A Quick Take on How a Single Monitor Setup Surprised Me!
For many years, as a software professional and amateur writer, I had always subscribed to this notion that more screen real estate is equal to more productivity. And in certain cases, it is still true.
And yet, some things started changing over the years. I began noticing that it was getting harder for me to focus as I starting doing more and more things simultaneously.
On Medium and elsewhere, I read and saw things that mentioned how we as humans are not really well set up to multitask. But that couldn’t be true for me! The email window open on my second monitor was just there. You know, to alert me as soon as something landed in my inbox (after battling a thousand filters).
One recommendation surfaced a couple of times — use a single monitor. And do only one thing at a time.
It was hard to take it seriously. No way! Any self-respecting software developer knew the value of two screens! It just saved so many ‘alt/cmd + tab’s, and frequent jumps from different source files!
Around five months into working from home in the pandemic, things were starting to look bleaker. Video calls, work, play, everything was constantly happening on the same screens. And whatever might be the cause, my productivity started to drop.
Finally, with nothing much to lose, I decided to get rid of my second (vertical) monitor. This was on a random impulse on a Wednesday. I was fully confident the monitor would be back by the weekend. (Spoiler Alert: it hasn’t come back.)
Right away, I noticed I was switching windows a lot. This started causing a bit of frustration. But then I remembered, the single monitor philosophy is all about doing one thing, and not necessarily about the available pixels.
What I Disliked
- While writing code, I had to constantly switch between multiple windows (even after I had a split view in my editor).
- Large video calls meant that I had to either see everyone clearly by using the full screen, or split the screen to take notes or refer to docs in parallel.
What I Liked
- Writing documents was way more effective. A single screen, with no other distractions, allowed for a better writing flow. It also helped with diagrams. I was pleasantly surprised how well I could recall complex system components and structures without tabbing to another window.
- Code reviews were magical! Yes, occasionally I had to switch tabs to refer to stuff, but overall it sharpened my focus and allowed me to review more code quickly.
- Writing (a lot) for performance reviews by the end of the year was a noticeably better experience.
The single screen did something I didn’t expect. It subtly forced me to just keep one window open full screen. For any app. This was surprising because I use a 32" monitor, and generally don’t like ‘wasting’ pixels with emptiness.
And once that habit kicked in, I didn’t even notice it anymore. My ‘alt/cmd + tab’ experience was much better because I did it less often. Only when it was truly required. I started remembering things more; since they were no longer staring at my face constantly from a second screen.
I noticed I was finishing more tasks, modules, docs ‘end-to-end’, before moving on to something else. Reducing attention thrash and blocking out distractions.
But most importantly, it helped me increase my focus. And that led to a lot of good things happening.
Will a single monitor setup work for everyone? Certainly not. But you should consider giving it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.
True neutral might be great for you!