Most programs designed to increase workplace productivity require a sizable investment. Companies may need to purchase new capital equipment or send team members to extensive off-site training. New hires or outside consultants may be necessary. Significant changes usually involve a significant expense.
But there’s one, nearly instant fix that can increase productivity by as much as twenty percent overnight at minimal cost. It’s adding a second display to your computer screen.
For people used to hunching over a crowded desk or stretching in bed with a laptop, an additional display might seem distracting. You’ve got your icons organized where you want them, and the application you’re using front and center. What would you do with an additional video monitor?
The first and most obvious use of a second screen is for reference. Much of what we do when we’re creating, editing, reviewing, or composing on the computer requires looking at source material for inspiration or facts. In a one-screen environment, you must constantly switch between the two applications. Although it only takes a few seconds to do so, the mental fatigue from constant swapping builds up over time. Adding a display allows you to glance in the right direction to retrieve the needed information.
An additional screen also gives you more real estate for complex work. A spreadsheet can be made twice as wide. A graphic design can be spread across multiple viewports to highlight additional detail. Technical users—whether creating websites, software applications, or audiovisual media—can see the source on one screen and the results on another. Two screens are better than one.
But is there good science behind additional displays? According to the New York Times, the answer is "yes." One study, by the University of Utah, found that productivity among people working on editing tasks was higher with two monitors than with one. The author of the study, James A. Anderson…said he uses three monitors himself, but also said that it was hard to generalize about whether more [than two] monitors are better. At the very least, Professor Anderson said, more monitors cut down on toggling time among windows on a single screen, which can save about 10 seconds for every five minutes of work.
That’s not the only work that’s been done on this topic. An article published by the Software Usability Research Laboratory confirms that dual monitors are more popular and more productive. And in addition to the science, another good indicator is to walk into offices of people who spend more time in front of the computer. From programmers to accountants to stock traders, multiple monitors are everywhere.
So get another one and increase your productivity. And maybe a third, or a fourth.