximum productivity.

Do you have any suggestions, or perhaps you think your desktop setup is better? Hey, I’d like to hear it so share in the comments!

UPDATE: I should have probably mentioned that I use Gnome-Do (Linux) and Launchy (Windows) as a launcher. I also use Compiz’s Place Windows plugin to put all my windows on their respective desktops. I have most everything I need automatically started at boot time, so I just boot up, login, and go get coffee while my computer sets itself up :)

Posted on under productivity