Multiple monitors: "The quickest and cheapest way to drive up productivity"

You may think this is a thinly disguised ad designed to sell computer monitors, but it isn't. More and more accountants are adopting the practice of using dual monitors … some are even using three or four. The results? They are seeing green, in more ways than one. First, there is much less need to print, therefore less wasted paper and ink. For many, that's the original idea.

Then there is the other green... increased productivity, which translates to a greener bottom line. People who swear by multiple monitors say it is the path to ultimate multi-tasking. According to the AICPA, the bump in productivity may be as high as 50 percent for accountants. Others estimate closer to 20 percent, which, you have to admit, is still impressive. The increased efficiency is possible because having your materials readily available for comparison and consultation allows for greater accuracy, lower risk of error, and less need to switch between documents or spend time resizing windows.

Here are a few specific ways that CPAs are benefitting by using dual monitors:

  • Comparative analysis is easier because accountants can keep one year's tax return or financial statement up on one screen and the current year on another.

  • Users can consult e-mail instructions and follow them at the same time.

  • Accountants who need to monitor their messages keep one screen available for e-mail that they can watch without clicking away from their work.

  • Those who blog or create reports use a second monitor in order to keep source material open while writing.

    What About the Cost?

    Switching to a dual or multiple monitor system may sound expensive, but it doesn't have to be. The monitors are not used for advanced capabilities so they don't have to be top of the line. Most people who upgrade their computers regularly have unused monitors available. But, obviously where desk space is an issue, flat panel screens work best. Some recommend using monitors that are the same size and set to the same resolution to avoid distraction and so that your eyes are not constantly trying to adjust, though others who work with multiple screens say they use whatever is available and are not bothered by the differences.

    Gail Perry, CPA and managing editor of AccountingWEB finds dual monitors to be invaluable. She used to start her research by printing stacks of materials, and then highlighting as she read. Now she keeps one screen open for researching online, while she writes on the other screen. The process saves time and paper. She uses a similar setup when she is interviewing someone for an article... writing on one screen while referring to her notes on another.

    Perry is often called upon to analyze software. Dual screens make it possible for her to experiment with the program, take screen shots, and create her report at the same time. "Frankly, I don't know how I survived without two monitors. I'm in awe when I look at how much more productive I am compared to when I was working with only one screen." And, she says, "You'll make up the cost of the second monitor with the time you save the first day you use the dual monitor system." It's hard to argue with results like that.

    Randy Johnston, executive vice president of K2 Enterprises and AccountingWEB blogger uses four monitors. The one on the left is for paperless. The one on the right is for surfing the Web. The two in the middle run his primary applications… or, depending on what he is doing, one might be for e-mail. Some multi-monitor advocates suggest using a special software like Ultramon or Multi-mon so that you have a taskbar on each screen. But Johnston says that is not necessary if your computer has Vista, and generally not with Windows XP either. You only need one taskbar, and you use your mouse or Alt-Tab keys to switch between screens.

    What you do need, he says, is a good video card that has a minimum of 128 MB of video RAM per monitor. "Look for a card with 2 or 4 ports and 256 or 512MB of video RAM, depending on the number of monitors you expect to use."

    Is there a downside to this way of working? Perry and Johnston agree, there is no downside, only benefits. Neither can imagine going back to a single screen and wonder why anyone would consider it. According to Johnston, "using multiple monitors is the quickest and cheapest way to drive up productivity."

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