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Would more display space result in better productivity when performing computer tasks?

Does it matter by size or by resolution? How about multiple monitors?

Please restrict your answer to facts and research.

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You will need to specify the task (software development, novel writing, composing music etc) that you have in mind, otherwise this question is more like asking for some information on the correlation between display space and productivity. –  tehnyit Jun 29 '11 at 21:38
    
@tehnyit: A correlation is fine with me, I am looking for a more general answer. I think that all three examples that you list benefit, so giving a more explicit situation doesn't really make a difference. I also tend to think that if one had too much screen space that it would serve as a distraction. Mobile phones can be productive too, to a certain limit. I'm wondering if there is a correlation or certain interval of sizes that result in better productivity, and whether research has been done on it... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 29 '11 at 21:43
    
In my experience, multiple monitors help to create focus on different contexts. –  Bernard Vander Beken Jun 29 '11 at 21:52
    
@Bernard This is just an opinion, you aren't restricting your answer to facts and research; pure experience not backed up with proper statistics is not constructive. See also: Good subjective, bad subjective. –  Tom Wijsman Jun 29 '11 at 22:00
    
@Bernard I agree = Having separate monitors is better for me than having 1 massive monitor. Right now, ive got email on half of one monitor, browser in other half, powerpoint and word on the other monitor. –  Simon Jun 29 '11 at 23:48
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7 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

This New York Times article, Virtues of a Second Screen claims:

Survey after survey shows that whether you measure your productivity in facts researched, alien spaceships vaporized, or articles written, adding an extra monitor will give your output a considerable boost — 20 percent to 30 percent, according to a survey by Jon Peddie Research.

The data in the NYT and other similar articles (such as this Slashdot post) appear to come from a Jon Peddie Research study (executive summary) (full report behind a paywall).

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There appears to be another side to the story as well. Lifehacker reports that the multiple monitor efficiency is a myth. They cited a 'technologist' from InfoVegan, named clay Johnson:

My take: there's an optimal number of pixels you need to complete the tasks you need to complete. Worry about that number, not the number of monitors you have. That optimal number, for the vast majority of people is about 2500x1400.

Clay based this opinion off of the fact that sources of some articles stating the efficiency of multiple monitors increased, were often funded by monitor companies.

If you follow the money, you can likely predict the results—the study was commissioned by monitor manufacturer NEC. And surprise, the results of the study are: buy bigger, more expensive monitors!

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Hmm, it's also interesting that virtual desktops can also be of a great benefit... –  Tom Wijsman Jun 30 '11 at 15:16
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As a software engineer, I find two screens pretty much essential for my work. However if I am trying to focus on writing or some other single task, I tend to use my other screen for browsing the web and general procrastination, which isn't good! I have on occasion actually switched off my second screen to prevent this!

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I've found that I get a LOT more done with two monitors; it saves a lot of time switching windows.

Here's some info from a Microsoft research study that found a 9 to 50 percent increase in productivity by adding monitors: http://research.microsoft.com/en-us/news/features/vibe.aspx

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As many of you say, it depends on the tasks you're doing,

But what i think is crucial is how tidy you're with the space you have

Try to do a little exercise, look around you and check how you're using the physical space on your table, is it filled up with stuff you are not using since... ages ago? then an upgrade of pixels in your screen or gettin another monitor, won't make any diference to your productivity.

I've seen many people with a desktop filled with literally hundreds of icons, including documents, application links and so,

Before gettin' an upgrade (and i think this can be applied to many other subjects) ReConsider how you are using what you already have.

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It depends, do you have room for all the things you are paying attention to on the screen? If not, you might need more room.

If you're just focused on one thing, though, you may do better with less stuff on screen, ala http://www.quietwrite.com/

As far as "facts and research" goes, you won't find any that general. Do you have the right tools to accomplish your goals isn't something academic research is done on, especially if you haven't mentioned what those goals might be.

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Interesting question, I would suggest you have a look at some of the articles Scott Hanselman put up on his blog, he has been struggling with this issue for some time and it is worth to read it:

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