The Small Monitor Experiment

Last week I wrote a post that was a response to Trent Walton’s post titled “Unitasking”. I hypothesized that my productivity and general computing happiness would rise if I stuck with only using the screen attached to my 13″ MacBook Air, thus forgoing using my spacious 24″ Apple Cinema Display.

I committed to do this for a week, here we are now well short of a week and I am willing to report back: this was a terrible idea.

Let me first start by saying that I lasted approximately 5 days — three of which I wasn’t at my office (the only place where I have an external display). So I actually only lasted two days before I decided that this was a terrible idea and went back to using the larger display at work. 1

Small Screen Usefulness

None of this should be read as me stating that small screens can’t be as productive as large screens. I still believe that they are a far more focused — and therefore a better — way to work.

The size and resolution of my MacBook Air’s screen is just about perfect for 99% of all tasks that I do on my MacBook Air. It’s not even those 1% of tasks that caused me to switch back over to my 24″ Cinema Display.


This all comes down to aesthetics. Simply put my MacBook Air looked down right silly sitting on my office desk all alone and that, in turn, led me to feel silly using the setup.

It made my workspace feel awkward at best, and down right annoying most of the time. I hated the way I felt exposed to the rest of the office and how dwarfed everything felt with just that screen sitting atop my 6' x 3' desk.

My decision to switch back came down to two things:

  1. I hated the way it looked.
  2. I hated the way it felt.

I have always believed that you are far more likely to use, and be productive with, something that you love. I just didn’t even come close to liking this setup.

At home I just use the 13″ Air and have yet to have a problem and will continue to do so. At my office, I just felt weird the entire time I tried to not use my 24″ screen. 2

  1. You could argue that had I given it a full week I would have gotten used to it, but I so hated the setup and I couldn’t bear to give it that long.
  2. I did reorganize the entire desk moving the 24″ screen out of site and re-running all the cabling. This was not a matter of a temporary feeling setup.
Originally posted for members on: September 27, 2011
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