Jake Worth

One Monitor

March 31, 2014

I have one computer monitor on my desk. Not long ago ago, this was the norm for everybody, but today, I am the only person in my office who doesn’t have two or more monitors. Three or four in a semicircle is common.

My monitor is made by Dell and it’s at least twenty inches. It works for me. People sometimes ask why I don’t want another, and this post is my attempt to explain.

I used to have multiple monitors. One screen was my personal email, the other was my terminal and text editor. When I wanted to look at a different screen, I turned my head. It seemed efficient, because I was already switching windows all the time.

When I started a new job, I was given an older computer that didn’t support multiple monitors, temporarily forcing me down to one. I could have found software and hardware to circumvent this limitation, but I was busy getting up to speed as a new employee.

At first, I didn’t like the change. Wouldn’t I be half as productive with half as many screens? It felt archaic and lame.

In a short amount of time, my opinion started to change. Both Windows and Linux come with the command ALT + TAB, which pulls up a list of every program running. If you are going back and forth between two programs quickly (like a browser and a text editor), you don’t even have to pull up the entire menu, because the default behavior is to switch back to the window you just left. Committing ALT + TAB to muscle memory took about two hours. I don’t even think about it anymore. If you use an command prompt text editor like Vim, it’s even easier, because the command line and the editor are the same program.

Here is a short list of why I like this setup:

  • It’s easy to switch between office and remote. I’m already using one screen, so when my office internet dies and I have to take the laptop home or to a coffee shop, there is no friction in the transition. One screen == one screen. This is handy at a small startup.
  • Less distraction. Multiple monitors present a feast of information. One screen is like having ‘distraction free’ mode enabled on every program, all the time. I think about time-wasting internet sites less when the aren’t easy to see.
  • More ergonomic. Most people with two monitors split them in the middle of their workspace and position themselves right in the middle. They are never looking head-on at either screen, unless they are constantly rotating their chair. I found this awkward.
  • More minimal. I realized that I just didn’t need another monitor. Switching to one meant one less point of failure, one less screen my company had to pay for, one less screen to clean, one less screen to spill coffee on, etc. I was inflating my information consumption to fit a second array of pixels.

There’s evidence that multiple monitors does not increase productivity. That has been my experience. But productivity is personal, and what works for one may not work for all. If you’re thinking about it, buck the trend and give it a try. You can always get your other monitor back if you don’t like it.


Jake Worth

I'm Jake Worth, a developer at Hashrocket based in Chicago. Blog About Now