How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

If you’re a multi-monitor fan, you may swear that additional screens help boost your productivity. Whether you’re enhancing your home setup or want an additional screen in your workplace, you need that second (or third, or fourth) screen in order to feel at ease. It’s easy to claim that dual monitors help with your productivity, and you may even feel the output drop when using a single monitor. But what does the research say? Let’s look at a published few studies and see what they determined.

Study 1: Dell

Dell has done its own studies into whether or not dual monitors are better. They tested for two areas: screen size (17” vs. 22”) and screen count (single vs. dual). While all of it is very interesting, let’s single out only the dual-monitor-based results for now.

Dell asked test subjects to perform specific tasks. Some subjects were using one monitor, while the rest were using two monitors. The study determined a lot of things:

  • Users completed their assigned tasks 2.5 seconds quicker with two monitors rather than one.
  • For tasks where users had to collect text and pictures from a Word document and put them into a PDF, dual-monitor users could use the secondary monitor as a way of displaying the reference without swapping windows. In turn, this meant 5% less time looking at the reference document.
  • The users themselves felt that dual- monitor setups were better. They felt dual monitors are more useful in general, made it easier for them to find information, and generally felt more pleasant to use.

It’s worth noting that Dell does produce monitors that people can purchase as secondary screens, so take this as you will!

Study 2: Jon Peddie Research

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Dell’s productivity gains seem quite small, but Jon Peddie is singing a different song. While it was based on estimated actual or expected improvement of productivity, they found that users reported a 42% increase in productivity by using dual monitors. Something a little more set in hard facts is the amount of users who are making the jump to dual monitors, going from 20% in 2002 to 90% in 2017. This implies dual monitors isn’t just a luxury — it’s now the norm!

Study 3: The University of Utah

A study by the University of Utah (which was commissioned by NEC, another monitor manufacturer) compares a lot of variables together. It covers multiple monitors, multiple screens, and using monitor management software to do the job. They, too, discovered that people who used multiple screens started their tasks faster and got the work done at a quicker pace than people using single monitors. Unlike the other studies, however, they also noticed that people using multiple monitors had less errors in their work. Not only does work get done faster, but it’s done better as well!

Are There Any Cases Against?

If you look for articles arguing the opposite, you’ll find a handful, such as Cory House and Farhad Manjoo’s articles. These are not intensive research studies and are instead personal experiences and opinions about dual monitors. While they’re not backed by science (in fact, they specifically state their opinions go against the grain), they make valid points. Simply owning a second monitor doesn’t improve productivity — it has to be used correctly, too!

You can use a second monitor to display what you’re researching, then type about it on your main monitor. There’s no flicking between windows, forgetting what you were looking for or what you just read, or losing your spot; it’s always there to see. Using your second monitor to put on a YouTube playlist of cute kitten videos while you work, however, can have the opposite effect. The authors of both articles discuss their grievances of how the second monitor acts as the perfect portal for distraction.

As such, if you’re interested in the prospects of enhancing productivity with a second monitor, you need to put work on it! By putting something that detracts from your work on it instead (such as your Twitter feed), you make it easier for the world around you to break your own flow of concentration. Keep both screens focused on the task at hand for an improvement in work.

Monitoring the Data

Dual monitors are proven by studies to be an effective means of improving productivity. This only happens if you use them properly, however. Use that second screen as a reference to the work you’re doing instead of putting on a TV show to act as a distraction.

Do you swear by dual monitors? If not, do you think you’ll try them now? Sound off below!

Simon Batt is a Computer Science graduate with a passion for cybersecurity.

After you’ve connected your Windows 10 PC to external displays, you can adjust the settings for each one.

Video: Connecting a monitor

Here’s a video on the basics of connecting to an external monitor.

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Before you start

Before changing settings for your external displays, make sure everything is connected properly. Here’s what you can do:

Make sure your cables are properly connected to your PC or dock.

Check for Windows updates. To check for updates, select Start > Settings > Updates & Security > Windows Update > Check for updates.

Tip: If you’re using a wireless display adapter, connect to an HDMI port on newer TVs, then wirelessly connect your PC to it. After connecting your wireless display adapter to your TV, go to your Windows 10 PC and select Start > Settings > System > Display, then select Connect to a wireless display.

Rearrange your displays

You’ll see this option when Windows detects more than one display. Each display will be numbered to help you identify them more easily.

Identify a display

To see which number corresponds to a display, select Start > Settings > System > Display > Rearrange your displays, then select Identify. A number appears on the screen of the display it’s assigned to.

Detect a display

If you connected another display and it isn’t showing in Settings, select Start > Settings > System > Display > Rearrange your displays, then select Detect.

Arrange your displays

If you have multiple displays, you can change how they’re arranged. This is helpful if you want your displays to match how they’re set up in your home or office. In Display settings, select and drag the display to where you want. Do this with all the displays you want to move. When you’re happy with the layout, select Apply. Test your new layout by moving your mouse pointer across the different displays to make sure it works like you expect.

Change display options

After you’re connected to your external displays, you can change settings like your resolution, screen layout, and more. To see available options, select Start > Settings > System > Display.

Change orientation

Windows will recommend an orientation for your screen. To change it in Display settings, go to Scale and Layout, then choose your preferred Display orientation. If you change the orientation of a monitor, you’ll also need to physically rotate the screen. For example, you’d rotate your external display to use it in portrait instead of landscape.

Choose a display option

To change what shows on your displays, press Windows logo key + P. Here’s what you can choose.

See things on one display only.

See the same thing on all your displays.

See your desktop across multiple screens. When you have displays extended, you can move items between the two screens.

See everything on the second display only.

Second screen only

Related topics

Simply Windows on Youtube – These videos are only available in English

programming and human factors

I’ve been a multiple monitor enthusiast since the dark days of Windows Millennium Edition. I’ve written about the manifold joys of many-monitor computing a number of times over the last four years:

I have three monitors at home and at work. I’m what you might call a true believer. I’m always looking for ammunition for fellow developers to claim those second (and maybe even third) monitors that are rightfully theirs under the Programmer’s Bill of Rights.

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Researchers at the University of Utah tested how quickly people performed tasks like editing a document and copying numbers between spreadsheets while using three different computer configurations:

  1. single 18-inch monitor
  2. single 24-inch monitor
  3. two 20-inch monitors

Here’s what they found:

  • People using the 24-inch screen completed the tasks 52% faster than people who used the 18-inch monitor
  • People who used the two 20-inch monitors were 44% faster than those with the 18-inch ones.
  • Productivity dropped off again when people used a 26-inch screen.

I dug around a bit and found the actual study results (pdf) or something very close to it, if you’re looking for more detail than the summary I’ve presented above. This isn’t the first time the University of Utah has conducted a multiple monitor study. It’s very similar to the multiple monitor survey they conducted in 2003, also under the auspices of NEC. I agree it’s a little sketchy to cite a study from a display vendor that advocates– surprise– buying more and bigger displays. But bear in mind they did find diminishing productivity returns with 26 inch displays. This is something I personally experienced, and I dubbed it the The Large Display Paradox. That finding isn’t exactly going to endear them to display vendors.

Patrick Dubroy took a skeptical look at the multiple monitor productivity claims and found several credible sources of data. I’ll combine his finds with mine to provide a one-stop-shop for research data supporting the idea that, yes, having more display space would in fact make you more productive:

Patrick, despite his skepticism – and remember, this is a guy who didn’t see a productivity difference between a 14 inch laptop display and a “big ass LCD” – came away convinced:

After looking at the studies, I think it’s fair to say that some tasks can be made significantly faster if you have more screen real estate. On the other hand, I think it’s clear that most programmers are not going to be 50% more productive over the course of a day just by getting a second monitor. The tasks that can be improved are not the bottleneck to programmer productivity.

I’m not sure what Patrick was expecting here. Let me be perfectly clear on this matter: more is more. More usable desktop space reduces the amount of time you spend on window management excise. Instead of incessantly dragging, sizing, minimizing and maximizing windows, you can do actual productive work. With a larger desktop, you can spend less time mindlessly arranging information, and more time interacting with and acting on that information. How much that matters to you will depend on your job and working style. Personally, I’d be ecstatic if I never had to size, position, or arrange another damn window for the rest of my life.

Choose own your path to happiness, whether it’s upgrading to a single 30″ display, dual 24″ widescreen displays, or three standard 20″ displays. As long as it results in more usable desktop space, it’s a clear win. I support all of the above scenarios, and more importantly, the existing research does too. The price of a few monitors is negligible when measured against the labor cost of a programmer or information worker salary. Even if you achieve a meager two or three percent performance increase, it will have more than paid for itself.

What does get a little frustrating is when people claim that one large monitor should be “enough for anyone”. This isn’t a zero-sum game. Where there is one large monitor, there could be two large monitors, or three.

Workspaces equipped with three displays increase productivity by 35.5%, according to research commissioned by Fujitsu Siemens Computers. Employees.

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Workspaces equipped with three displays increase productivity by 35.5%, according to research commissioned by Fujitsu Siemens Computers.

Employees can perform a typical knowledge-sector job much more efficiently at a three-display workspace than at a conventional one, according to a laboratory survey by the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO), supported by Fujitsu.

Fujitsu said this is particularly relevant for jobs where digital information has to be processed very frequently, as is the case for scientists, editors, engineers or insurance company employees.

Overall, the study showed that larger screen areas increase productivity, and with the three-display workspace interconnected to form one desktop, Fraunhofer IAO scientists recorded increases in productivity of 35.5%.

The study was performed as part of the OFFICE 21 research project, and was supported by Fujitsu Siemens Computers which provided the test displays and PCs.

The Fraunhofer experts began the study with a test in which 67 people completed the same task at a conventional workplace with a 19in display.

The experts calculated a productivity benchmark to use as a reference, based on the time required and the points achieved for correctly solved partial tasks.

They then divided the participants into three groups: group one completed the next task using a 19in display, group two was allowed to use a 22in widescreen display, and group three was given a three-display workplace consisting of three 19in displays interconnected to form one workplace – as designed by the OFFICE 21 Information Worker’s Workplace.

While group one increased productivity on the task by only 1.9% (based on the learning effect), group two increased efficiency by 8.4%, and group three were 35.5% more efficient in completing the task.

Using a dual monitor setup is necessary if you want to be more productive.

Most people do a variety of tasks on their computers, making a single monitor not good enough. Instead of running a single program, lots of people will often listen to music while browsing the web and gaming. These three tasks alone can be difficult to manage if you don’t have two monitors.

Why You Need Dual Monitors

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

A dual monitor setup doesn’t cost much money and it’s easy to put together. After you know why you need dual monitors, you’ll wonder why it took so long to make the switch.

Keep on reading to learn more about the benefits of having dual monitors.

Increased Productivity

One of the main reasons people use dual monitors is because it’s much easier to be productive.

When you have a dual monitor setup, you’re able to get more work done because you have a larger workspace. Two monitors let you multitask by having multiple programs open and displayed at once.

With a single monitor setup, you have to repeatedly switch tabs whenever you want to search something. This can make you less productive because you’re more likely to get distracted when you exit a task.

Instead of switching between several windows, you can have them opened at the same time on separate screens. This comes in handy when you’re doing a task that requires you to research something. For example, if you’re writing a paper, you can keep reference material on one monitor and the paper on the other.

Convenient Multitasking

Multitasking is something that many computer companies have started focusing on. Operating systems like Windows 8 and Windows 10 have several multitasking features that let you quickly switch between apps.

With dual monitors, you can get the most out of these features. On Windows 10, you can pull up the icons of several programs and open them as you please. This will save you time because you won’t need to minimize your window or search for a program.

Optimal Streaming Setup

If you’ve ever been interested in streaming, one of the first things you’ll need to do is buy a second monitor. You must do this because streaming involves a ton of multitasking which can detriment the quality of your stream if you don’t have the right setup.

When streaming, most people use a second monitor to look at their chat and mess with the stream settings. This also allows you to use other programs while ensuring that the stream is still recording the game instead of whatever you’re doing.

If you go to browse something on the internet but don’t want to show the stream, one of your monitors will keep the game running. With a single monitor setup, your game’s FPS will decrease when you tab out of it. Viewers would see nothing but a choppy game, encouraging them to click out.

The best monitors for dual setup when it comes to streaming are 144hz. These monitors have high refresh rates, so things like games look smoother as you play. While this isn’t necessary, it will let you make the best content you can.

How to Use Dual Monitors

Using dual monitors is simple and the setup process doesn’t take long. Depending on what kind of graphics card you have, you may be able to just plug the second monitor in and you’ll be ready. Those with modern HDMI graphics cards will need to buy a cable that converts HDMI to DisplayPort.

If you have an older card with VGA or DVI ports, they should plug into your monitor without a problem providing that the monitor is VGA or DVI. Newer monitors will have HDMI ports whereas the graphics cards will have DisplayPorts.

After you’ve acquired the necessary cables, plug them in and both of your monitors should work. From there, you can start adjusting the settings so that your monitors look smooth.

Ensure that the resolutions are correct on each monitor so that you have a seamless experience. With the wrong resolution, the quality will look bad and stretched out.

If you don’t have a desktop but would like to use a second monitor on a laptop, you’ll just need a monitor that has a matching port. For example, if your laptop has an HDMI port, you’ll need a monitor with an HDMI port.

Most laptops today use HDMI, though some have USB-C. If your laptop has a USB-C port, you’ll just need an adaptor that converts it to HDMI.

It doesn’t matter whether you have a Mac or a Windows laptop, setting up a second monitor on either requires the same process. However, Macs typically have higher resolutions than Windows laptops. To avoid any problems, ensure that you find the best portable monitor for Mac if you want to have a high-quality setup.

Use Dual Monitors Today

When you’ve decided that you want to get the most out of your computer, upgrading to a dual monitor setup is the next step. All you’ll need is a decent graphics card that’s powerful enough to run two. Adding dual monitors to your rig will let you be more productive and multitask much more efficiently.

The main thing to look for when buying a second monitor is the port. In most cases, you can buy an adaptor cable. However, it’s best to get something that matches your computer so you won’t have to worry about compatibility issues.

Browse the rest of our articles if you’d like to learn more about technology!

The Fine Print: The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.

Gamers? ( Score: 4, Informative)

I don;t know any gamers that use multiple monitors other than those who play flight Sims.

And as far as having multiple monitors at work, it rocks. Find a cheapo 15″ CRT or something and you’ll be amazed at how restricted you feel if you go back to one monitor.

Re:Gamers? ( Score: 2)

I was going to say the same thing. What games benifit from multiple monitors? Flight sims are the only thing I can think of and I can tell you from experience there that your frame rates will drop dramatically (unless maybe your second card is a top of the line – mine is an old PCI card and it’s unusable for flight sims)

At work though, it’s amazing how useful it is to have a reference document open in another monitor. I can glance at database schema or class hierarchies without having to alt-tab or what

Re:Gamers? ( Score: 2)

what’s the use? ( Score: 2)

I’ve never “gotten” dual head. I guess two 17″ monitors running at 1400×1050 are somewhat cheaper than a 21″ monitor running at 2048×1536, and they both display about the same # of pixels, but doesn’t the seam running down the middle of the dual-head setup really suck?

I’d like to see this study conducted with a constant amount of $ invested in either a 2-head or 1-head rig, and see which comes out on top. I’m betting on 1-head.

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 3, Interesting)

I have 2 17″ screens at 1280×1024, and I think I’d still like it better than one screen at equivalent total resolution. The seam down the middle doesn’t bother me. On the contrary, it’s a nice “logical” separation. I maximize my windows to occupy one full screen, so I have my editor on one screen, and a browser+email on the second one, for example.

On one screen, I don’t think I’d manage to keep myself organized in the same way.

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 2)

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 3, Informative)

Ya know, I really can’t believe no one has mentioned this yet. But for those of us who love multiple monitors in Windows, UltraMon [] is the icing on the cake.

It gives you two extra buttons in each window that allow you to either move the window to the other monitor proportionally, or maximize the window across all monitors. It also allows you to have different backgrounds on each monitor. However, THIS is the killer app: A taskbar for each monitor. Once you’ve tried this, you can’t go back. The windows on yo

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 2, Funny)

I’ve never “gotten” dual head.

well, i would certainly hope not. you’d have to be some kind of freak otherwise.

(sorry, couldn’t resist an opportunity for tasteless (non)humour).

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 5, Insightful)

I’ve never “gotten” dual head. I guess two 17″ monitors running at 1400×1050 are somewhat cheaper than a 21″ monitor running at 2048×1536, and they both display about the same # of pixels, but doesn’t the seam running down the middle of the dual-head setup really suck?

You think about it the wrong way. Don’t think in terms of “cheaper”, think in terms of “on the screen but not in my way”. (I’ll write the rest of this from a Windows point of view, but all the ideas apply equally well to X)

Consider what you normally use a computer for at work. Perhaps you code, or use Word/Excel, or whatever. But most likely you have some primary app open most of the time, to which you want to give as much screen real-estate as possible.

But, having other programs open at the same time, such as Winamp, task manager, a graphing calculator, perhaps a small notepad window for jotting things down – All of those you would normally need to switch back and forth with your primary screen-sucking app. Personally, I usually have some development environment filling my primary screen, and find it very annoying to keep finding my calculator, plug in some numbers, switch back, repeat 200 times a day.

Well, a second monitor makes all of that a non issue. I have my 21″ primary monitor taken up with the dev tools, and the 15″ secondary keeps what I mentioned (Winamp, taskman, graphcalc, notepad, and usually one or two other random programs) instantly accessible, without having to minimize anything or go searching on the taskbar.

So try thinking of dual monitors in terms of dual-but-separate desktops, rather than a single large desktop (where yes, the line down the middle would drive most people nuts).

I’d like to see this study conducted with a constant amount of $ invested in either a 2-head or 1-head rig, and see which comes out on top. I’m betting on 1-head.

Given a choice between a 19″ and a 15″, or a single 21″, I’d gladly take the former over the latter, hands down.

Additionally, consider the cost from another angle – Most people working with a computer 8 hours a day will have at least a 19″ monitor, frequently even a panel rather than a CRT, often connected to a high-end video card. You can easily blow a grand just on getting a decent primary display for a workstation-class machine (and far more for a high-end graphics oriented system – The CAD guys at my last employer had systems where the display hardware alone cost over ten grand).

So, if for another $100, a tenth the price of the primary display, you can boost productivity by a significant margin, would you skimp on such a small amount?

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 4, Interesting)

How is this faster than using alt-tab to bring windows to top?

Because you don’t have to press alt-tab? They already have a visible spot on the desktop.

Additionally, if you need to do a series of calculations, it takes a LOT less effort to just run through it all without even changing focus from the calculator, than to go through “get a number from app 1, alt-tab, enter in calc, alt-tab, get another number, alt-tab, enter in calc, alt-tab, get another number. “.

And that only deals with interactive tasks such as a calulator. How about something passive but informative, like the task manager (or top, in the *nix world), where you need it visible to make use of it? I can’t even count how many times I’ve avoided a crash because I noticed the CPU use suddenly spike as some app began behaving poorly. If I didn’t have that window always visible, I’d never see the usage spike until the machine started to crawl, by which time the opportunity to kill the offending process may have passed (Windows Media Player does that on occasion, just brings the machine to a crawl and leaves no choice but to reboot – But if you catch it within about five seconds, the machine hasn’t totally stopped responding and you can kill it).

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.

Re:what’s the use? ( Score: 3, Insightful)

How fast can you move your eyes to glance at the next monitor over? For referring to other windows while working on one, multiple monitors are a big win. Even for switching among windows, I find it easier to flick the mouse into a two-dimensional region on screen that to search through all the apps I have open via alt-tab.

–Phil (Newly converted to the land of dual-head.)

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Walk into any fast-paced startup or high-powered tech company in Silicon Valley and you’ll see a lot of things that might not be traditional for a workplace. Unorthodox decorations, strange lighting and open floor plans will be the order of the day. Yet while tech company environments may be one-of-a-kind when it comes to snack bars and ping pong tables, one thing all seem to share are multiple computer displays for their computing needs.

Using more than one monitor, in this way, has a long history. Banks of displays have their role everywhere from business to the realms of science fiction. It’s only relatively recently, however, that home and business computing has reached a point where it’s cheap enough — and computers are powerful enough — to run multiple monitors without extra internal hardware.

Take a tour of any high-powered tech company, and other businesses, and you’ll see monitors everywhere. Microsoft workstations have two to three screens on average, and, often, large projectors. Even small, agile startups have docks for netbooks with additional monitors.

So, what’s significant about that? you might ask. Well, using more than one display benefits anyone with a lot of work to do (read: entrepreneurs). Sure, this scenario might not be ideal for everyone, but it’s worth trying out for the following reasons:

Convenient data access

One of the best benefits to using more than one monitor at a time is having the screen real estate necessary to show you everything you need to see at once. When you’re writing a blog post, you can have a word processor and two to three browser windows open to access research, tools and references all at once. You don’t have to waste time tabbing and scrolling, trying to remember where a particular detail is. You just have them all on hand!

The same goes for other forms of data access. Someone in a programming field can could have code references up in one window, the current project in another, a database query result in another and the tools necessary to compile whatever’s needed squirreled away in a corner. Nothing is buried, nothing is hidden; it’s all right there and easy to access.

Part and parcel with data access is a reduction in errors. It’s easy to mix up numbers or introduce typos when translating data from one window to another, but when both are visible on screen at the same time, verification becomes easier.

Active monitoring

Some of us work in positions where a quick response time is crucial. A customer service or sales rep might want to jump on the chance to follow up on a new contact, so having an email window open at one end of a screen is a great benefit. An IT worker might want server-health monitors or other displays visible, to spot a sporadic problem while at work on another task.

What a second monitor — or a third, in some cases — provides is awareness. One screen can be devoted to a primary task, while a secondary screen to the side or above can serve as a window into information. You can simply glance up or over to see how everything looks, rather than taking several moments to tab over or open an analytics window to check.

You can also use part of a second monitor for certain productivity apps. Pomodoro timers and similar task-management aids are great for this; you won’t necessarily be as startled by a sudden alarm when a timer starts counting down.

Task prioritization

One great benefit few people mention is the ability to prioritize tasks while using multiple monitors. It takes some self-discipline, but we all inherently choose one monitor, or even one position on a large monitor, as a primary location. Your current active task goes right in the middle, surrounded by additional windows necessary to perform that task, while the next item or two oin your to-do list takes up tertiary positions on other screens.

Some people might find this distracting or feel they need to multitask on each visible project simultaneously. Personally, I find I can focus on one task while the next one percolates in the back of my mind. Once I finish the primary task, my subconscious has already formulated a few ideas for getting started on the next one.

Jon Peddie Research has performed studies in 2002, 2012, and 2017 about the productivity increases involved with multiple monitor usage. It’s found that usage has steadily increased, and that productivity among multi-monitor users is on average 42 percent higher than single monitor users.


Using more than one monitor isn’t necessarily required to gain the above benefits. There are an increasing number of ultra-wide monitors hitting the market. One ultra-wide monitor can be more useful than multiple standard monitors. For one thing, there’s no gap between them: You can spread out your windows however you like. They’re also often curved, for a more natural display and reduced stain on the neck and the eyes.

One drawback to an ultra-wide monitor is that most programs and websites are not designed with a huge horizontal distance in mind. This leads to a lot of fiddling with window- and app-positioning, and resizing. As an alternative, to skip this, use virtual desktops. You can organize different virtualized desktops for different tasks, and switch between them quickly and easily.


Using multiple monitors isn’t for everyone. It’s not a perfect system, and there are some people today switching back to single screens. Admittedly, you do require a certain level of discipline to avoid distractions while using two or more screens. They can be a pain in the neck — literally — if they aren’t positioned properly. They do require an appropriate amount of space on a desk or in a cubicle; and getting a setup that’s comfortable is a matter of trial and error. There’s also an adjustment necessary if you frequently work with a laptop or tablet on the road, and dock it, or use a multi-screen setup in the office or at home.

Even so, I still highly recommend giving multiple screens a try.

May 28, 2014 • Alina Vrabie

If you spend a third of your life on your mattress, you’d want to buy the best possible one and make sure that sleeping on it makes you feel fresh and rested, right?

Similarly, if you’re spending a third of every weekday (or more) in front of the computer, you’ve probably given some thought to how your monitor setup affects your productivity and well being.

For years, the general consensus has been that an extra monitor (or two, for that matter), is a very effective way to increase productivity. This setup was strongly recommended by a couple of New York Times articles, citing industry research. It didn’t seem to matter though that this research was sponsored by monitor vendors such as NEC, Microsoft and Dell.

But even if monitor sales are not the main reason behind the research, there are plenty of reasons why a single, large monitor might actually be a better choice for your productivity.


Multitasking has been proven to have high cognitive costs and to take its toll on productivity.

In fact, it can take up to 40% more time to multitask than to singletask. There is also a lag time associated with shifting focus from one task to another, during which your brain adjusts. And it takes even longer for the brain to adjust in complex tasks.

What’s more, multitaskers are more prone to errors and are more likely to be forgetful.

By physically removing a secondary monitor from your desk, you’re placing all your focus and concentration on a single display. That’s not what the vendor-sponsored research would have you think, though. Here’s the scenario a whitepaper from Dell cites, in favour of a dual monitor setup:

“Think about a typical usage scenario: A worker may be viewing an Excel spreadsheet, while their e-mail client, Web browser, IM application, and Windows Explorer windows are running in the background. To get from one to another requires switching active windows and taking the focus away from critical work.”

Actually, this worker’s focus is taken away from critical work since her focus is scattered among multiple things – not by the multiple windows themselves. In fact, it’s not even clear what the “critical work” is. Is she collaborating with team members, researching something on the web, replying to clients’ emails, or compiling an Excel spreadsheet? If she’s doing everything at once, the quality of her work is probably suffering.

In addition, diverting your attention from one monitor to another can cause you to lose track of what you’re actually working on. That’s why David E. Meyer, psychology professor at the University of Michigan, warns that scanning multiple screens rather than focusing on one task can negatively impact productivity, as people keep interrupting their thoughts.

The more pixels the merrier

Clay Johnson, author of The Information Diet, makes the argument that you should manage pixels, not monitors. That’s because even the vendor sponsored research suggests that the productivity gains are not due to the additional screen, but due to more pixels. In fact, even an NEC study concludes that “large widescreen monitors can be equally or more productive than dual screen monitors.”

But beware – the interaction between productivity and monitor display follows a bell curve pattern. While productivity does increase as screen size increases, there is actually a point where the screen space becomes too large, and productivity tapers off.

So how big is too big? A 22-inch widescreen monitor has a productivity gain of about 30% over a 19-inch standard monitor. Productivity seems to peak with a 26-inch widescreen monitor, which further improves productivity by 20% over the 22-inch monitor.

A 30-inch display already begins to negatively impact productivity, performing worse than a 26-inch, but it’s still better than a 19-inch display.

The same NEC study concluded that a single widescreen was consistently the best performing setup on text editing tasks and that workers who were rookies in their field showed a significantly higher performance on a single widescreen.

But whether you’re working on a single monitor or a dual monitor setup, you still have to find a productive way to manage your screen space. An application like Divvy can help you manage your workspace with less effort, and take the frustration out of trying to arrange your windows.

Improved ergonomics

We’ve seen that dual monitors can negatively impact productivity, but can they actually affect your health too?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

It’s obvious that a dual monitor setup requires more head and neck movements. But people also sit further away from multiple monitors so that they can take it all in by shifting their eyes rather than moving their heads – which results in a lot of squinting and neck-craning.

Also, most people give both monitors the same importance, and place them symmetrically in front of them, instead of giving one monitor importance over another. This impacts posture as it forces the neck to stretch forward and the spine to tilt forward.

Research has found that the head and neck movements associated with a dual monitor display can increase the risk of neck musculoskeletal disorders – and things get even worse with prolonged computer use!

With a single, large monitor you can reduce head these neck movements that are part of a dual monitor setup. And if you’re clocking serious hours at your workspace, you may appreciate this even more at the end of each day.

Our conclusion: a large monitor with a high pixel resolution will help you better focus and keep you healthier than a dual monitor display.

How many monitors are you using in your workspace? How do you work with your screens? What kind of impact does your work setup have on your productivity? Let us know in the comment section below!

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

Four Small Steps that Lead to Big Ergonomic Results

1. Assume the right ergonomic posture.
2. Designate your main monitor.
3. Orient your mouse to the main screen.
4. Adjust both monitors so they are at parallel height and eye level.

There’s a reason why we’ve seen a 70 percent increase in dual monitor use since 2002, and multiple studies indicate that people who use two screens are more productive—as much as 43 percent more 1 . But if you don’t get the ergonomic setup right, the productivity payoff is often reduced by back pain and eye strain. If you want to get the most from your investment in dual monitors, read on for a few tips to help you configure your monitors for comfort and productivity.

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

1. Assume the Position

Posture is the foundation of comfort, so it’s critical to be in good form before you adjust your monitor arms. For seated positions, your back should be engaged with the lower back of the chair, your feet planted firmly on the ground, and your forearms resting on your desk at a 90-degree angle. The same goes for standing positions. Stand up straight, and make sure your forearms are on your desk at a 90-degree angle.

2. Designate Your Main Monitor

Once you’ve found the most comfortable seated and standing postures, it’s time to adjust your monitors. In a dual-monitor setup, the primary screen should be the one you use to type a report or fill out a spreadsheet. The secondary screen should be used for reference (or watching cat videos).

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

How to use multiple monitors to be more productive

3. Orient Your Mouse

Once you’ve adjusted your monitors, point your mouse toward the main screen. This keeps your mouse out of the “far reach” zone—the zone that can cause repetitive stress injuries because your elbow angle approaches 180 degrees.

4. Adjust for Comfort

Position the main monitor squarely in front of your body and at eye level, and make sure your secondary monitor is at a parallel height to the main display. This will help you avoid the neck and eye strain that happens when you twist or look down at the other screen.