The single screen setup

When looking at a “normal” work setup in an IT-heavy company you normally see at least two screens per work-place. For some reason, people assume that they get more done and don’t miss anything important when they can have all their most important applications open at the same time and visible. Peeking over some coworker’s shoulder it is quite common, for instance, that I see Slack or some e-mail client of their choice on one screen while and their IDE/editor or browser on the other.

At the same time, whenever I move to a new table at work, many are baffled when they see me just opening my laptop and seemingly forgetting to plug the external screen in for days or even weeks. The main reason for that is that I cannot really focus with too much going on on my screens. All I want and need is a single screen with only the one application I’m currently working with being either in full-screen mode or maximized. Only on some rare occasion do I need to have an editor and a preview-like window or documentation window open at the same time. Then I simply do a 50%:50% split and reset that again once I’m done.

If I have a second display, I use it very ... secondarily.

Quite some time ago (in 2017) Cory House wrote on Hacker Noon about why he preferred a single high-resolution display over multiple displays which mirrors my reasoning quite well. I’m currently using a 27" display alongside my laptop at work. The only app that is ever on the smaller sidecar-display (in this case my laptop’s) is OmniFocus. It doesn’t have any notifications, no blinking, no nothing. It’s also never the primary focus but only something that helps me put my current work in context.

That being said, the 27" screen feels a bit too large so I will most likely give a 24" screen a try in the near future. At home, for instance, I’m mostly using just my 13" laptop screen and that setup works quite well for me. Sure, 15" would be better but it’s a trade-off between weight/portability and screen-size. The additional 2" simply weren’t worth it for me.

Something I’ve never completely warmed up to is the concept of having multiple virtual desktops. I’ve tried them again and again for the last 20 years, first on Linux and later on macOS, but I never found a configuration that had benefits over just fullscreen + alt-tabbing. If you use virtual desktops please let me know about your setup!