The Advantages and Perils of Having 2 Screens

There are both benefits and perils in having two screens for your computer. As with everything, it’s all about the tricks to get most out of benefits, and discipline to minimize the perils.

(+) Less minimizing and maximizing

In the course of using your computer, you’ll likely have more than one browser open, perhaps a spreadsheet, and a music player like Spotify. On a single screen you would be cycling through each of these windows, and even with alt-tab key board shortcut to cycle through your windows, it’s not a quick thing. Without any additional plug-ins for example, the order of your windows actually changes depending on what you minimize. With a second screen, you can now position certain windows for each screen, and Basta sa Bahay suggests even going further by being consistent in placement (for example, all entertainment should be on the right side). In any case, because windows aren’t minimized as much, you’re quicker to find a window (hopefully it’s up on one of your screens), and do the tasks there.

(+) Comparatives and other simultaneous uses

Honestly, this is where the use of 2 screens shines the most. Unlike the case of cycling through to locate a single window, there are times when you need both up. Consider a comparative between two designs, or two databases that you want to compare: these are examples when you are using the whole breadth. In my work as a developer, I will often have a dev environment on the right and a production environment on the left. For students, this is great when you’re writing a paper on one window and copying and pasting from a source on the left. And of course, you have the most famous case of traders who are looking at the trending charts of several stocks.

(-) Doubling your electricity consumption for screens

Of course, the most apparent disadvantage of two monitors is adding more consumption. Nowadays, an LCD is around 19-40 watts. You’ll be on the higher end of the spectrum when you have one with bigger dimensions or with a higher frame rate. With most of us being on our computers for at least 8 hours, this does add up. Worse offenders are those who keep monitors turned on without the shut off power saving features: hopefully you’ll use the default settings of most operating systems that will shut off your display when not used.

(-) Strain on your GPU and video card

Let’s be specific about this. While there is some strain on computing hardware in running another display, many people believe that this is minimal. This user on reddit did tests for non-processing intensive apps on both screens and found frame rates to be the same as if it were just one screen.  What is significant however is the multi-tasking that happens because a user now has two screens. In my case, I’ll admit that I can be watching a movie, while a video I edited is being rendered. Or I can be coding one screen while watching a YouTube video is playing on the other. Basically, while users have always been able to run multiple applications, it’s more likely in a dual-monitor screen.

(-) It encourages distractions

This, Basta sa Bahay believes, is the biggest peril of having more than one screen. On one screen, it’s easy enough to shift to another tab, but without even needing to do that due to a second screen, the likelihood of being distracted is bigger. This is worse in cases where you have an online meeting on one screen and are free to do so other things on the second screen. In my case, it’s that open YouTube window that’s bad for me. With an autoplay playlist, it’s very difficult to concentrate.

Final thoughts

There are many benefits to a dual screen setup, but the biggest watch out is for how it can increase distractions and make it harder to focus. You really have to introduce a discipline to physically turn off one screen when you need to concentrate. We’ll discuss this in a different post, but this can work really great with a pomodoro timer. Really quickly, a pomodoro timer is fixed cycles of focus and rest, and it’s all about doing work during focus minutes, and actually taking rest when off. The trick is to actually turn off one screen (when not needed) during focus phases.

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