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Two screens really are better than one

Monitors now come very cheaply, and almost every desktop computer (and all laptops) can run multiple monitors out of the box.

Yet business owners are still reticent to supply their staff with a second monitor. Like the transition from dial-up to broadband, or from black-and-white to color television, anyone who has spent time working with two screens never wants to go back.

Users may claim they love to use dual screen arrangements, but does it actually make a difference to productivity? The answer is a resounding yes. Surveys and research across all forms of computer usage show adding a monitor to your setup add a significant productivity boost. According to Jon Peddie Research, you’ll see a boost of 20 to 30 percent.

That’s a stunning number, and given the current state of LCD monitor prices, it’s a result that can be achieved for less than $200 per user. It could be the easiest productivity win you will ever make.

So why is it so effective? It doesn’t seem too inefficient to flip between applications using the ALT-TAB program switcher. But this need to switch becomes an interruption in the flow of work. Each switch between Word and Outlook, or each switch between Firefox and Excel, is a genuine interrupt that creates a need for the user to refocus on the new active window. Maybe in the days before email and web browsing, we would remain focused on a word processor or spreadsheet for extended periods of time. But now the workplace is a constant series of interruptions, so task switching is a constant requirement.

On multiple monitors, a central task screen can be the focus of attention for document work, while the second monitor (which does not even need to be the same size) can play home to the user’s email and web browsers, or some other combination of screens that requires regular attention. When new mail arrives, just a moment’s glance tells the user if they need to give the message real attention or whether they can stay focused on their current task.

This may seem like a trivial difference in time-saving to someone who has yet to enjoy the experience. But when you spend your day switching tasks potentially hundreds of times, the difference between a split second with two screens and what may at best be ten seconds is the difference between remaining in a genuine mental flow of your primary task and losing an hour by a thousand cuts.

Checking support for multiple screens is quite simple. If a desktop is a recent computer, you can check for extra ports. If there is a second port next to where the current screen is plugged in, you can easily add a second screen. A short stubby D-shaped port means you want VGA support. If it is a wider port with three rows of square holes, you want DVI. On a laptop, if your system lets you output to another monitor, you can use this not just to mirror your desktop (like when giving presentations) but to extend your desktop.

No more excuses. For basic capital investment, your team can instantly become much more productive. And they’ll thank you for changing their lives. How often can you win praise for getting your team to get more work done? Seamus Byrne is is a technology journalist and the founder, director of creative, and host of Byteside.

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