Lots of companies offer employees the option of having two monitors… or sometimes three, or four, and I’ve even seen six!  It feels nice to be given the option of having something “extra” at work.  From the employer’s standpoint, monitors are relatively cheap these days at about $200 or so for a decent 26 inch screen, so if they think they can improve your productivity and workspace for that little money, it makes sense to do. 

But is it really better for you?  Personally, I’ve always been a one-monitor guy.  I’m a bit of a purist in that regard.  So, I’m writing this skeptical that two monitors will really improve your productivity in any real measurable way.  My one monitor stagnation is grounded in a few concepts:

  1. My “secret weapon” one monitor trick:  Alt & Tab (for PC users).  If you need to switch back and forth from one app to another and you are on one monitor, just hit Alt & Tab. While holding down Alt and hitting tab multiple times, it moves you through the other open applications.  I think in many cases, this is just as fast as moving your head from side to side.
  2. Distraction factor: With two monitors open, you might routinely keep email on one side or maybe have a web browser open.  Having email visible at all times will be a significant distraction and will take away from your focus time, which is critical in the accounting profession.  Best practices around email are to check it periodically throughout the day at various intervals, without responding immediately to each email that comes in.  Having a web browser open can be even more distracting.
  3. Confusion: Where’s my mouse?  Which screen am I showing on my Zoom call? Even if you’re accustomed to having dual monitors, I think it can still be confusing and you can easily lose track of your mouse and routinely show the wrong screens to your audience on a video call. 
  4. Plenty of screen space now: As I said before, you can get a 26-inch monitor relatively cheap these days.  There is quite a bit of real estate on a 26-inch screen – so if you do want to open two applications side by side, that is pretty easy.  There is actually a shortcut for that too – Windows & (left/right arrow) will snap the applications into a split screen view.

But… there is some evidence that says two monitors do make you more productive

two monitors
person working at two monitors

A study by Jon Peddie Research found a 42% increase in productivity of “information workers, designers, and engineers” when using multiple displays.

Also, Dell produced a report back in 2011 that basically says users can complete tasks faster with two monitors and users’ satisfaction improves with two monitors vs. one.

Plus, the vast majority of people seem to like two monitors better than one. This is also published in several of the studies. 

So, as a one-monitor person, my last hope of salvaging some shred of dignity while writing this (on one monitor) is that the ergonomics of having one monitor is better than having two. My thought here is that cranking your neck from side to side all the time may not be ideal for your body long term.  Not so fast – there is guidance on two monitor setups that seems to appease the ergonomics experts.  First you need to identify which category of usage you fall into: 80/20 or 50/50.  Essentially, do you use one monitor most of the time and glance at the other or do you split your time between the two. Depending on your category, you can set up your monitors to improve your neck and body stature and movement.

Well, maybe I’ll just hang my hat on the fact that I’m using less plastic and electricity with my one monitor.  Each monitor does include plastics, metals, chemicals (including small amounts of mercury), more cords and usually an “arm” of some sort to position the montiors, all of which will probably end up in a landfill.  As for energy consumption, a typical monitor might use 35 watts of electricity per hour.  Multiplied by 2,000 hours per year = 70,000 watts or 70 kWh, which really isn’t too much, but every bit helps!

It’s Decision Time

In the end, the decision depends on your work habits, tasks and preferences.  For an accountant that wants to have some focus time, I think having one screen is at least as productive, if not more productive than having two. For me, I’m content with my one monitor for now.

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