The Monitor Factor

By Stan Shook | Feb 15, 2011




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I hope last month’s column convinced you to purchase an in-screen computer takeoff application, and you are now on your way to becoming a paperless estimator. But having the program is only the first step. If you really want to become super-efficient and 100 percent paperless, you will also need to upgrade your monitor configuration.

When it comes to taking off drawings electronically, monitor real estate is a critical necessity. So you need to expand your workstation beyond a single 17-inch monitor setup. You need more monitor.

Two-monitor minimum
If you can only have (or only want) one monitor, I highly recommend starting with at least a 22-inch, widescreen flat panel. Of course, you could go big and buy a 30-inch, or even bigger with a 48-inch screen; however, they can be expensive, and you might need a more powerful video card to run it for the proper resolution. But in my opinion, setting up a multiple-monitor configuration is better than having one really large monitor.

My current workstation consists of dual 24-inch widescreen flat panels. They are synced together, allowing me to drag any open program window from one to the other. This gives me the ability to control which monitor I use for drawings or specs, details or bid form, Facebook or e-mail, whatever I want. Most importantly, the dual- (or triple- or quad-) monitor configuration allows me to see both the drawing I am marking up and my estimating database at the same time, without having to toggle back and forth or cascade open program windows on top of each other, creating clutter and confusion on the screen.

The other benefit of more than one monitor is that you can easily shut one off when you don’t need it. I do this when I am writing or working with e-mail or other nondrawing applications. This helps eliminate distractions and saves energy.

A 30- or 48-inch monitor allows you to display full-size drawings, which is very cool, especially when you are performing conduit roll-off, measuring or drawing functions, which require lines across the entire page. However, I rarely run into issues with these functions with my 24-inch monitors.

Don’t cause a pain in the neck
Seriously consider ergonomics, whether you choose a single- or multiple-monitor setup. Preserving your eyesight, neck and back is extremely important.

Regardless of size, you need to make sure any monitor is the correct distance from your seated position. Larger monitors can actually become too much to sit in front of all day. A 30-inch-plus screen will likely need to be placed farther away from your seated position than you are used to. You may need to adjust your font and icon sizes, which could affect the resolution and clarity of your images if you don’t have the right graphics card. This can negatively affect your eyesight.

With multiple monitors, and even a large monitor that’s too close to you, you will also experience tension in your neck and back. You may not recognize it at first, but the process means you will be repetively moving your head from side to side. This can cause serious fatigue and strain over the course of a few hours. So make sure you train your body and your eyes how to relax while using your new system. Also take frequent breaks to stretch.

Try not to get too distracted
The multiscreen or super-large monitor configuration is not just about convenience. It is also about saving time. The more cluttered your monitor is with open windows, the more time you will spend organizing, resizing and trying to find and toggling through all the applications. And though it seems trivial, you might be surprised at how much time you lose during a day by “playing” with your screen, e.g., opening/closing programs, adjusting screen sizes and organizing them.

The more paperless you become, the more time you spend with your computer. This can lead to more distractions. As you estimate using your computer, you will now be continuously connected to Facebook, e-mail, the Internet and its billions of distractions. So be aware of this, and do not let it affect your focus and estimating time.

In the not-so-distant future, you might be using a desk-sized touchscreen table, which will lay flat or can be tilted at an angle, emulating the full-size drawing experience very well. You may even get to wear a cool virtual reality glove like Tom Cruise did in “Minority Report.” These systems and technology actually exist now; however, they are very expensive and prone to serious damage by a dropped coffee mug or frustrated estimator pounding on his desk.

SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. During the past 12 years, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at or contact him directly [email protected].

About The Author

Stan Shook was ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's estimating columnist from 2005 to 2012. He works as an electrical estimator in California. Read his blog at or contact him directly [email protected]

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