Recently I came into the office to find that one of my two workstation monitors was getting no juice–it was completely blank. I’m pretty sure an automatic Windows update blew out the driver for my dual-monitor controller. After a restart, Windows told me it couldn’t find any driver for the video controller, and wasn’t able to find any compatible controllers online either. Tragedy.

It had been a very long time since I had done this job with only one monitor, and it was fairly amazing how difficult it was to go back to it. As you can see in my screenshot below, there are quite a few types of web software I need to have at close reach while I’m working, and there’s no way to deal with them all on a single monitor without constantly switching between windows to see what’s going on.

My desktop

Which got me thinking: you guys aren’t doing all your work on just a single monitor, are you? The difference in productivity between a single and dual-monitor setup is definitely significant for anyone who is consistently working with a number of different tools. But I think there’s also a health issue here: I felt much more stressed out working that way. I felt cramped up and twitchy. By the time I left, I was a little burned out. And it was much tougher for me to unwind than is usual, even after a long day.
Working with computers all day can be much more stressful than a lot of folks would imagine. And it’s usually not an all-out assault of stress that you could point to as something that was definitely doing you harm. Rather, it’s a slow and steady trickle of stress that comes from paying attention to lots of little things for prolonged periods of time. Most of us are already only too aware that chronic stress can ruin your health, so you should take every possible precaution to ensure that your workday is as relaxed and pleasant as possible.
One of the very simplest things you can do to reduce your stress level is to reduce visual clutter. Allow yourself a little room to move around in, and you’ll find you feel less… imposed upon. This most definitely applies to what you see on your screen(s). I usually even go so far as to keep all of my windows just a little smaller than they could be so that I can see the space behind and between then more clearly. This establishes a sense of depth and expansiveness on your desktop, which not only gives you the visual impression of having more space for yourself, it also makes it easier to feel like each piece of work is a solid and graspable object, not a vast expanse of overwhelming workload.
So if you’re not already using at least two monitors, and organizing your workspace in such a way as to create a sense of natural simplicity and calm, then why not take a break from whatever you’re doing and get it set up right now? Not only will the increase in productivity easily earn back whatever time and money you spent on the setup, you’ll probably also notice an increased sense of well-being and improved overall health.