I’ve written in this space before about workplace distractions, as in trying to have fewer of them. In thinking that most people would agree with that plan, I was a bit mystified as dual computer monitors became a quickly growing trend.
The research showed that productivity could be enhanced with two monitors. But that was if, and only if, you can avoid the interruptions — which can come twice as fast in the two-monitor world.
Farhad Manjoo, a personal tech columnist for The New York Times, summed it up in a recent column. He eloquently states:
In a switch that amounts to heresy among some techies, I’ve become a two-screen skeptic. Two months ago, about five years after becoming an ardent proselytizer for the Church of the Second Display, I turned off the extra screen on my desktop computer.
At first, the smaller workspace felt punishingly cramped. But after a few days of adjusting to the new setup, an unusual serenity invaded my normally harried workday. With a single screen that couldn’t accommodate too many simultaneous stimuli, a screen just large enough for a single word processor or browser window, I found something increasingly elusive in our multiscreen world: focus.
The column also noted that it can take workers as long as 25 minutes to regain focus after being interrupted. And constant interruptions create a stressful workplace.
Gloria Mark, a professor who studies workplace distractions (how does one get a job like that?) at the University of California advises that people turn off email notifications, and answer and write email in batches once or twice a day rather than every few minutes. She notes that taking up such habits requires both personal discipline and buy-in from your bosses and co-workers.
That gets to the blessing of one monitor. With a single screen, I was forced to fight my distractions. I had to actively prevent myself from falling into email and Twitter, from ever losing focus on my main window. It took some time for me to exercise that willpower. But by finding methods of sticking to my task rather than coping with my distractions, my single-screen machine ultimately improved how I work. It can for you, too — if only you resist the pull of two displays.