Thursday, November 5, 2009

Productivity Tool: Dual Monitors

dual monitors

Are two monitors really better than one? Someone asked me that recently - and the answer seems to be yes. (A single monitor that's very wide has the same benefits.)

I knew programmers liked the dual-monitor set-up, but I never quite understood how it could help a wide range of users until I read an article in the New York Times, where the author talks about two benefits. [Note: Registration may be required to read New York Times articles.]

1. Keeping your primary task in front of you, even when you go off to check e-mail or perform some other secondary task. As author Farhad Manjoo says:
Now I could keep my e-mail and the Web open on one screen while my Microsoft Word document ran on another. This kept me on task. Even if I did go off to the Web, my document was always visible, beckoning me to come back to work.
2. Making it easier to work with two applications at once. Again, quoting Manjoo:
As I’m writing this story in Word, I’m switching back to my text editor to search for pertinent data. When I find that information, I select it, copy it and switch back to Word to paste it. ... In a multimonitor setup, the brain rests easy: My notes now sit on one side of the dual screen while my Word document sits on the other. When I focus on one program, I don’t lose my place in the other.
In an earlier New York Times article, Ivan Berger provides more examples of how a dual-monitor set-up helped him, including this one:
When I work on tables or spreadsheets, I can see all the columns at once.
And there's research to back up the anecdotal evidence, too. As the New York Times points out:
Researchers at the University of Utah recently asked office workers to perform several common tasks using various monitor configurations. They found that people who used two 20-inch monitors were 44 percent more productive at certain text-editing operations than people using a single 18-inch monitor.
[Note: The other party in the study was NEC Display Solutions, which obviously would hope to see such results.]

Some research from Microsoft back in 2003 also showed significant increase in productivity from using a larger display area.

As one person said in a discussion of the University of Utah/NEC study:
I don't claim you can't do things almost as well with a single monitor. But once you've used a dual, you'll never go back.
Photo credit:


kbfenner said...

My professor husband "inherited" a Mac cinema screen and a wide screen monitor from a colleague who left academe and could not take the grant-funded equipment with him. Steve can display five pages at a time. He says he never could have met a book deadline without them.

If you imagine a standard display, it's a lot like working on your lap on an airplane--you have to keep shuffling what's on top. On a *real* desktop, you can display several papers, books, etc., at once.

Pretty much any computer can easily accommodate two monitors seamlessly, regardless of what your IT guys say.

Beth Weisberg said...

Oooh, I like this one! I have a geek friend who's had dual monitors for years, and I always thought he was over the top. But now, with all the things I'm doing simultaneously, and my tendency to get lost in a new task & forget what I was working on before, this makes total sense. Thanks, Jeri, for putting it out for us to ponder. We just happen to have an extra monitor hanging around -- can't wait to try this out.

Alice said...

My company gave everyone dual-screens years ago, and I can't imagine working without one now! If you do anything where you have to copy data from one place to another (from email into a word doc, or from a database into another program), it saves so much time. Right now, I can clearly see three different programs on my two screens. It seriously increases my ability to work!

Lelah Baker-Rabe said...

I was lucky enough to be introduced to dual monitors at an Internet industry job I had. At the time my home computer was a 12 inch laptop. I have since left that job, but upgraded my own screen real estate to a 24 inch desktop, and I love it. Having a second monitor with extra ports and card readers is also really handy.

Jeri Dansky said...

kbfenner, Alice and Lelah: Thanks for the added testimonials for the power of dual monitors (and widescreen monitors).

Beth, if you add a second monitor, please report back on your experiences!

Kirsten said...

I have dual monitors at work, and I LOVE it. I only wish that Office applications, specifically Excel, would let you open different documents independent of each other. I often have to transfer data from one spreadsheet to another and hate that they open in the same window. Copy and paste doesn't always work, either, because of different formulas involved.

Except for that minor detail, I highly recommend dual monitors.