Friday, March 21, 2014

Two computer screens may not be better than one unless you're writing a brief

Many techies believe that adding a second monitor to your desktop set-up increases productivity.  Two screens means doing almost twice the work in the same amount of time, right?  But this article from the New York Times suggests that it may be just the opposite.  Buying a second monitor for your desktop may significantly decrease productivity because it multiplies the number of potential distractions awaiting the user.  At least that's what the anecdotal evidence cited by the NYT's reporter says.  Interestingly, though, at least one study concluded that a second monitor may indeed boost productivity when working on research papers because of the ease with which the user can toggle between the source material displayed on one monitor and the document being drafted on the other.  Think Wexis opened to your cases on one screen while you write the brief on the other. Something for appellate lawyers to consider if they haven't already figured it out on their own.

Here's an excerpt from the article.

Discovering Two Screens Aren’t Better Than One

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“Two monitors are a double-edged sword,” said Gloria Mark, a professor who studies workplace distractions at the University of California, Irvine. Ms. Mark hasn’t specifically researched how second monitors might affect focus, and when she recently had a chance to work at a two-monitor machine, she felt that it did make some of her tasks easier. “But most people have their email up on the second screen, and of course, when anything comes in, it’s a great source of distraction,” she said.


The conventional argument in favor of dual monitors rests on what might be called the two-window problem. Imagine, for instance, the process of writing a research report. You have a word processor open in one window, and, somewhere else on the screen, a web browser full of tabs pointing to research papers. To write the report, you need to shift your attention frequently from the browser to the word processor and back again. On a small display, it would be difficult to keep both windows open at the same time, so you’d waste time switching from one to the other. On a large multiscreen display, you can keep both windows open on your screen — and you save all that switching time.

The research supports this. One study commissioned by NEC and conducted by researchers at the University of Utah showed that people using a dual-display machine to do a text-editing task were 44 percent more productive than those who used a single monitor.


But for most people, the time spent juggling two windows or scrolling across large documents isn’t the biggest bottleneck in getting work done. Instead, there’s a more basic, pernicious reason you feel constantly behind — you’re getting distracted.


Ms. Mark’s research, based on observations and digital tracking of office workers, has found that our workplaces are bombarded with distractions. Studies show that office workers are interrupted every four to 11 minutes by external distractions including phone calls, email and people who stop by your desk to chat about the weekend.

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Continue reading here.


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