Dual monitors, often thought to be twice as efficient at putting application windows in front of the user. That much is true, but twice the mass of readily available information does not equal twice the productivity. Whether you believe I’m right or wrong depends on what kind of use you’d imagined the second display would get. Let me explain.
There are lines of work where you can be more effective at “shipping the product” when you can focus on one thing at a time. These are usually creative tasks, such as copywriting, front-end web design or graphic design.
A note regarding graphic design: though it’s mainly a single-tasking job, huge monitor area or even dual monitors can be helpful when working with large images, and a common use for the second display is to hold toolbars at. In this sense two monitors serve the purpose of more comfortable single tasking, which can improve efficiency.
Being a person who works with text, I find all kinds of distraction to be very harmful to the quality of my work as well as the volume I’m able to produce in any period of time. The creative mind, when forced to come up with something new, tries and grabs any little detail it can. Let that be the menu bar at top of the screen or a secondary monitor filled with unnecessary clutter.
And it’s not only me who thinks that; writing applications pop up by the dozen, which do one thing and nothing else at all. They’re called dark-room apps. Basically, they’re full screen text editors, with the sole purpose of hiding everything but the text from you.
Imagine what kind of devastating blow would a second monitor deal to the productivity and efficiency of the person who thrives on the focused attention he pays to the piece on his screen.
That granted, not all tasks are single-tasking heavy. Programmers, as I found out, can actively work on two separate displays at any given time without losing track of active windows on either.
Programmers are technical people with great attention to detail, yet don’t lack the capability to embrace complex problems. They seem to have no problem with working on two monitors at a time. In fact, they often say they need two to not switch back and forth between windows.
Their assignments require them to be able to multi-task and that’s where dual-monitor display setups soar and thrive.
One monitor has the code in Eclipse, the other monitor runs a browser where they can instantly test whatever they’re developing. System administrators’ brains work in a similar way, except that they’re keeping an eye on everything at the same time.
A friend of mine who oversees a computer network in his local high school described the sweet-spot in amount of monitors as ‘more’.
If you’re a creative type person, who comes up with new ideas for a living, you’re probably not going to profit from a second monitor. You can chuck a second browser window there, or your e-mail client, and feel busy all the time, but you’re not going to be more efficient at what you do due to the constant stream of distractions you’re bound to face.
If you’re more of a strategic thinker and a practical person, you want to have a second display so you can more effectively multi-task. In this case effective multi-tasking means more efficient work performance.