Ditch The Dual Displays To Improve Your Focus

Ditch The Dual Displays To Improve Your Focus

Image credit: Brett Morrison/Flickr

The dual-monitor setup is an enticing way to make it look like you’re extra-productive. Multiple monitors just scream power user. Practically, however, the set-up can be more of a hindrance than a help. What if using a single display allowed you to improve your focus and get even more work accomplished?

That’s what developer Cory House discovered after he got rid of his second monitor. Initially, House experimented with LG’s 86cm widescreen display, but found its width encouraged the time-wasting habit of repeatedly fiddling with window sizes to fit multiple apps on a single screen. He settled on a 61cm 4K monitor combined with virtual desktop functionality, eliminating the need to constantly shift his attention from one side of the screen to another.

While he still has the same windows open, the virtual desktop eliminates the annoyance of looking at multiple monitors. “The far left virtual desktop is always my browser, the one to the right is my editor,” wrote House. “So I treat virtual desktops like physical screens that reliably present the same content.” Virtual desktops make it easy to keep apps and accounts separate, and Windows 10 users can customise their virtual desktop experience with a bit of software.

The simplification of his workspace helped him get work done even when he wasn’t in his office. Since he pared his screen number down to one, House was able to rely on the same window arrangement and virtual desktop function on his laptop.

It isn’t surprising that reducing the number of monitors can help you get more work done. After all, use of multiple monitors enables multitasking, which can actually reduce your productivity.

Consider the negative effects multitasking has on the brain, like decreased functional memory, or increased time needed when switching between tasks. The very idea of “multitasking” is erroneous: in reality you’re simply switching focus from activity to activity, an action shown to decrease your ability to discard irrelevant information.

Dividing your attention and focus by multitasking can make you more distracted, and hinder your ability to perform well at any one task. Studies claiming increases in productivity due to a multi-monitor setup aren’t always legitimate, especially considering the ones funded by companies like Dell and NEC, who both manufacture desktop monitors. It doesn’t mean you have to ditch your monitor and start working on screens the size of iPads, but paring down your workspace to one display could prove more beneficial than having a command center at your disposal.

Why I Stopped Using Multiple Monitors [Hackernoon]


  • Sure, so long as you’re not working with information dense applications. If you can make your applications take up part of the screen to have it side by side with another, go for it, but otherwise, you’ll want multiple monitors to get all the information you need in front of you at once, unless you enjoy flipping between virtual desktops or windows all day.

  • Nah for me I run multiple monitors and have found my performance decreases if I move back to one. I generally need reference sites, research etc open while writing or coding so having to flip back between virtual desktops is a massive time drain.

    • Same here. It isn’t a question about productivity, but speed and convenience. The productivity argument assumes multiple monitors are a distraction, which is not the case for me. I can focus all my attention on the monitor I’m using and refer to the other monitors as needed. They are there for reference more than anything else – rather like having multiple books open when writing an essay.

      • Exactly. Completely agree.

        I think that each to her or his own. So if multiple monitors do not work for you cool but to suggest that it is one size fits all scenario is ridiculous.

        • Exactly, it depends what you do with them.

          Work on one montior, and facebook on the other yes you will hit hurt prodiuctivity (unless your job involves working on facebook amongst other things)

          Like you i often have code on one monitor and research on the other (or debugging on one with logs/running app in the other) which removes the context switching.

          Though having said that, when i have lifehacker on one and work on the other yes i suffer 😛

  • Looking at the image of his previous setup, the issue was his distance was too close for the width of the screen he was using, and funnily enough he was only using 1 ultra-wide, which i dislike because of this reason.

    Your attentive vision occupies about 120 degrees of your horizontal field of view and about 60 degrees vertical. anything that leaves this focal area, your mind shifts in or out. so you need to keep in mind how far you are from the screens to make it work, (what is the top screen in your article image for!?)

    Personally i have 3x 24″ screens, that can be easily switched between portrait or landscape, PCB layout works best in landscape, while programming and datasheets work best in portrait, and once I get in a rhythm, I stop noticing the borders like you stop noticing the gap behind the rear view mirror while driving.

    To anyone else reading this “Windows Key + Left or Right” is a quick way to push a window to half a screen, but i’ve grown a fan of full monitors for this job.

  • Virtual desktops are great — when you don’t have multiple screens. Otherwise, gimme 3 screens anyday!

    Sensitive stuff on laptop screen, personal stuff on left screen, misc work stuff on right. Simple — and fast.

    One screen is only if I have to — and I’d rather have multiple smaller ones than 1 bigger. I’ve done all that, and not a fan.

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