August 18, 2012, 7:05 AM — Lighter, thinner, and smaller laptops are in, and for good reason: They're ultraportable and therefore great for both schlepping to work and using on the road or vacation.
Unfortunately, smaller displays can often be a challenge to work on. Here are a few ways you can squeeze more productivity out of your limited screen space--and even take advantage of the benefits of working on a small screen.
Hide or Make Better Use of the Taskbar
Because every single pixel counts, the first rule of thumb is to hide all the elements that you don't constantly need on your display. The most apparent of these is the ever-present Windows taskbar.
To auto-hide the Windows taskbar--meaning it will be hidden until you move your mouse into the taskbar area--right-click on the taskbar, then go to Properties... and check Auto-hide the taskbar. Voila! The taskbar is gone until you need it. If, however, you do like the handy way the taskbar keeps your most used programs within reach, you can instead move it off to the side. Because screens are wider than they are tall, moving the taskbar to the left or right will save more precious vertical real estate. Under the same taskbar properties mentioned above, change the "taskbar location on screen" to either the left or right. While you're at it, make the taskbar icons smaller by checking the Use small icons option. This way, you can pin more programs and folders to your taskbar, saving you the time and effort of hunting them down on your (small and crowded) desktop.
Use Multiple Virtual Desktops or Windows Management Tools
The biggest benefit of working on a single laptop screen, as opposed to having a multimonitor setup, is better focus. The small displays force you to use apps in their full-screen modes to get the most out of them, which forces you to concentrate on just that Word doc or Web page or whatever you're looking at--there's no room for anything else!
But what if you have more than just one program you need to work with? Virtual desktops and windows management tools help organize your programs' windows to match your workflow.
Finestra Virtual Desktops (free), for example, lets you dedicate your word processing app to one virtual desktop, email to another, social websites to a third, and so on. Switching among all these virtual desktops is easy with hotkeys. You can quickly switch from focusing on what you're writing to taking care of email distraction-free. If you want to see a couple of application windows at the same time, however, a program like WinSplit Revolution (free) will help you out. The program quickly snaps windows to the dimensions and areas of your screen that you want. It leaves no pixel wasted.
Offload Some Tasks to Your Smartphone or Tablet
If you own a smartphone or a tablet, you have more screen real estate. Instead of checking your email in a desktop email client on your laptop or in a browser tab, you could just let your smartphone handle email notifications (and quick replies).
The same holds true for any other sort of tasks that are easily handled by smartphone or tablet apps, such as keeping track of Twitter or Facebook updates, reading news feeds, or performing quick functions on a calculator. You can really extend your laptop screen real estate with a tablet by turning it into a second monitor that you can drag windows onto.