4 studies show that using a second monitor can help you complete computer tasks more quickly.
Have you thought of spending a couple-hundred dollars on an extra monitor — but you’re not sure if it’s worth the investment?
Or maybe you’d like to convince your boss to get you a big monitor that you could connect to your laptop.
If you’re in either situation, this article might help: It summarizes 4 studies which show that adding a second monitor to your computer can increase your productivity.
This post is a bit long. But it’s faster to read these highlights than the original research articles.
The studies were conducted by the following organizations1:
- Jon Peddie Research — as reported by The New York Times.
- The University of Utah — commissioned by NEC.
- Pfeiffer Consulting — commissioned by Apple.
Let’s go to the summaries:
1. Jon Peddie Research: Adding a Monitor Can Boost Productivity by 20 to 30 Percent
The New York Times reported on a survey by Jon Peddie, stating that:
Adding an extra monitor will give your output a considerable boost — 20 to 30 percent.
The author of the Times article didn’t share the survey’s details but he discussed how using a second monitor aids his work as a writer:
- I can write this article in one screen while I look at the second screen to refer to an earlier draft, a website or a photo.
- I can compare the picture I’m editing on one screen to the original picture on the other.
- When shopping on the web I can compare products on each screen.
- When working on a wide spreadsheet I can stretch it across the 2 screens to see all of the columns.
- I save time when working with 2 applications: Instead of pressing alt-tab I just sweep my mouse from one screen to the other.
He says that buying 2 medium-sized monitors is more affordable and gives you more total screen space compared to buying just one big monitor. (For example, buying two 23″ monitors costs less than buying one 30″ monitor.)
2. Microsoft: Adding a Second Screen Can Increase Productivity by 9 to 50 Percent
Disclosure: The Microsoft article does not discuss details of how productivity was measured.
Highlights from the article:
- Adding a second screen can achieve productivity increases of 9 to 50 percent.
- Users like having 2 displays: “Give someone a second monitor, let them use it for while, and then try to take it away. It just isn’t going to happen.”
- A 15″ laptop screen is about the size of one 8-by-11 sheet of paper. It’s not enough space. “What if I took away your desk, and gave you one that was only 8-by-11? How easy would it be for you to work?”
- “If you’re able to squeeze 10 percent more productivity out, do you know how much money that will save?”
3. The University of Utah (commissioned by NEC): Larger Monitors and Dual Screens Help Users Edit Text and Spreadsheets
This study compared user performance and preferences when editing text and spreadsheets on either:
- One 20″ monitor.
- Two (dual) 24″ monitors.
- One 26″ monitor.
Highlights from the study:
- Using a larger monitor or dual monitors helped users complete tasks as much as 52 percent faster, saving up to 2.5 hours a day.
- Users preferred using a 26″ monitor or dual 24″ monitors over a single 20″ monitor.
- Users performed better on a text-editing task when using a 26″ monitor or dual 24″ monitors over a single 20″ monitor.
- Users performed better on a spreadsheet-editing task when using dual monitors over a single monitor.
- Based on user performance and preference from this study, a large widescreen or multi-monitor configuration is recommended in any situation where the use of multiple documents is an ordinary part of the work.
- As notebooks replace more desktop PCs, a larger monitor alongside the laptop can help boost productivity and satisfy users.
4. Pfeiffer Consulting (commissioned by Apple): Larger Screens Reduce Task-Completion Time by 39 to 74 Percent
This study compared users’ task performance within the following applications:
- InDesign (A design and publishing application.)
Users were tested on either:
- A 17″ display.
- A 20″ display.
- A 30″ display.
Unlike the studies above, this study doesn’t compare performance on a single monitor to dual monitors. It instead compares performance when using different-sized monitors.
However, I believe we can extrapolate some of the findings to dual monitors. For instance, when the study compares user performance on a 17″ monitor to a 30″ monitor, this is similar to comparing user performance on a 17″ or smaller laptop screen to the same laptop that is connected to a 30″ monitor:
The study measured the time required to complete simple operations — such as editing text, formatting spreadsheets, or retouching images — using either one or two programs.
Highlights from the study (I’ve highlighted some of the authors’ commentary in addition to the numbers):
- Overall, users on the 30″ screen completed tasks 39 to 74 percent faster compared to users on the 17″ display.
- It took twice as long to combine information from Excel with a Word document on a 17″ display than on a 30″ display.
- It took almost twice as long to format cells within a large spreadsheet on a 17″ monitor than on a 30″ monitor.
- It took three times as long to combine and position image elements in Photoshop on a 17″ display than on a 30″ display.
Screen Size Matters
- Most of us will find a larger screen more comfortable to work with than a smaller one. We instinctively feel more at ease with more screen space, just as we prefer to have a larger work desk rather than a small one that forces us to move things around constantly.
- Not unlike the need for a large surface when we are organizing papers, a display that eliminates the need to shuffle windows, to open and close palettes, or to zoom in and out in order to switch between detail and overview will increase our productivity.
- Anybody who has tried to work with a large spreadsheet on a laptop will realize how important it is to be able to see and access as much information as possible at one time.
- It’s important to be able to see more information. A writer will be more efficient just because she can see more of the text. A translator will work faster if he can see a full page of both the original text and of the translation next to each other without having to shuffle document windows around.
- Being able to see the content of 3 full-size web pages next to each other makes researching and comparing information much faster, yet the direct benefit is hard to quantify.
Return on Investment (ROI)
- Seemingly small productivity gains on frequently-repeated operations can result in a significant ROI over time.
- A good example is the necessity on smaller displays to repeatedly display and hide palettes in Photoshop. The 30″ display allowed for a productivity gain of almost 10 seconds over a 17″ display in this operation. Repeated 100 times, this operation alone has saved a designer more than $26, based on an hourly rate of $100.
- The most important lesson from these productivity measures is not how much faster we work using a big display, but to what extent smaller displays slow us down. The question is: Can we afford to be slowed down in our work?
What is the ROI of giving a 30″ monitor to an employee to connect to his 17″ laptop? If you pay the employee $50 an hour, then based on the time savings he would realize as calculated in this study, the ROI is $2,937 a year.
It’s hard to quantify all of the benefits of using an extra monitor.
But these studies demonstrated that using only a single display — especially if it’s a small laptop display — can really be an anchor that drags on your productivity. Using an extra monitor can help you to more quickly and easily do your daily computing tasks.
Beyond this empirical data, the anecdotal benefits of using an extra monitor are legion on the internet.
Finally, people enjoy having an extra monitor: And happy employees are productive employees.
Click here to learn how to buy and set up a second monitor.
Do you think an extra monitor could benefit the work you do? Or if you already have one, what impact does it have on you?
- Disclosure: The last 2 studies were funded by NEC and Apple. Both companies manufacture monitors. Their reports are more like sales copy than studies published in a journal.
Still, these studies demonstrated productivity gains, and you would expect the companies to use these studies to help sell monitors. [↩]