Size Does Matter — Bigger Monitors Save 2.5 Hours a Day


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.

Watch The Tim Ferriss Experiment, the new #1-rated TV show with "the world's best human guinea pig" (Newsweek), Tim Ferriss. It's Mythbusters meets Jackass. Shot and edited by the Emmy-award winning team behind Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations and Parts Unknown. Here's the trailer.

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

  1. My personal productivity increases since I have to use less ALT+TAB while working will larger monitors – just by reorganizing windows. Also, with small monitors it is harder to understand, which icon should I click on the taskbar – I have to roll over the icon and read the text. So, “up to 2.5″ hours per days seems to me quite possible.


  2. Trust me, the increased productivity working online comes from using large widescreen monitors in_portrait_mode_i.e. turned 90 deg on their side – This is so that you can see much more of a website on the monitor without scrolling. I have two 24 inch dell monitors (which imho the best value) in portrait running 1200×1920 resolution. Also, a worthwhile investment is ultramon software. I cant imagine ever going back, just buy em!


  3. i’ve used the Dell 24″ in portrait mode for a few years. but recently i went with dual 24″ portrait mode Dells. and it’s blowing my mind. it’s like swimming in details. like flying high over the problem. there are some tasks that go faster. but there are also other uses. for example, people gather for work meetings, and it’s a good collaborable environment, because we can all see the details. i’m trying to determine what tasks are remarkably accelerated or more possible with such a configuration so i can possibly shift my contracting focus to capitalize on the advantage. the 24″ is under $400 delivered on ebay.


  4. Hmm –

    My theory (and it’s just that) is that the larger monitor corresponds better with the way our memory works sometimes.

    Rats in mazes are thought (by some psychologists) to learn by developing a cognitive “Map” of how the maze works and being able to run through it (usually they’re rewarded to encourage this behaviour) based on a gradually more sophisticated and accurate map.

    On a larger monitor, maybe the larger number of contextual visual cues (being able to see rows 1 – 30 instead of 1-25 in a spread sheet for example) lets us pull things from our memory easier and quicker. Remembering things with contextual aids is significantly easier than remembering them without.

    Maybe the people using the computer found it was enough space to be able to place two items more comfortably on the screen, and they didn’t have to keep hitting alt + tab or apple + fwhateverexposeis to cycle through things.

    Another ideas is that the people who worked on 24″ monitors felt cooler. So they worked harder. Maybe the people who ended up dumped on the 18″ers felt a little inferior? A little jealous? Spent a little more of their attention on watching the people who had the cool stuff?

    I don’t know. I think the individual users usage patterns would vary this enormously. I also think a test like this in “controlled” conditions only really effectively tests the exact circumstances tested and otherwise generalises to real world usage less well than we might imagine.


  5. I agree – big monitors are a benefit, especially if you (or, I) are develping software. I’ve been using atleast TWO 19″ monitors for the last 6 years or so, mostly because a 24 was too expensive at the time. The extra space is well worth it.

    I think two monitors make sense on windows, with maximised screens, where as one big one (24″, 30″) makes sense on a mac with expose and the general trend of none-maximised windows.

    going from that to a 13.3″ panel however, thats painful :)


  6. It’s the ability to be able to see more data at the same time without having to switch between the documents or scrolling in a document. A dual display setup will probably have a very similar effect.

    You could have a spreadsheet with the data open in one area (or one display) and a presentation you are working on in another area (or on the other display). That way you can actually see the data while writing your analysis.

    I often have my browser with information about a topic I’m writing about open on one display and my editor in the other one (I work with a two display setup). Being able to see the information while writing my own thoughts is very helpful.

    I suspect it’s only a second or two every time you switch between documents or scroll in a document, but as with any of these tiny units they add up very quickly.


  7. 18 inches is the visible screen size on a 19” CRT monitor. On CRT’s it’s common that the visible screen is smaller than the advertised dimensions. I’m not sure if this is the case with LCD monitors.


  8. Just had a quick look at your link to Expose. On PCs, you can use a keyboard shortcut to close all the open windows and show the desktop – it’s ‘windows key’ + ‘M’. I use it all the time.


  9. I think it’s simply having a bigger “desk”. It’s called a desktop for a reason… Would you consider doing desk work at a desk the size of a single manila folder? Of course not — you’d spend way too much time digging through the stack of papers to find the one you want. Same thing with a small “desktop” — how many windows can you have open at once and still see part of each? If you can’t see it, you have to go looking for it.

    I generally don’t have full-screen windows because of this. My largest window (typically firefox) takes up at most 4/5ths of the screen. That leaves me a strip of open space in which I keep the edges of other windows I may want to switch to quickly, and it leaves me a little space to keep the icons for other apps I may want to start up.

    I don’t think it’s the time spent in each app that makes the difference. The difference is being able to switch back and forth a little — not too much! Multitasking doesn’t work well. But when there *are* interruptions, it’s nice to be able to pop one window to the top, do something in it, and then go right back to what you were doing before.

    A 17″ (diagonal measurement) monitor is roughly 13.5″ by 10.4″. That’s 141 sq. inches. A 19″ monitor is 15.2″ by 11.7″, which is 178 square inches. 178 – 141 = 37, 37/141 = 26% bigger!

    That’s right, a 19″ monitor is 26% bigger than a 17″ monitor.

    By the way, Tim, I think carrying a 24″ monitor around the world will get tiring. :)


  10. Tim,

    I don’t think it’s just a matter of scrolling/scratching faster. The majority of the population thinks visually. Larger screens allow you to see more and therefore process more at once. So you’re not just scrolling less, you’re thinking faster :-)



  11. At work I have a 17″ dell pc nightmare. At home I have a 24″ iMac and I am in loooove with it.

    If you are looking for a decent monitor, apple has a couple refurbished ones at 55% and 63% off. I remember you saying you had a mac. in the refurb section.

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  12. We can scroll faster than we can read. Generally people spend most of their time copying or referencing data from one document and pasting or interpreting it on another. Rarely does anyone generate totally unique content purely from the mind. The ability to display both documents in their entirety reduces time clicking between the documents and finding the place on the page they where looking at.

    Also the lag time between documents increases the likelihood of forgetting what you where looking for. This has much the same effect as being interrupted by email, only more frequent. By having the document you are typing in open, it also acts as a reminder telling you what you are looking for.


  13. A buddy I know in webdesign has two 30″ monitors, and swears that he needs a third. I get by on my 17″ iMac — but I’ll bet I’d be much faster if I didn’t have to use exposé to pop back and forth so often between CSS Edit, Transmit, Fireworks, and Camino (I develop with WordPress).

    For most people reading, I doubt it’d be that big a deal; for developers, or folks with lots of windows open at once, I bet it’s a huge timesaver.

    Just ask Al Gore…


  14. Vista basically has the “expose” feature. It’s right near where the “start” button use to be.

    It turns out my 22 inch was an investment ^_^


  15. Allen, that’s not actually true. On paper, we average about 150 words per minute reading, on screen we average about 80 words per minute. Using rapid reader, I can read at about 650-700 words per minute fairly easily. The limiting factor in our speed of reading is the mechanical movements of our eyeballs as it scans the screen or a page.

    I would think that the biggest advantage of a larger screen and/or multiple monitors is having multiple windows up at once, which gets into the cutting and pasting aspects. I know from a programming perspective, having the code on one window and the program running in another window makes it much easier to get my work done.