4 Studies which Show that Using a Second Monitor Can Boost Productivity

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, then 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:

  1. Jon Peddie Research — as reported by The New York Times.
  2. Microsoft.
  3. The University of Utah — commissioned by NEC.
  4. 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:

  1. One 20″ monitor.
  2. Two (dual) 24″ monitors.
  3. 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:

  1. InDesign (A design and publishing application.)
  2. PhotoShop.
  3. Word.
  4. Excel.

Users were tested on either:

  1. A 17″ display.
  2. A 20″ display.
  3. 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, I think 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:

Iain Foulds 15-inch MacBook Pro connected to a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display

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? 

How to Make Sure that Your Toastmasters Experience Doesn’t Suck

Toastmasters focuses too much on nonverbal communication and not enough on speech content. When you speak, have a genuine conversation with individuals. Avoid delivering a dramatic-acting monologue.

J.J. Abrams, the writer and director of TV’s Lost, shared his “mystery box” at the TED conference. Did he follow all of the Toastmasters’ speaking rules during his presentation?

Don’t know, don’t care. His talk was awesome. Period.

Despite everything that I like about Toastmasters (TM) I’ve felt some reservations since joining a TM club a few months ago.

I didn’t want to jump to any hasty conclusions but I just read a fair and perceptive review of TM called How to get the most out of Toastmasters.

It’s written by Olivia Mitchell, a presentations trainer and the author of the superlative blog Speaking about Presenting. Olivia was a Toastmaster for 8 years.

Like Olivia, I recommend TM for just about anyone who is looking to improve their ability to speak, to run a meeting, or to lead.

But asking a member of TM what they think of the TM organization is like asking a Christian what they think of the Bible: You’re going to get a biased answer.

As a former TM, Olivia offers a candid account of what’s good and what’s useless about TM. Most importantly, she shows you how to get the most of out TM.

2 Bad Habits that Toastmasters Encourages

1. TM has got me focusing too much on the more superficial aspects of speaking — like body language. I rehearse my body language a lot yet I haven’t given enough attention to what matters most: having genuine conversations with individuals.

2. I’m becoming preoccupied with performing instead of communicating and connecting. What’s the difference? Well here’s a speech that won a TM humorous speech contest. I couldn’t watch it in its entirety because it’s annoying. And I doubt that this speech would get many laughs outside of TM.

But for communicating and connecting, how about Dave Eggers’ TED Talk called Once Upon a School? It’s much funnier than that TM speech, too.


3 Troubling Things about Toastmasters

1.  Many speeches that win TM speech contests are more shtick than meaningful message. This irks me. I didn’t join TM to learn gimmicks. I joined TM to learn how to make a sincere impact on people. When TM awards silly performances, it encourages phony routines instead of real conversations.

2. Few TM have looked at presentation resources outside of TM. They can recite the TM mission statement like it’s a prayer, yet they haven’t even heard of TED talks or Presentation Zen, and they think that “death by PowerPoint” occurs when the speaker is electrocuted by her laptop.

3. Our club loses potential new members because our club is perceived as stilted. To our meetings’ guests we look like the Borg creatures from Star Trek:

We are the TM. Surrender your unique communication methods. We will add your speaking distinctiveness to our collective. Your presentation style will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated.

You can see why some guests are retorting:

Um, thanks, but no thanks. Don’t call me… and I won’t call you either.

But let’s not throw away the proverbial baby with the bath water. No organization, including TM, is perfect.

Let’s absorb all the best aspects of TM while sharing with our fellow club members some things that we learn outside of TM.

2 Tips for Toastmasters

1. Tape your TM speeches and put them on YouTube. Knowing that you’re going to share your presentation with the world will encourage you to do a better job.

2. Ask people outside of TM to watch the videos of your speeches. Ask for candid feedback on whether your talk was interesting and helpful, or if it was boring and useless. Ask what they liked the most, what was confusing or off-putting, and what idea or feeling they took away from the speech.

TM isn’t bad. TM isn’t a cult. TM is actually pretty damn great.

Like most organizations, TM simply has some outmoded traditions.

And to paraphrase Gandhi, it’s up to us to be the difference that we want to see in our clubs.

Check out Olivia’s article and use TM as a tool to reach your own speaking and leadership goals — regardless of whether they’re in sync with the TM program.

No one can tell you what path is best for you. Following your own path is better than being forced to adhere to a TM Track that isn’t a perfect fit for you.

Here’s to you getting the most out of TM and to you being a unique contributer to your TM club.

Your turn: am I totally right or totally crazy? 

7 Predictions for the Future of Computers

What will your computing workspace look like in the future? You can bet that it will evolve over these 7 steps.

Some of these trends have started already. I prognosticated the rest using my genius. That or I made them up.

1. Everyone and his dog will use a laptop:

You demand mobility! Or your boss just wants you to work at home, too.

Laptops have outsold desktops in the United States since 2008. And in developing countries such as India, 1 of every 3 new computers sold is a laptop.

2. You will get a big monitor to connect to your laptop:

One Mac laptop connected to a Mac display

Laptops are portable. But when you sit down at your workspace, do you want to strain your eyes and back as you hunch over a dinky laptop screen? Hell no! You want to use a big, easy-to-read display.

3. You will get a big monitor to connect to your desktop:

one 27-inch Mac and one 30-inch Apple Cinema Display

A puny, under-powered laptop for your main workspace? “No way” you say! Maybe you’ll use a desktop instead.

Besides, you’ll store your files on a server rather than a hard drive, allowing you to access your files anywhere. So you’ll have a desktop with two displays.

4. You will get a second big monitor to connect to your laptop:

2 screens are better than 1, and 3 screens are better than 2…

… you’ll say to your wife as you try to justify buying another monitor. But no justification is necessary because your future monitor will cost the same price as her monthly manicure.

5. You will get 1 really big monitor to connect to your laptop:

Iain Foulds 15-inch MacBook Pro connected to a 30-inch Apple Cinema Display

Wait a second, didn’t I just say that 3 screens are better than 2? Not necessarily, mate. The future is high-resolution 30″ displays.

When the price of 30″ displays drops enough, you’ll get one 30″ display instead of two 24″ displays. That will save about 20″ of space on your desk.

For most of you, this will be computing nirvana. But power users with a fetish for pixels will yearn for more.

6. You will get really big monitors to connect to your laptop:

Because of the high-resolution-per-inch of the 30″ display, this doctor was able to replace 5 monitors with 1 notebook and two 30″ displays.

Surely this is the final step in the workspace evolution. Who could possibly want more? Who could possibly afford more?

Well what if you’re trading stocks? Most traders use 3 or 4 displays (while frantically eating lunch at their desks):


What if you’re defending your country from incoming missiles? Judging by the photos, apparently this job is more laid back compared with day trading.

The guys at NORAD also get the job done with 3 or 4 displays each:


But what if price is no object? What will happen when the price of monitors decreases to the point where anyone can afford whatever they want? What will your workspace look like then?

Something like this, though you’d better be more tidy if you want to be elected President:

7. You will get whatever the hell you want:

Unlike Al Gore above, Bill Gates below won’t let us see what’s on his screens — maybe because he’s using iTunes.

Bill Gates office and multi-monitors from Wall Street Journal video in 2007

8. Bonus:

Do you need monitors this big? Looking at the demand for larger monitors, you’d think nothing got done before humans had giant screens, right?

Of course you don’t need them. But you don’t need a car beyond the economy class, either. I’m talking to you, Mr. Mercedes.

But it’s not about need. It’s about want. And when it comes to coveting big and beautiful monitors, just admit that this review reveals your secret desires.

What do you want your future computer to be like?