Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Expanding Your Desktop w/ Multiple Monitors Is A Practical Way To Increase Focus And Productivity.

Some of us are easily dazzled by technology and for Farhad Manjoo, (Writer for The New York Times) a trip to Google's sprawling headquarters in Mountain View, California was "a delirious experience" he says. In one article he mentions seeing a replica of SpaceShipOne, computerized toilets, and solar-cell-covered parking lots. However what caught his attention the most was what he referred to as "pedestrian" programmers' desks, and more specifically their computer monitors.

After meeting several Gmail software engineers, he discovered each sported a spectacular configuration of screens. Based in many different configurations e.g. pairing wide monitors with tall ones, huge screens married to small ones, and several displays in a series. He said the impression was "in addition to building a Web-based e-mail system, they were helping Norad keep tabs on the nations airspace."

For years now, we've all seen the multi-monitor displays in movies, on TV, and even in the real world. The many studies by specialists in human-computer interaction suggest that combining multiple displays can significantly enhance your productivity. The theory simply being that the bigger your display, the more of your work you'll be able to see and the more you'll be moved to do.

Global electronics company NEC, and researchers from the University of Utah conducted a study of office workers who regularly perform several common tasks. The only difference was they used various monitor configurations. The results clearly showed that people who used 20-inch dual monitors were 44% more productive at certain text-editing operations than people using a single monitor.

It wasn't long ago that multi-monitor displays were reserved for stock brokers, film editors, and Google engineers, but not so much for the average Joe in the office. However, prices on LCD panels plummeted by almost a third and continued falling thru 2009, making getting that dream desktop more feasible.

With that in mind Farhad decided to set forth upon a personal quest for multiple monitor Zen, so he got his hands on several displays and paired them up in every way possible.

First he tried using two 22-inch Dell wide-screen monitors side by side, creating one very wide screen that measured roughly 38 inches diagonally. Then, he rotated each display so that its long side ran vertically which allowed him to read a full document on the screen without scrolling. He said he even copied a style he saw at Google when he placed one screen vertically and the other horizontally- basically forming the letter T as if on its side with the wide screen used for working with side-by-side windows, and the tall screen for focusing on a single, long document.

He also tried a couple configurations with his laptop including one wide monitor and one tall monitor. He said to have found the "Cadillac Escalade of displays" when he combined an enormous 30-inch wide screen monitor to the equation, and confirmed the researchers' findings.

As office workers, we all know getting things done on the Internet can be very distracting, for even the best of wills. A typical desktop monitor 19-inch diagonal is really only the Honda Civic of displays. The world wide web is generally a wormhole that routinely pull us off track. Switching thru browser windows each time we look something up, but as soon as you do so, all traces of previous work will disappear from the screen and we forget about the original tasks at hand, and falling into a deep browsing trance, and wake up wondering how in the world you ended up on some other topic having nothing at all to do with your work.

A larger display may not remove all the distractions of everyday surfing, however it can blunt their force by giving you more room to position windows and still being able to see your work, you'll more than likely be drawn back to it sooner if you can see it.

Farhad had found that it wasn't just that multiple monitors reduced distractions; the setup also increased hid efficiency when he did finally get around to working, He would typically use two main programs when writing articles-Word and some other text editor in which he compiled all his notes. He generally switches back and forth from both programs simultaneously. Transferring pertinent data from emails or the web, then to Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Power Point presentations.

Jane Payfer, as chief marketing officer at Ergotron, (the company that makes some of the most ergonomic monitor stands available today) says frequent tasks presents a cognitive challenge. Every time you bring up a new window on your screen, your eyes and brain need to orient themselves to the new pectura, a bit of mental processing that can slow you down. On the other hand, with a multi-monitor setup, the brain rests easy. Farhads notes can sit on one side of his dual screen while his Word document sit ont the other and he says when he focuses on one program he doesn't lose his place in the other.

All in all Farhad found that two 22-inch monitors, one placed vertically and the other horizontally, was a much more cost-effective way to bolster his productivity, than adding a 30" monitor.

One should note however in order to run this setup, you'll need a computer with dual monitor capabilities. This is achieved with a multi-head video card that can be installed or by using a multi-monitor adapter.