Multiple Monitors Does Not Mean Multitasking

I am a big proponent of using multiple monitors. Given this, you might be surprised that I agreed with much of what John Heckman had to say in his recent post Dual Monitors and Multitasking–A Contrarian View. John explains:

I recently reorganized my office and wound up with an extra monitor.  Since “everybody” swears by dual monitors (or more) I thought I’d give it a shot.  Much to my surprise I found the extra monitor distracting and somewhat annoying.  After using the second monitor for a couple of weeks to see if it would grow on me, I finally dumped it.

This will probably stir up vigorous protests, but in thinking about it, I realized that dual monitors is a special case of multi-tasking. While I can see certain cases where it would be useful, in general I think people are kidding themselves if they think they are being more productive when multi-tasking.  Some exceptions include things like sending emails on your Blackberry during boring meetings (which by definition aren’t very productive anyway), or having multiple documents displayed side by side when you are trying to consolidate them.

John then goes on to talk about a Stanford study that shows that humans are not good at multitasking. And that what we often think of as multitasking is really just dividing our attention between multiple things for short periods of time.

The fact of the matter is that “multitasking” in a real sense (or as a computer would understand it) does not really exist. What multitasking really amounts to is that you divide up your time into more or less small “slices” and simply switch rapidly from one “slice” to another. You are still doing one thing at a time, but switching back and forth in rapid succession. So if you “multitask” by doing four things in twelve minutes, you actually focus (for example) on each one of them three times in one minute “slices.” For better or worse, human beings simply do not have quad core (or even dual core) brains.

I agree with everything that he has to say here. Multitasking for humans just means we do more things less well. However, that is not a reason to abandon a multiple monitor set up. Now, if you are using your multiple monitors to monitor Twitter, constantly check your email, follow your Facebook friends, watch the stock ticker, and monitor the score in your favorite game, you are likely not increasing your productivity at all. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable that your productivity is abysmal.

Multiple monitorsHowever, I do believe that multiple monitors can benefit many attorneys. An example of this how I use multiple monitors in my practice. At my office, I work with a three monitor set up. I have my laptop monitor along with two external monitors. the external monitors are the same size and resolution.

The external monitors provide more space to work on and they are my primary working monitors. On my laptop, I keep open my time and billing program, thus helping to ensure that I do not forget to keep track of my time. I also use this monitor to stash any programs or documents that I have open that I am not using at the moment.

I use the monitor in the middle as my main working monitor. In my experience, when I am working on something, I am almost always looking at something else. Sometimes it’s other pleadings, sometimes it’s discovery documents, other times its legal research. Regardless, it is usually something. This something, is what I have on the left monitor.

Thus, I regularly use multiple monitors, however, I am not using it for multitasking, I am using it to keep the information I need to do my job in the best position for me to work with it.

Obviously, my set up will not work for everyone. However, I think it is something to consider.

Note: I believe that John acknowledged these benefits in his post.

Second Monitors Allow You to Work Smarter

I know that I have written about this concept a lot. Thus, rather than blathering on about how much a second monitor can increase your efficiency, I will point you to an excellent post from Laura Calloway, the PMA for the Alabama State Bar. She begins:

If you’re not already doing so, one of the most productive (and cost effective) technology changes that you can make is to add a second monitor to your computer.  Adding a second monitor is inexpensive, (generally under $200 for the monitor and an additional video card, if you need one).  If you already have an extra one lying around the office, so much the better.  And unlike lots of other technology upgrades, adding a second monitor won’t tie up a whole afternoon – or longer – and make you want to pull your hair out.

Go here to read her entire post.

Yes! A New Convert

When I find someone else who has converted to a multiple monitor set up, I feel a completely irrational rush of happiness. No, there is no rational explanation for this. However, multiple monitors provide such an efficiency boost that I think everyone should use them.

Recently, The Greatest American Lawyer has started drinking the Kool Aid. As Enrico explains:

I’m quite ashamed to say that, for all of my talk about being a high-tech law firm, I am only now setting up two monitors for my laptop computer at work.  There is no doubt, no controversy and no contrary argument to the simple fact that two monitors are better than one.Two monitors all you to eliminate the amount of scrolling and window switching and allows you to mix and match your browsers as well as help organize your desktop and increase productivity.

He even provides some links to articles from PC World, CNN Money and others that extol the virtues of using multiple monitors.

Isn’t it time for you to upgrade to multiple monitors? Come on, all of the cool kids are doing it.

Just because I happened to have my camera with me, below is a picture of my multiple monitor set up.


Another Convert to Multiple Monitors

I think that the single best thing you can do to improve your productivity is to add a second monitor to your desk. I was happy to see that someone else has jumped on this bandwagon. Michael Morse recently explained:

I can tell you that out of all the new technology that I have introduced in my office in the past few years, the second monitor has made the biggest splash.  I tried it first, and then I got 2 more for a couple of my secretaries.   After a few days I pretended that I was going to take it away from them and they freaked out!

I could not agree with Michael more. If you have never tried dual monitors, check them out immediately. You will be amazed at the improvement in your efficiency.

With Monitors, Size Does Matter

A recent study from the University of Utah reveals something that anyone who uses larger and/or multiple monitors already know: If you use a larger monitor or multiple monitors, you are more productive. Specifically,

People using the 24-inch screen completed the tasks 52% faster than people who used the 18-inch monitor; people who used the two 20-inch monitors were 44% faster than those with the 18-inch ones.

The Wall Street Journal Business Technology Blog further reports:

The study concluded that someone using a larger monitor could save 2.5 hours a day. But James Anderson, the professor in charge of the study, tells the Business Technology Blog to take that result with a grain of salt: It assumes that someone will work non-stop for eight hours, which no one will, and that the tasks they perform will all benefit from a larger screen, which isn’t always the case. But things like moving data between files are ideally suited to bigger or multiple screens. Anderson, who uses a computer with two 20-inch screens and one 24-inch one, recommends that businesses take the time to match employees with the proper size screen based on job requirements.

If you have never tried using multiple monitors, you should. If you are unsure where to start, have an article about using multiple monitors on my Files page. Also, don’t forget your staff. It’s great if you increase your productivity, but don’t leave your staff using 15 inch CRT, while you are using 24 inch LCDs. You want your staff to be productive as well.