Why am I ignoring my second monitor? A case study in working from home.

Raymond Chen

I’m working from home, which is probably what many software developers are doing right now. My usual work area had been a desk in the corner of the family room, because I didn’t normally do a lot of work from home. Now that everybody is home, that location in the corner of a busy room wasn’t particularly conducive to working without interruption.

I ended up setting up my temporary home office in our spare bedroom, using a large folding table as a “desk”. I bought a second monitor so I could get something that more closely resembled my usual work environment, but I found that I rarely used the second monitor. Eventually, I figured out why.

My two monitors at home were arranged with the main monitor directly in front of me, and the secondary monitor to the right.

At work, I have three monitors on my desk. I use the center and left monitors a lot, but the monitor on the right is connected to a machine I don’t use much, and I got into the habit of ignoring the monitor on the right.

I moved the secondary monitor from the right side of my main monitor to the left. Now I use both of my monitors.

It’s weird how these little unconscious things have such a large effect.

Bonus chatter: Visual Studio Subscriptions resources for remote learning and productivity.


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  • Алексей Евдокимов 0

    Yes, it does. My second monitor that I brought from work to home fits only on the right, because its wires are too short. And on the right there is a monitor for unimportant things by force of habit. But, I also always turn the monitor for important things (like the code and the docs) to portrait mode.

    So I just turned second monitor to portrait and voila, now I use it for code too. Some habits are stronger than others.

  • Matt Sieker 0

    I have a 3 monitor setup in my home office, and the one on the right tends to get ignored for most tasks but for a very different reason: My brain mostly ignores my right eye, so to see the right monitor I have to turn my head. So it tends to get used for more short, modal tasks, like a browser for testing a web app, short SQL queries to check things, etc.

  • Yukkuri Reimu 0

    Yeah when i started working from home part of the week (before SARS-Cov2 made it all week) i had to carefully match the layout between the two to stay comfortable

  • kate cole 0

    Hi Raymond,

    I have a similar setup. Do you use something like Synergy or Mouse Without Borders to control your second machine, or do you just have an extra mouse and keyboard?

  • Ian Yates 0

    In a pinch, due to trying to use a monitor that I soon realised was just broken, I ended up putting my smaller portable laptop (a yoga) next to my beefier laptop (regular thinkpad) and used the nifty feature in windows 10 to connect one PC’s display to the other and then switch to extend rather than duplicate.
    In the past that’s been a little flaky but it was quite solid for me.

    One annoying thing is how the miracast / wireless display toolbar stays permanently stuck at the top of your screen after disconnecting. Been there for a few windows versions. Found the fix today on a forum at least – shoot the windows shell experience host (exact name escapes me as I’m on my phone now after 11pm). It restarts itself but I don’t have that annoying bar stuck there anymore.

  • Roberto souza 0

    A off-question, what GUI designer do Microsoft use to develop GUI applications? is some internal application?

  • cheong00 0

    I live with my brother, and like a lot of people in Hong Kong, my table for computer can only fit 1 monitor. In fact, I can only fit a 24-inch 16:9 display (tried to find larger 4:3 display but unable to find any).

    At work, I use dual monitor configuration: The right one for information/planning and left one for actual work. I even try to place explorer window on both screen following that idea when moving files to avoid human error.

    You can see that I’m having trouble when try to work from home, especially when copying file to a shared folder for deployment.

    • Jonathan Harston 0

      When I lived in HK I couldn’t have a monitor on the right, as that space was needed to allow the wardrobe door to open. 🙂

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