My Workflow with Synergy

This is a follow-up to my post on the features of Synergy. My last post covered how Synergy works. This post focuses on how I work with Synergy, both when I’m in live online events and during my daily work.

Liveblogging & Team Meetings

When I liveblogged the TCC 2008 conference, I always had the Elluminate presentation up on my primary screen (my desktop computer) and my blog on my laptop. I didn’t use a mic for anything other than our team’s presentation, and it’s easier to listen with speakers for hours a day than a headset.

It’s much easier to use two monitors like this than to alt+tab back and forth on one computer. Synergy lets me easily switch focus back to the Elluminate screen to join the backchannel chat or answer a poll; you just move your mouse over to the other screen and type away. There’s no way I could have done this as smoothly if I’d had to move my hands from my laptop keyboard to my full-size keyboard.

Here’s a rough idea of how this worked.

Liveblogging Workflow with Synergy

The online course development team has a weekly meeting in Connect. I actually use the reverse setup for our meetings; I keep the live meeting on the laptop and my notes and to-do list on my desktop. We often do screensharing in our meetings, so I need Connect on the computer where all my work files are stored and I have all my software. It’s also easier to use my headset and mic with my laptop than to dig around behind the tower to plug it in. (Yes, I am that lazy. Why do you think I’m using this software in the first place?)

Daily Workflow

In general, what I keep up on each computer during my regular workday is that work programs stay on my laptop and personal applications are on the desktop. When I first started telecommuting at a previous job, I was really strict about that; I only used my laptop for work and barely even checked Gmail on it. Over time, the lines have blurred a lot, so the workflow is much more fluid. What I do where depends on the context and what else I’m doing.

On my work laptop, I use these programs that I don’t have installed on my personal desktop:

  • Outlook
  • Dreamweaver
  • Photoshop
  • Captivate

That means that on days that I’m doing a lot of web work or creating Captivate activities, I work primarily on my laptop and don’t switch over too much. However, when I’m waiting for something to happen on my laptop (like synchronizing files with the server through Dreamweaver), I’ll pop over to my desktop computer for a few minutes to read something in Google Reader.

My desktop has a better monitor (see the picture here), so increasingly I use that if I’m doing any online work that doesn’t require the software on my laptop. I find that my eyes feel less fatigued this way than if I use the laptop all day.

  • Collaborating with SMEs in Google Docs
  • Setting up courses in Blackboard
  • Editing our team wiki or the wikis for a course
  • Google Calendar
  • My to do list (I use Toodledo.)
  • Pidgin for instant messaging (On Pidgin, it’s mostly personal contacts. More people from work are on Skype. I use Skype almost exclusively on my laptop—see the note about being too lazy to plug in the headphones on my tower above.)

I also use Gmail and Google Reader primarily on my desktop rather than on the laptop. I have different versions of Internet Explorer on my computers, so I use both for testing purposes. Right now I only have Firefox 3 on my personal computer, again for testing.


Reading RSS feeds is my “transition” activity; when I finish one task and am mentally switching gears to do something else, I spend a few minutes reading. I find I especially need that transition time if I’m deep into a project on my laptop. I’m not sure how much of that is just getting my eyes to look in a different direction and how much is the change in mental work, but it does help to take those little pauses during the day. I usually go for something light during that time; think Cute Overload or maybe Slashdot. I advise against trying to read a post on, say, Half an Hour as a mental break.

Questions? Suggestions?

Hopefully, I’ve clarified how this can work, rather than muddying the waters. Please let me know if any of this doesn’t make sense; I’d be happy to try to clarify this further. Also, just because this is what works for me doesn’t mean it would work for anyone else.

If you try Synergy or already use it, I’d love to hear your tips on how to be more efficient with the tool. Just writing up the process has made me rethink how I’m doing things. I might try doing some things differently in the future. It’s a little haphazard right now, and I wonder if a different workflow would be smoother.

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1 thought on “My Workflow with Synergy”

  1. Pingback: One Keyboard and Mouse, Two Computers « Experiencing E-Learning

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