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Can adding a second monitor hurt your worker productivity?

I’m writing this blog post on my second monitor. It’s a 21-inch widescreen. I also have a third monitor, a 24-incher that actually belongs to a second computer — and sometimes I use my iPad as another auxiliary window to the world. And to think that just a few years ago I was satisfied with just a single 14-inch laptop screen! According to this week’s story in The New York Times, I’m multitasking on multiple monitors. But am I really? Is adding a second monitor like driving a car while talking on a cell phone?

Most of the time, I’m using one monitor to read source material while actively working in the second. Adding a second monitor can be like two hands washing dishes: The left hand might be scrubbing and the right hand might be rinsing, but you’re still doing one activity.

However, for other workers, working on two monitors might mean having a project open on one and their email and Facebook open on the second. In that case, true attention-splintering is taking place. A famous 2005 study found that email distraction can cause a decrease in functional IQ, akin to a whopping 10-point decrease overall. That’s worse than the impact of smoking marijuana. Ironically, the study was sponsored by a Hewlett-Packard, a major vendor of computer monitors.

Regardless, an easy way to increase employee retention is to give them excellent tools to do their job. If adding a second monitor is the thing that makes a worker — like me — happy, it’s a no-brainer. Whether it’s a productivity tool or a detriment to overall creativity is up for debate.

Out of curiosity, how many monitors do you have on your desk right now? What’s the ideal scenario for productivity? The comments are waiting to hear from you.

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Adding a second monitor has been immensely helpful. Drag and drop, cut and paste. It is just faster and more productive. Monitors are cheaper and the flat screen footprint does not require that much more space on the desk. As for all the email and social activities on company time, did that not happen long before dual monitors came along? What happened then? Was the employee encouraged to find another job or what? Nothing has changed. It used to be cigarette breaks.