Size Does Matter — Bigger Monitors Save 2.5 Hours a Day

144 Comments


Bigger is better? (Photo: ikelee)

According to University of Utah researchers, using a larger monitor could save you 2.5 hours per day.

Specifically, test subjects completed everyday tasks like editing documents and massaging spreadsheets 52% faster when using a 24-inch monitor than they did with an 18-incher.

Not sure who uses 18-inch screens (17″ and 19″ are more typical), but I’d be curious to see how productivity with a 24-inch screen without Expose compares to a 17″ Mac with Expose activated.

If they are referring to docs and spreadsheets, it would seem to be a mostly scrolling-based discrepancy, n’est-ce pas? I suspect that if we use double-finger dragging on a scratch pad to scroll vs. a mouse, this gap would narrow.

Any theories to explain the difference, and how to make a smaller screen behave like a larger screen? Top picks for afforable 20-24″ monitors? I’m planning on a 22″ Acer LCD in black and hope to quantify the difference over a 4-week period.

[Thanks to Scott Allen via Wall Street Journal for the tip.]

Posted on: March 15, 2008.

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144 comments on “Size Does Matter — Bigger Monitors Save 2.5 Hours a Day

  1. I recently got a new Dell laptop, so I ditched my desktop PC but kept the 19″ CRT. Now I use my laptop and the 19″ as a dual display. I love it – I am able to keep so much more usefully open now. I use one monitor as my main one to work off, then refer to stuff on the other. It is great for web design, well actually pretty much anything I want to do. If I’m not doing a whole lot I’ll run my media player on one monitor while ‘working’ on the other.. ^_^

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  2. I’m back with more feedback.

    I just purchased 22′ inch Dell Ultrasharp monitors and my life (and productivity) have changed. I cannot believe it took me this long to figure this out.

    The fact that you can look from right to left to work on two documents instead of opening and closing windows is simply brilliant.

    I’m so grateful I read this post just before buying my monitors.

    Miss Gisele B.

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  3. Was this study paid for by a monitor manufacturer?

    On windows, multiple monitors help the most because the system is so useless at multi-tasking multiple applications. I use virtua-win and that softens the problem somewhat.

    On a GNU system dual screens help too, but the virtual desktop idea is built in and works much faster and cleaner. You can more easily switch between desktop scenarios without having to re-arrange everything.

    To be honest, dual monitors are most useful for running a web browser/im on one and your ‘work’ on another – but that’s hardly going to increase productivity.

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  4. I first read the title as save 25 hours in a day and thought you’d invent time travel!

    My 24 inch monitor does make my laptop monitor seem measly and constrained by comparison. Not sure which one I’m more productive on though, as the monitor makes it easy to get distracted and makes watching high-res videos pleasurable, which certainly cuts into productivity.

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  5. Can you provide a link to the study?
    I’d like to know if productivity was something artificial like characters per second or if it was something more tangible like the number of TPS reports and cover letters one can make in a day :)

    Sometimes having activity in the peripheral can destroy a user’s focus because of all the stuff happening around the primary work. If you can fill double monitors with work then I’m betting the state hold pretty true. If one of the monitors is facebook or youtube… well…

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  6. I think the jump is more that you can have two windows open at once or just barely overshadowing each other. I have used double monitors for years. I have lately been working on a single 32″ TV screen and it is working OK. I would rather have a pair of 22′s or 24′s. Kinda like with women–lol—
    Rick

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  7. Would love to see some data on the use of twin screens. I’d guess that two smaller screens would be better than 1 bigger screen, except in the case of working with large spreadsheets.

    I’ve been using twin 17″ screens for a while now, and will be switching to two larger monitors when space and cash allows. Typically my main window (the one on the right) usually has my work docs on and the left screen has itunes open. :-) Not really going to help with productivity much :-(

    The twin screen set up is commonly used by music producers, and this is where I find them to be of most benefit when working. Bigger screens / higher resolutions definitely an important factor in increased productivity in this situation!

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  8. You can always use two monitors and literally “throw” documents between them.

    I do this for translating (Japanese to English).

    The feature is also built in with many laptops now. You can display side by side content on the laptop monitor and on the external. Needs a few mouse clicks to make it work, but it’s awesome!

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  9. I have found that using two monitors is the most productive thing I have ever done. I have two, 20 inch traditional Viewsonic monitors (not widescreen) in my office and two, 19 inch traditional Sony monitors (not widescreen) at home.

    You can have a Word document open on one screen and an Excel document with information you need for the Word document open on the other screen. You can be composing e-mail on one screen and have something you are referring to on another screen.

    It is especially helpful using the Cut and Paste functions.

    You can get two high quality LCD monitors for under $400. If your videocard doesn’t support dual monitors you can add one for under $50.

    Once you try this you will find it something you cannot live without. Extra RAM is great too, but nothing beats a second monitor.

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  10. I started with two 24 inch screens and its great! I recently found a site that sells an 8 panel set up that looks even better. The only thing is that I am working to set up all my business so they are running on virtual autopilot and I don’t want to leave them behind when I get this to a true 4 hour work week….

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  11. here’s an easier one– send your virtual assistant a nice large samsung monitor (cheap+ good) as a present, & let him/her do the all work. :P

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  12. I think the biggest time wasters are having to reorganise windows if you must have a lot of windows open to do your job. So having a large enough screen or screens allows you to see a lot of stuff without the need to reorganise.

    Some of the reasons for this are due to deficiencies in GUI design.

    Windows’ and Mac OS X’s click to focus and raise on focus is a pain. Many Unix users like to have focus follows mouse. That way, you can stack windows and paste input into different windows without having to pop them to the top. So maybe you are scraping information from various documents and want to paste them into some note taking application.

    Applications stealing mouse focus is another cause of pain. Suppose you are reading something off screen and typing it into what you thought was Word, but some lousy application has decided to pop up a dialogue box to tell you that it has successfully (or failed) to do blah blah… and has stolen focus so you have typed a lot of stuff into nowhere.

    The default big fat borders around the windows in Windows applications are also a waste of screen real estate.

    With Windows, compared to Mac OS X, there is a lot more “clicking OK” to be done.

    However, with Windows you can install a Tweak-UI component called X-mouse or something that gives you focus follows mouse. There is also a Tweak-UI option that prevents applications from stealing focus. On Mac OS X I do not know of a way to do focus follows mouse.

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  13. I have found that changing the background colour of my screen has dramatically increased my reading speed for emails and websites. Some people require lighter or darker colours so that the black type can stand out more. You can play around with background colours in the control panel to see which one suits you best.

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  14. My laptop has a 3200×3840 monitor when at home. Yet hits the road in under 1 minute. So I get the best of both words, portability, and productivity.

    http://intrio.com/blog/2008/01/21/a-great-deal-1920×1600-24-monitor-for-370by-westinghouse/

    Note that those monitors are ‘special’ unlike most LCD’s they have high visibility regardless if they are portrait or widescreen.

    Since then I’ve done away with the desk, it’s just me vs the monitors. Cheapo keyboard (which is great for RSI) and trackball in lap.

    Didn’t cost more than $2500 *with* laptop a few years ago and probably has paid for itself multiple times in time saved on consulting. It otally kick ass when it comes to wrangling code and spreadsheets. I cringe at times having to travel + code as it does feel like stuffing yourself into a box. Youtube is a trip at that size too.

    I was going to have close to double that size but damn bios got in the way :/ hopefully newer generations will get it right.

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  15. If you’re on a Mac, the operating system has a feature called Spaces that allows you to have multiple screen that you can access with a keyboard shortcut. Comes in handy for a small screen assuming (1) you don’t need to do a side-by-side comparison of 2 windows at once and (2) you have plenty of RAM on your machine.

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  16. I was surprised to see how long the dual monitor comments came up. I had been using a 15 inch laptop and a 19 inch second monitor for a while and found that excellent. I upgraded to a 24inch second monitor and then took steps to link the 19inch too.
    - My findings were that two screens are indispensable (copy/paste, saving on printing, researching and comparing multiple sites etc) but, three screens became a distraction as I ended up feeling that I should use them all so would put movies or youtube on the third screen and end up being distracted.
    Imho – 2 reasonable size screens are optimum.
    (looking forward to trying out the portrait concept though)

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  17. Yahh two screen are great as a designer I used 2 22″ monitors at hd resolution calibrated to by printers. Now I just upgraded to 32″ monitor from best buy fro guess what $340 new Hi Def. Had to upgrade my video card to HDMI to get the real 1080P.

    And a as a case study design wise I can do twice the work from my old 19inch to my 32 inch and of course having two xeon 2.8ghz duel cores does help a little in graphic design so does Adobe CS4 master suite.

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  18. I agree with their findings 100!%. I’ve been in the graphic industry for 5 years, and when it comes to design work – Size matters! I found though, that even more important than size, is quantity. I went from a 22 inch to a 25 inch and noticed a very slight increase in work flow efficiency. But after i started using a Dual monitor setup, my productivity exploded. For me, it’s all about having dedicated space for different tasks.

    Two weeks ago, I cursed the corporate world and quit my job to start living my own life. Today I purchased a new laptop for my muse, and wasted no time buying a second monitor to go with it.

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  19. I have a 19″ screen and looking to get a second one. I’m trying to justify the cost, but I always hear how much time it saves. Plus for me I could edit sites in one and preview/review in the other.

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  20. Dual screen is the way to go. The same as having a 2nd desktop and you don’t have to worry about resizing. I use a 13″ macbook with a 19″ 2nd monitor. Saves hours every day!

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  21. I suffered a stroke 4 years ago and therefore have problems retaining information. Too much or hidden windows on a screen causes too many problems for my mental resources.

    I have found that my 13″ macbook connected to a 22″ LCD monitor works for me. The 13″ macbook is very portable for me when I am on the move and usually require me to only look up information or take notes (I use OmniOutliner for notes). While when I get back to my home I plug it in to my 22″ monitor and have all that real estate to create with.

    I have used 2 monitors in the past but I have a problem with that now. You see I get easily distracted from the task at hand, in fact I forget in a space of a quick look at some distracting info of what I was doing even if it is sitting right in front of me. Strange, YES! let’s hope the same doesn’t happen to you. So I find that one monitor of 22″ works very well. Just enough to have some reference material up and take notes in Omni Outliner and to view a spreadsheet and make edits, or to edit a photograph, but not enough to have some distracting screens in view that may capture my attention and waste my time – not in viewing it but remembering what I was doing.

    Seeing I have this disability I would have to agree that larger screens do increase productivity for me, but 2 screens actually decrease productivity. I use Spaces with my macbook to create groups of programs – ie: communications (mail + skype), photo editing (lightroom + adobe), general (bento, omnioutliner, calendar (when required as I use Bento), word, excel), web creation (omnioutliner, browser, cyberduck). Anyhow you get the idea, as I group programs together that I need to get a task done. Sometimes they cross over, which is dangerous, so I keep a pad at hand to write where I was up to in the task.

    Note: I was an IT professional in the corporate world and was a consultant in Windows Servers and PC’s, LANs etc. I now use Macs. I find it easier to use, even though I still keep up with Windows and use it as required.

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  22. Interesting read.
    In January we bought 4 24″ 1920×1200 monitors and we thought we had our new monitor size for the year. (Last year we gave many of our staff two 22″ 1600×1080 monitors).

    We bought two 28″ 1920×1200 monitors about 6 weeks ago with the idea of giving them to managers that frequently had multiple people in their office reviewing their screens. This worked great and the manager’s loved their monitors.

    Next we bought more and gave two of them to our engineers doing CAD work, (one for CAD, one for reference material). It took a few hours for them to like them but after a day they love them.

    We bought another batch of monitors and gave two to one of our project managers. He loves them as he can spread schedules and spreadsheets out over both monitors.

    Those that don’t like them right away, like them after we do a little training so the use them right. Now, most of the staff wants these monitors. The people with the 24″ monitors are ok with them, but they would rather have the 28″ monitors.

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  23. stock trader here and while i have multiple 20′+ screens thats only at my office…when i travel i use two things that increase my monitor space….first..if im only going to work on one screen (one laptop) when I am mobile…i use a program that creates up to 32 virtual desktops…you can put all ur docs and applications up and just hit a hotket to switch to a completeley different screen using just one monitor…my current setup is for 8 virtual desktops when using just one laptop.

    the program i currently use is called dexpot…..just goggle it ull find it

    the second option i use when mobile is two additonal laptops (ibm t42s with my hp mega latop w/17″ screen) and ethernet them together…then i run a program called Maxvista (from europe) to have all three computers run the same desktop from the original HP laptop.

    The advantage here is that I don’t lug around many monitors as the extra two are just small laptops that weight less than 5 lbs…each with its own battery backup and can plug in too. (the wonderful nature of just using laptops…if you are mobile i would procure a few idential laptops and make your array of monitors from these computers) with Maxvista you can also use any computer and extend your desktop onto that screen…using that computers video and ram resources.

    If you want ideas for larger monitor space…google stock trading or trading hardware and you will find that traders have been using various forms of expanded monitor space and there are some very creative methods of doing so.

    hope this helps someone

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  24. Nice post. I had not considered the possibility that some monitors may be too large. It’s a perfect experience. This is actually more effective with more than one monitor. I like the idea of arranged side by side comparison of the data. Thank you for your hard work in this article.

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  25. I’m using dual 22″ monitors, mounted on flexible monitor arms. This enables me to move the screens around into whatever position is convenient, and swivel and tilt. I also downloaded a small piece of little known software called “gridmove”, which divides the screen into a grid allowing you to snap the windows into position. I often work with multiple programs and windows, so I made a custom template to organise the screen exactly the way I want. I understand that windows 7 has a similar feature allowing 2 windows to snap, but this one has really made work much easier and faster because you can snap as many windows as you need, and layer them on top of each other. A year ago I had one monitor without gridmove, and it was nearly impossible to get any work done. Getting things done much faster now.

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  26. I was thinking that my brother will love this, but he just responded with a grin: “do we need research from a university to know this? isn’t it obvious?” Given the time I’m acquainted with my brother I should have known better :)

    Anyway … after my 14″ laptop I had a 20″ iMac for some time and thought it would make a huge difference. But in my case it didn’t. It must be because I try to have as few programs as possible running in parallel. The same with tabs. I love to close tabs and programs and to delete files, unused software, and emails.

    It was of course easier to edit documents side by side, but I didn’t experience a significant difference when developing software and browsing the web.

    I might be an exception though, because everyone I know prefer big screens .. even my mother uses two screens, whereas I’m quite happy with my 13″ MacBook Pro.

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  27. I know that when I’m working I’m constantly re-shuffling things around on my screen, and having the extra space would save heaps of time. Also I think more of your peripheral view would help you to become more ‘immersed’ in the computer (don’t know if thats good or bad) and would obviously make it more natural to just work and not get distracted.

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  28. I’m reviving this to put in another plug for Spaces.

    I use a 15″ MacBook Pro — it’s the best combination of small size and large screen I’ve found. Anything smaller is like working on a toy, larger and I don’t have the portability. [I work on the couch or in an easy chair a lot.]

    Spaces lets me divide and group my open applications, keeping the ones I want open but don’t want to see off in their own space.

    Another program I use is HyperSpaces, which lets me tweak my spaces for maximum productivity.

    By the way, I’m a new Tim follower, and am soaking up the info as fast as I can read. There’s gigabytes of good stuff here, new trails to follow … thanks, Tim!

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  29. To be honest, I cant even imagine working without at least 2 monitors. I think that the article is pure truth and I can imagine having new full hd display that will help me with my productivity.

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  30. As long as the pixel size increases with physical size then you’ll get more real estate to play around with.
    I agree that time would be saved, but 2.5 hours, seems like a lot.
    If you are stuck with a smaller screen try tipping it at 90 degrees so it’s layout is similar to the paper it’ll be printed on.

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  31. I wowed when I saw this. Isn’t it amazing to look at an invention that hundreds or maybe thousands of brains worked out for? I must say, I am really amazed. It saves a lot of time and it is very useful for the busy people out there.

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  32. Very nice insight and research into screen size. Something to note from my experience is that screen resolution and brightness has a huge part to play on productivity. Too bright will have you seeing your work while you’re sleeping at night!

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  33. In my experience, maximum screen resolution is way more important than just actual screen size, although that’s not that hard to upgrade and it’s barely even an issue nowadays.
    Probably an accurate point though.

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