New York Times: Discovering Two Screens Aren’t Better Than One, by Farhad Manjoo:
For years, techies have argued that getting an extra monitor or two for your desktop computer is an especially effective way to increase personal productivity. The logic seemed airtight: Two (or more) computer monitors means more room on your virtual desktop, which means more room to do your work. And more room to work would seem to mean faster work. ...
But what if we’ve all been duped? What if more monitors and bigger monitors actually detract from, rather than improve, how you work? What if, rather than more space to get stuff done, what you get from a larger display or two displays is more freedom from work — more room for Twitter, email, chatting and all the other digitized diversions that conspire to get you fired?
In a switch that amounts to heresy among some techies, I’ve become a two-screen skeptic. Two months ago, about five years after becoming an ardent proselytizer for the Church of the Second Display, I turned off the extra screen on my desktop computer. At first, the smaller workspace felt punishingly cramped. But after a few days of adjusting to the new setup, an unusual serenity invaded my normally harried workday. With a single screen that couldn’t accommodate too many simultaneous stimuli, a screen just large enough for a single word processor or browser window, I found something increasingly elusive in our multiscreen world: focus.
The conventional argument in favor of dual monitors rests on what might be called the two-window problem. Imagine, for instance, the process of writing a research report. You have a word processor open in one window, and, somewhere else on the screen, a web browser full of tabs pointing to research papers. To write the report, you need to shift your attention frequently from the browser to the word processor and back again. On a small display, it would be difficult to keep both windows open at the same time, so you’d waste time switching from one to the other. On a large multiscreen display, you can keep both windows open on your screen — and you save all that switching time.
The research supports this. One study commissioned by NEC and conducted by researchers at the University of Utah showed that people using a dual-display machine to do a text-editing task were 44 percent more productive than those who used a single monitor.
But for most people, the time spent juggling two windows or scrolling across large documents isn’t the biggest bottleneck in getting work done. Instead, there’s a more basic, pernicious reason you feel constantly behind — you’re getting distracted.
With a single screen, I was forced to fight my distractions. I had to actively prevent myself from falling into email and Twitter, from ever losing focus on my main window. It took some time for me to exercise that willpower. But by finding methods of sticking to my task rather than coping with my distractions, my single-screen machine ultimately improved how I work. It can for you, too — if only you resist the pull of two displays.