Why I Stopped Using Multiple Monitors

A Single Monitor Manifesto

A single high DPI monitor is all you need. And for some knowledge workers, may actually be preferable.

Focus

Humans can only focus on one thing at a time. So why are we spending money to display multiple things simultaneously? If my email or social media feeds are available at a glance, then I’ll check them constantly. This isn’t just unnecessary, it’s counter-productive. In a world of endless distractions, being able to focus on a single task for an extended period is a seriously valuable skill.

Deep work is becoming increasingly hard in our distraction filled economy, yet also becoming increasingly important and rare. The few who can spend their days on deep work will become extremely marketable and successful.

— Cal Newport in “Deep Work

One monitor means my work — and only my work — is displayed front and center. Distractions stay out of sight, and thus, out of mind.

Does this look like a place to focus on a task?

Reduced Window Management

I ran a 34" LG ultra-widescreen monitor for a month. At first, I loved it.

Virtual Desktops For the Win

Both Mac and Windows support virtual desktops now. On my Mac, I can 3 finger swipe to quickly switch between multiple virtual desktops. This takes less than a second and it doesn’t require me to turn my head and refocus my eyes on content in a different spot. But I don’t waste cycles on this arrangement either. The far left virtual desktop is always my browser, the one to the right is my editor. So I treat virtual desktops like physical screens that reliably present the same content.

The three boxes at the top represent three virtual desktops. A three finger swipe instantly switches between them — in no more time than it would take to turn my head and look at a separate monitor.

Same Workflow When Remote

I often work remote in coffee houses, libraries, public parks, outside on the deck, and on planes. I take my 15" MacBook Pro (review) everywhere. Since I work on a single screen at home, my workflow isn’t impacted when I’m away from my desk. I just keep using virtual desktops to get things done.

Last week I enjoyed working from the beach without any impact to my normal workflow.

My Preferred Monitor for Getting Things Done

I prefer using a single 27" 4K. Why 27"? Because if you want to get actual work done, bigger isn’t necessarily better. 27" is large enough to display two apps side-by-side when I truly need to see two things simultaneously.

A 27" 4K can easily display two windows side-by-side, even when pixel doubled to an effective 1920x1080.
I walk on the treadmill to stay alert and active. I enjoy walking around 2 miles/hour. I find I can use the keyboard and trackpad just fine at that speed. I feel more creative while walking.
Laptop open so I can use the webcam. Otherwise, I prefer to keep it shut.
I move my peripherals to the right, and pull up a chair. The monitor is on an Ergotron arm, so it articulates easily up/down and left/right.
All my peripherals dock on the back. Power, ethernet, audio, USB keyboard, etc. I plug my MacBook Pro into the monitor via a single USB-C cable.

Too much of anything becomes its opposite . — Tim Ferriss

Too much monitor becomes a distraction. So when it comes to monitors, I embrace these maxims:

  • Less is more.
  • Quality over quantity.
  • Location, Location, Location.

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Cory House

Pluralsight Author, Principal at reactjsconsulting.com, Software Architect, Microsoft MVP, Speaker, Clean Coder, Aspiring Outlier.