Going Back to One Screen
The Ctrl + Windows + Arrow Key hotkey has taken a lot of importance in my daily activities. I used to work with as many monitors as I could find. For a few months, I ran five screens, and one day I realized that it was too much. The first time I was struck by this realization, I was at a customer’s office working on complex optimizations that were required to reduce our Azure consumption. It turns out, that context switching is an expensive task for humans too.
I get distracted easily. Having many monitors flashing to get my attention sends me down a path where I continuously switch contexts. This is typically when I get nothing done.
It’s a known fact, that if we want to get something done, we need to focus on that single thing. Disturbances are detrimental to our mental state… there are many techniques out there to help us focus, and none of them talk about the number of screens that sit in front of us, begging for our attention.
In a recent Microsoft conference, I went through an interesting exercise where my customer needed answers to questions and challenges that they were struggling with using Linux Virtual Machines on Microsoft Azure. Sitting in the conference room with a single screen on my lap, I researched, tested and wrote a blog post for my customer. So here’s the thing, I was definitely multi-tasking in a distracting environment, how did I get anything done?
I used the multi-desktop feature in Windows 10 and to my surprise, I really enjoyed it! I felt productive.
Thinking back about the experience, I had three desktops. Respectively, they were for research, testing and writing my blog post. Every time I changed desktops, I performed a full context switch and was captivated by a single screen (reads single task). When ever I switched back to a previous screen, I could focus on the one thing that I was working on.
Switching desktops had a lofty and perceptible cost in terms of mental state effort. Although this cost is high, I have less screen real-estate to track. It makes it manageable. I can now make the conscious decision to stop what I’m doing, switch desktops and give my full attention to a new task.
Working with many screens, I’m all over the place, I hardly notice that I’m actually straining my mental state by switching between screens… until it’s too late. In what seems a short time span, it’s 5 o’clock, and it’s time to get the kids from day care.
Today, I regularly work with multiple virtual desktops, and I focus my valuable energy on getting things done.
How do you manage your energy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Windows 10 Shortcuts
- Snapping window: WIN + LEFT or RIGHT (can be used with UP or DOWN to get into quadrants)
- Switch to recent window: ALT + TAB (unchanged) – Hold shows new Task view window view, let go and switches to app.
- Task view: WIN + TAB – New Task view opens up and stays open.
- Create new virtual desktop: WIN + CTRL + D
- Close current virtual desktop: WIN + CTRL + F4
- Switch virtual desktop: WIN + CTRL + LEFT or RIGHT
Lately I’ve started shutting down email and chat programs and launching a pomodoro timer when I focus on a task. This often leaves my second monitor empty but once in a while I do need that extra real estate when I need to control a lot of aspects of the task I’m working on.
In my opinion it’s not the second screen that is a problem but what is displayed on it (lol I’m being serious :)). Often times it’s a chat client or outlook or twitter. They drag your attention and even if it’s quick glances you lose momentum.
I’m going play with multiple desktops some more. Thanks for the shortcuts!
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