In Defence Of A Smaller Monitor

In Defence Of A Smaller Monitor

Even though the multi-monitor productivity boost is a myth, screen real estate can still deliver a productivity boost for your work. That said, web developer Peter Legierski argues that the limitations of his 12″ notebook made all the difference in his productivity.

His reasoning:

Having a big screen is a good excuse to stick a Twitter client here, mail client there, have list of files pane constantly open, and in general keep every window at some random size, definitely not full-screen. In best-case scenario you’re just lost in open documents and you’re juggling windows, dragging them to the left, to the right, pushing out of visible workspace etc. More realistic scenario: everything above + each open app takes a bit of your attention, which is counter-productive and annoys you in the longer run.

Legierski’s reasoning is very similar to why I’ve often opted to write on an iPad rather than on my amply-pixeled computer, and for a lot of work, I agree. The deciding factor is more a matter of the kind of work you do, so rather than just assume that bigger is better, it’s worth taking a second look at your needs and possibly downgrading your screen real estate if you find yourself filling that extra space for distractions more often than not.

How to increase productivity per square inch of your screen []


  • That’s just silly. Finding a window is in my experience orders of magnitude faster than opening and closing windows on demand.

    It’s like suggesting that you have all documents in your office filed at all times, except for the specific piece of paper you’re writing on. So no reference materials or files or a calculator allowed on your desk.

    Having said all that, there are distractions that can sap your productivity, alerts for incoming communications such as email, chat, etc. In some contexts they’re needed, but turning them off once a day for an hour will increase your sanity and productivity.

  • I get where Peter is coming from but I think he has conflated screen real-estate with having lots of windows open and viewable. More screens mean you can have multiple views or pages open together, which is very handy for document editing, copying and pasting.

  • I also guess that he doesn’t code. For me two screens are essential. typically I have Outlook, Visual Studio and Sql Management Studio open. For home use yes, most people don’t need it, but I would also say that most home users shouldn’t own a PC (I’ve been in the family support role for a long time)

  • I have a 24″ LCD and my 15.4″ laptop screen, 90% of the apps i work in i have maximised to full screen, like steward, im a software developer, Visual Studio and SQL Management Studio are key to my work, and for me, those are much more productive with maximum real estate (sometimes one on each screen, or i have a Visual Studio open on both screens).

    I generally have communications and research on one screen and work on the other. If I’m trying to solve a particularly difficult coding problem, i have VS on one screen, Chrome on the the other (often with 30 tabs open) so i can look at the problem and potential solutions at the same time without having to do a context switch (having to alt-tab or minimise one app to see another to work in has a high cost, just looking at a different screen can almost eliminate that cost)

    And I’m one of those that think 1080p monitors are a load of crap, i lose 120 pixels so that i can watch HDTV on it and not get any black bars (just have the bezel and whatever is behind the monitor instead), and if i watch a movie then i get black bars anyway cause its not 16:9.

  • Using my PC like an appliance would only work if it were handheld, and I could switch by touching the taskbar. As it is I have multiple windows in specific positions on my screen(s) in a layout which I’ve developed over time to suit my particular usage patterns.

    Can’t do that with fullscreen-only smartphone-style applications.

  • I’ve got Five Screens – Two 27inch on Portrait and Two 23inch on Landscape and One 42 inch Lcd TV for clients to see. I think personal productivity maxed at 3 and the fourth was just because someone else I new said they had 3 so I had to get one more to piss them off

    • Agreed. My last job started with two screens and build up to 5 as steadily more multitasking was forced on us. 3 was the peak in terms of actual productivity, since you can get work done on one while keeping an eye on the others. the 4th and 5th screens tended to get forgotten about because they were just too far out of view.

      Nowadays I use two for work with a third for whatever machines I’m fixing at the time. It works well for me. I do see the point of the article (smaller screens force you to single-task and focus), and I’d recommend Multiple Desktops to anybody who wants to single task on a big screen without actually having to close everything down.

  • On my development machine at home i could never go back to one screen and even two is a struggle. I have 3 dell ips screens, all 23″ if i was to replace them i would get something at a similar size but with a better aspect ratio, 16:9 makes the display rather wide and a little awkward at times.

    It sounds as though most people use their screens the same way that i do, two focused on work and a third as an anscillary screen for communications and entertainment. My other two normally have either an IDE, CAD packge, datasheets or browser with refernce matterial.

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