Are more monitors really better than just one?

Dual- and multi-monitor setups are impressive, but perhaps not the productivity boost we expect

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The more screens you have, the better, right? Those extra pixels allow you to open more windows side-by-side and work more productivitely. Not so fast, says The New York Times' Farhad Manjoo, and in some ways, I agree.

Manjoo points out that previous research demonstrating the productivity increase of adding additional monitors weren't exactly unbiased, since they were sponsored by monitor makers Dell and NEC. Yet, many people do rock more than one monitor in their workstation setup because it reduces the hassle of switching windows all the time and turns those screens into one large dashboard of a sorts.

The problem with multiple monitors, Manjoo argues, is it opens up room for more distracting apps to interfere with your work--not just Twitter and Facebook, but email and other non-essentials. Distractions and multi-tasking are the enemies of productivity and focus.

While the Times article recommends ditching your extra monitor, I think it really depends on your work. Day traders collect and connect monitors like they're precious art, but that's because they need to see lots of information at a glance. Writers like Majoo could do with one monitor to stay focused on the task at hand, but I think that also depends on the size and resolution of the screen you have. A tiny 11-inch laptop doesn't have the space to hold two web pages and a Word document side-by-side.

Lifehacker addressed the multi-monitor productivity myth a few years ago, concluding from reports that it's the number of pixels you have access to, not the number of monitors--and the optimal number was decided to be 2500x1400 (a 27-inch display will do).

As for me, I have a better solution than ditching your extra monitors: just don't load Twitter, email, Facebook, and other distracting apps on your screens and open up all the ones you do need for the work at hand. Problem solved! Enjoy all those pixels.

Read more of Melanie Pinola’s Tech IT Out blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Melanie on Twitter at @melaniepinola. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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