The Sweet Spot of Multiple Monitor Productivity: That Magical Third Monitor
I finally took the time to install a monitor bracket this evening to support my center Dell 30" monitor. Installing a monitor bracket is one of those nice little things you can do to really spruce up your workspace. I had been avoiding it because I though it would be expensive but I found a bracket that would support 50 pounds for under $40. It was easier to install than I thought and I'm considering installing two more to support my other two monitors.
Yes, three. After blogging about multiple monitors for more than eight years (!) and going as far as hooking up five monitors, I've decided that three is the real sweet spot for productivity. Any more is overkill and any less cramps my brain. I admit five was insane. Fun, but insane.
I've always wanted more than one monitor. I remember sometime in the mid-eighties being thrilled when I discovered that I could install a monochrome "Hercules" card alongside my existin g VGA card and type 'mode mono' from the DOS prompt while running Windows, Desqview or OS/2 and effectively run command line batch processes on one monitor while doing Windowy stuff on the other. This was 25+ years ago and I've never looked back.
I've said before on Twitter, and I'll say it again, if you're a developer you need to spend money on a great computer, an awesome monitor, a fantastic chair and a good bed. And food. But the other stuff first.
Bill Gates has three monitors, Al Gore does, Larry Page does. Even Jeff Atwood. ;)
Many years ago Darrell Norton moved everyone on his development team to two monitors from one with amazing results:
After multiple monitors were introduced:
- Productivity in lines of code per day increased 10%.
- Defect levels decreased by 26%.
The New York Times said this about multiple monitors in 2006:
Adding a second monitor turned out to be the easiest, most cost-effective and significant improvement in my work since I replaced my modem with high-speed cable.
It's true. Once you get more than one monitor, you can't stop until you get to three.
Why Three Monitors and not Two?
I think three monitors is the perfect number because the center monitor is where your primary work happens. I usually run Visual Studio or my blogging software on this monitor. The second and third monitors are like rear view mirrors in that they are about 30 to 35 degrees angled in a wrap-around configuration and I glance at them for information while I work.
For example, here's some typical scenarios with me and my three monitors.
|Documentation/PDFs/Browser||Development IDE, Text Snippets||Target App Browser, Application being Debugged|
|Browser with articles being referenced||Windows Live Writer (blogging app)||NetFlix, Hulu|
Without three monitors, you will be task switching, and I maintain that it's always going to be easier (read: lower effort) to glance to the side or turn your head than it will be to ALT-TAB and switch to the other apps. The more apps you run the more you'll be ALT-TABbing around.
I actually find with Windows 7 and three monitors that I use WINKEY+LEFT ARROW or WINKEY+RIGHT ARROW to move applications left and right on a single monitor or between monitors with SHIFT+WINKEY+ARROWS which means nothing is every obscured. That's the key with multiple monitors.
When using computers, out of site isn't out of mind. If it's not visible on the screen then it's you that has to store it. I propose that the amount of your memory that's used to keep track of what apps are running and what state they are in is less with multiple monitors.
Installing a Bracket
Installing bracket was somehow intimidating to me. Turned out I just needed to make sure that the bracket was exactly positioned such that the bolts went into the center of the stud. I had laser stud finder and used blue painters tape to mark off the edges. I used a small level to make sure it wasn't torqued, although since the monitor bracket I got supports rotation there's more room for error than I realized.
Then I was concerned it wouldn't support the weight a 30" Dell Monitor. Turns out that this "giant" 30" Dell Monitor is actually only 25 lbs without the stand. The bracket can support 50 lbs so I had lots of room for error there as well.
Seems there was really no reason for me to be concerned about installing a bracket. I debated using a desk mounted bracket, but my desk is chrome and glass and won't handle any kind of clamp.
The only downside to this operation and the bracket is that it only moves horizontally (with 15 degrees of vertical tilt. So, if I get another desk or change the height of this desk, I'll have to move it.
I have another motorized up/down standing desk to the right of my main workstation, so when I get tired of sitting I can move over to the other desk. That desk has a fourth monitor (it's disabled in my current configuration) that I often hook my laptop up to. That way, even if I'm at the standing desk using my laptop, I've still got a second large monitor.
Here's my setup as I sit in my chair. That
Here's a cheesy panorama of my setup I as swivel in the chair 180 degrees. The white table is motorized so I can sit and stand. It has another 24" HDTV/monitor with a Cisco Umi Telepresence system connected to it. I use it for LiveMeetings, NetFlix, Xbox or Cisco/Skype.
I just can't think of any reason why a developer shouldn't have at LEAST a second monitor. LCDs are plentiful, low power and inexpensive. Most computers and laptops can run a second monitor and even a $100 video card can run three monitors.
Do you run multiple monitors? Why?
You don't? Why not?
- The (Near) Final Word on Multi-Monitor Taskbars for Windows 7 - Ultramon vs. DisplayFusion
- Review: Mimo Monitors - iMo Pivot
- Get those pixels working for you
- Multiple Monitors - put that extra laptop to use
- Multiple-Monitors are love
- Multiple Monitors and Productivity
- Three Monitors - I can't go back
- God Bless us, and our THIRD MONITOR
- The beginning of a streaky LCD...and the end of Multiple Monitor Productivity?
- How to adjust your side/rear-view mirrors (and why you need 3 monitors)