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Displays Programming

Do Developers Really Need a Second Monitor? 1002

jammag writes "It was an agonizing moment: a developer arrived at work to realize his second monitor had been taken (given to the accounting dept., to add insult to injury). Soon, the wailing and the gnashing of teeth began. As this project manager recounts, developers feel strongly — very strongly — about needing a second monitor (maybe a third?) to work effectively. But is this just the posturing of pampered coders, or is this much screen real estate really a requirement for today's developers?"
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Do Developers Really Need a Second Monitor?

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  • by ewg ( 158266 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:22PM (#36143860)

    Ten points if you read this post on your second monitor like I did!

    • by Kaffien ( 635219 )
      Oh yes! I love dual screen monitors. 2x22's at work and at home I wanted dual screen so bad I have a 24 and a 17. Proven to make workers more productive. Not sure if it's because they can work on both or keep work on one and Slashdot on the other. That way work occasionally comes in to peripheral vision and reminds them they are supposed to be working.
    • Do I get triple points for reading it in my third vertical monitor?
    • how many points if I'm running this on my 4th?

      1st - code view, full screen.
      2nd pallets/toolbars etc (either in dreamweaver or eclipse)
      3rd the output, results, test, whatever you want to call it.
      4th this one switches a bit. Sometimes the database manager, or a putty to the server. Even mail or IM distractions...

    • Ten points if you read this post on your second monitor like I did!

      Posting this from my second 24" display right now! =P I do molecular modeling and virtual simulations of proteins & macromolecules, so the added visualization space is a huge plus. It's especially nice to be able to view the entire protein one screen, and all of your data and/or literature on the other. It's also nice when running VM or connecting to the Windows Citrix Server on one screen and doing real work in Linux on the other -- it's almost like having two computers.

      At home, I run a 22" monitor v

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tompaulco ( 629533 )
      Rats, I'm reading it on my primary monitor. My work is on the second monitor.
  • Maximize (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jimmyhat3939 ( 931746 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:22PM (#36143874) Homepage

    My opinion is this is largely a consequence of how the Maximize functionality works / has worked.

    The ability to half-screen maximize by dragging a window to the left or right side of the screen helps quite a bit -- this is in Windows 7 and newer builds of Ubuntu (IIRC).

    My typical reason for wanting a second monitor is the ability to maximize documentation/help stuff on one monitor while the other is reserved for the code itself. I find I work much slower on, for example, a laptop where I constantly have to switch back and forth between different windows to get at what I want.

    • by arielCo ( 995647 )

      In Compiz the closest option is the Grid plugin [] (screenshot []), which in turn was inspired on WinSplit Revolution []. The current ideas for future features in Compiz would bring on par with Win7 behaviour and even better, like:

      • Make the grid size reconfigurable instead of the fixed 33%,50%,66% sizes (ie. Maybe an even better option is to retain the 2x3 grid, but allow the user to specify how big the grid blocks are.)
      • Perhaps assign a layout per workspace or hotkey to switch between grid sizes
      • In addition to the ho
    • by tknd ( 979052 )

      It isn't just maximize. It is also because certain apps and even websites are designed to take up your entire screen, and the DPI or pixel density on current displays is abysmal.

      If documentation on a webpage is taking up my entire screen in order to be usable, I have to keep switching back and forth in order to get work done. If the IDE is designed to take up my entire screen, now anytime there is testing I have to switch back and forth to understand what's going on.

      Pixel density comes in because it limits

      • It isn't just maximize. It is also because certain apps and even websites are designed to take up your entire screen, and the DPI or pixel density on current displays is abysmal. ....
        Pixel density comes in because it limits the size of the fonts we can use. Anything lower than 8pt or 6pt becomes too pixelated to be readable. Yet my smart phone has a dpi about 230dpi and I can read much smaller fonts with ease. Meanwhile my current 17" monitor at work only has 90dpi!

        Current displays are pretty much all 1920x

    • Virtual Desktops (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sd.fhasldff ( 833645 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:25PM (#36145202)

      My opinion is this is largely a consequence of how the Maximize functionality works / has worked.

      My money is on the complete lack of virtual desktops on Microsoft's platform.

      Yes, there are third party apps that add the capability, but I don't know a single Windows developer who uses them. On the other hand, I don't know a single Linux developer who DOESN'T use them... (now watch Slashdot provide countless counter examples).

      Developing on a system without virtual desktops *or* a second (at least) monitor is a huge pain in the ass.

      • by pjt33 ( 739471 )

        I don't find virtual desktops to be any more useful than tabbing between windows. They still don't let you see multiple large windows side-by-side in the way a multi-monitor setup does.

        • Most multi-monitor users I've seen don't sit 6 feet from their cluster of monitors to allow them simultaneous (non-peripheral) viewing of multiple monitors. On the other hand, I can switch between two virtual desktops in a fraction of a second.

          The only time a second monitor, IMHO, is an improvement over a virtual desktop is when you can use your peripheral vision to monitor some live

          Of course, most Windows users (even developers) are so glued to their mice, that switching desktops would be a time-consuming

  • Yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by OverlordQ ( 264228 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:23PM (#36143886) Journal

    But is this just the posturing of pampered coders, or is this much screen real estate really a requirement for today's developers?

    When debugging a web-app I find it infinitely easier to have my terminal windows open on one monitor with the code and logs and then use the second monitor for my browsers so I can actually see things *as they happen* instead of trying to do lots of switching.

    • by MBCook ( 132727 )

      This was the killer app for me. The ability to watch server logs while doing things in a web browser. Being able to easily monitor something without having to switch windows with your active task or make things a few lines tall to fit them both on your screen.

      In my current job, I only have one monitor, but it's widescreen so it serves that same purpose pretty well. I can have one window off to the side and the browser on top on the right. I can't see everything, but I can see the log well enough to know wh

      • Re:Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:39PM (#36144304) Journal

        Don't be a snot. That Outlook monitor probably makes a real difference to allot of those folks. Usually its a matter of the company not having efficient work flow and other tools but plenty of people in the business office side of the house just LIVE in E-MAIL. Being able to look at letter and an order entry type screen at the same time means the world to them.

        Just like being able to watch tail, while you do stuff in your application means the world to you.

    • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

      I have never had two monitors, but I have seen it done. Actually, I agree with this alot. Screen is a precious and limited resource. Right now I have 10 windows on this desktop, and 5 on another. Just shuffling through the pile on this one takes a few seconds, a few seconds where I can lose a train of thought, or get distracted. If I had more desktop, I would totally use it.

      Its especially the case when you have an IDE open, which really needs to take up most of the screen much of the time and is painful to

  • Ask a non-developer how big their physical desk is, and whether a 18inch desk would be big enough for their work. Surprise surprise - it isn't big enough for a developer's work either.......
  • Actually, regardless of how many physical monitors you already have, I'd say you could get even more benefit by organizing all your stuff across a few virtual desktops as well.

    I kinda miss my WindowMaker setup with named workspaces and workspace-specific dock/clip.
    Also kinda miss the multi-desktop app thumbnailing I had with e16 (or to some extent the gnome 1.x panel)... useful to keep an eye on what the other virtual desktops were doing.

  • by walterbyrd ( 182728 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:25PM (#36143918)

    I bought a 24" monitor a few years back for $170, and a 23" last black frideay for $109. Why fuss about such a minor expense? If two monitors make developers 1% more producrtive, or just make developers feel "pampered" then why not?

    • by mseeger ( 40923 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:29PM (#36144072)

      Even simpler, the search&removal, the complains, the complain handling: all probably have cost more than another monitor....

    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:32PM (#36144152) Homepage Journal

      You can never have too much screen space as a developer. It is that simple. Even if it to run the Debugger in one and the application in the other. As many people pointed out that a monitor costs what? $150? $200? That is how many hours of pay for the Developer?
      Even worrying about it a clear case of Penny Wise Pound foolish.

    • by GreyWolf3000 ( 468618 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:17PM (#36145050) Journal

      The cost of buying a second monitor for one developer is immaterial. The cost of buying second monitors for every developer isn't.

      • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
        it still is, if you have 40 devs that comes to $6000, which is jack squat compared to the salary of 40 devs
      • by rsborg ( 111459 )

        The cost of buying a second monitor for one developer is immaterial. The cost of buying second monitors for every developer isn't.

        Lets put things into perspective here. $200 for a decent 2nd monitor (we're not talking IPS Cinema displays here) compared to:

        • 1% bonus (avg 80k salary = $800)
        • Any decent proprietary software license 1 seat (avg. $300)
        • 5 hours of productivity (at 80k salary = $200)
        • ...etc.

        The dual-monitor solution of days yore has been solved with stuff like DisplayLink [] or Thunderbolt [] (or by good gfx cards if your desktops are beefy enough).

        I even have a 3-monitor solution for my home setup - A macbook pro, with 1 disp

  • However a third is indispensable.
    • by afidel ( 530433 )
      Amen. First is email and documentation, second is web browser (IDE for a developer), third for the system/application you are currently working on. Monitors are so cheap that a triple head setup could even be justified for an intern making near minimum wage, why is it even a question?
  • Well (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:25PM (#36143940) Homepage Journal
    The company down the street seems quite happy to shell out another $200-$300 to keep that $120,000/year developer happy. If your developer is any good, maybe he'll just go work for them.
  • by olsmeister ( 1488789 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:25PM (#36143946)
    The second monitor is extremely useful for keeping a browser open for reading Slashdot while I 'work.'
  • Some old, OLD resource kit for windows nt, faffy to set up but best virtual windows app I've used. CTRL F1/F2 whatever to jump around screens so can put the email/browser on one screen, dev tools on another screen, vnc views on other screen, one spare as needed.

    For dual screens, I find a second machine with a monitor, vnc server, and win2vnc works well to be able to have more things going on too (though it's usually hulu/netflix during calm times...!).

  • Slashdot (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:26PM (#36143964)

    I keep a browser open to slashdot visible all the time. if I didn't have a second monitor, how would I get work done?

  • Juggling with windows when you have to read specifications, code them, check the result, etc. while monitoring a server to see if your data goes through - I had enough of this. Most of developers at our company have 2 monitors but that`s only because we`re on laptops. I still find 2 monitors a bare minimum at home. Mostly because I run VMs, emulators or read Slashdot and listen to music while I have zillion of Eclipse windows opened. If one monitor is enough for you, then you`re not working hard enough! :
  • by TheGeneration ( 228855 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:26PM (#36143984) Journal

    If the company wants the programmer to be more productive they'll give them two monitors. That way they can run the application on one screen, or documentation, and have the IDE open on another. Having to toggle between windows while cutting and pasting, or looking for fine detail differences between output, and code is a real real real suck ass aspect of coding.

    This could of course be fixed by giving them a larger monitor and fixing the way maximize works in the OS.

  • Easy answer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd2112 ( 1535857 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:27PM (#36143992)
    No, but monitors are cheap and programmers time is expensive. A second monitor will usually improve productivity at least to a small degree so it should pay for itself pretty quickly.
  • To me, it's not about number of screens, but the total amount of available screen space (both pixels and inches).

    I regularly use one large screen (26" widescreen) for most of my work. I find this screen large enough to do side-by-side work when necessary. If I needed to have 3 items open at once (code/documentation/google search?), I would probably find it easier if I had more space than I do.

    That said, when I'm really in the groove, I don't want anything but what I'm working on visible on my main screen.

  • by langelgjm ( 860756 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:28PM (#36144026) Journal

    It's not just developers. I originally discovered the benefit of having a second monitor at a coding job in college - one screen for code, another for a browser to test the code and read documentation, etc.

    After that, I bought myself another monitor for my desktop. Two came in great handy for translation - one monitor for source document and reference works, other monitor for your translation. It came in handy for reading electronic documents and taking notes/outlining. It's great for any job where you deal with lots of text, and need to be able to compare different documents, synthesize them, etc.

    I'm now up to three. There are diminishing returns, obviously; the third isn't strictly necessary for me, but highly convenient. Any more than this would be tought for me to use effectively, though I suppose a square arrangement of four could be useful for some people.

  • It was an agonizing moment: a developer arrived at work to realize his second monitor had been taken (given to the accounting dept., to add insult to injury).

    Why the needless troll for accountants? You don't think keeping track of the money in a company is an important task? You really should wake up to the notion that business is a team sport and ALL the jobs matter. Accounting, maintenance, marketing, sales, production, engineering and the rest ALL matter. Only an idiot thinks that their job is somehow the only one that matters.

    But is this just the posturing of pampered coders, or is this much screen real estate really a requirement for today's developers?"

    Is it needed? No. Is it useful? Frequently. It also depends on how high the resolution of your primary monitor is. If you ha

  • I find that I now have a hard time working if I don't have a second monitor. There are just so many scenarios where it is helpful:
    Debugger in one window, running program in the other
    Email in one, thing I'm writing an email about in another
    Word in one, thing I'm writing a document about in another
    Website with how to in one, thing I'm working on in another.
    It saves so much time not having to swap windows.

  • For the most part, unless you're a programming grunt and do nothing except hack code all day long, you're multi-tasking. Email, IM, a work order system, CVS system, perhaps ERP, CRM, DMS, etc. Any number of systems that may require constant or frequent monitoring. That is where developers (and most other computer jockeys) need a 2nd monitor.

    Now...if you're lucky enough to be able to say, "Look, I'm coding this afternoon and I'll be unavailable entirely until I get done," and then you can close everything
  • by LordNimon ( 85072 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:29PM (#36144078)

    I would go crazy trying to develop on only one monitor. In fact, I could use a third, but it's not worth getting a new video card for it.

    Also, from the article, the idea of a second monitor being a "perk", comparable to a free lunch, is stupid. A second monitor is a tool to do work that directly affects productivity. A free lunch is just another way to get paid. The two are completely unrelated.

  • I mean seriously, if you can't do your job with one monitor, there is something wrong.

    On the other hand, if you can't gain enough productivity from a second monitor to justify its purchase, there is also something wrong. My second monitor easily saves me 2-3 minutes of tabbing a day, minimum. Most good coders cost at least a dollar per minute. That's say just $2 per day, so a second monitor pays for itself in 100 business days or less.

    So a company that won't pay for a second monitor if you want one is li

  • I'm doing web testing using Selenium. I have my log file up on one screen and the other screen is where my 13 firefox browsers for the app suite show up. Yes, I do use a single screen (when I VPN to work from home and I'm using my home laptop) to Rdesktop into my work machine. When I run my tests on the single montior, I have to just run the tests,then wait until they're finished to look at the log file.
  • I focus on one thing at a time. I'm an old fashioned compulsive maximizer. More screen is not always better. I've seen people use multiple monitors, they have to micromanage the windows themselves. I doubt there is a difference in productivity with two monitors. More stimuli does not necessary mean you'll perform better. I like to do one thing at a time, keep all alerts, email alerts and anything that could pop up off. It keeps you in the zone. I do the same with my phone. It's on silent and makes no noise.

  • Without my second monitor, I can't easily get to my 3rd or 4th.

    Thank god for Synergy+ ... My corporate PC with Outlook is far right... 2 middle monitors are my coding monitors, and consoles to my embedded targets, jtag debugger window, etc... Far left monitor is web browser and datasheet displayer. I might even pull up a logic analyzer window on the far left.

    My cows used to make fun of me but I see they all now have at least 2 monitors and some of them 3 or 4...

  • It's not an absolute requirement, but if you do a lot more than coding (writing documentation, tailing logs, remote desktopping into Windows machines, etc.) it's certainly useful.

    And given prices of monitors these days, it really only needs to save a developer a few hours a year to pay for itself.

    Sure, I could live without it. I could write code in vi instead of Eclipse, too, but why?

  • One for coding, one for documentation reading.

    Or how about debugging, one for output, one for code?

    Or just to read the specs of your new product in one window while designing the interface or GUI in the other.

    There are times when there's no need for a second monitor. But there's also a lot of times when two monitors simply help a lot. Plus, considering their cost, it will have paid for itself when it saved you about 5 hours of work. It simply is a no-brainer to have one.

  • So, apparently, says the research to come out of Microsoft's User Interface group. [] Quoting:

    The research study required users to complete several different tasks, switch from one task to another, and remember data. None of the study participants had used multiple monitors before.

    The first study revealed that the users' productivity increased by 9 percent. Further studies showed even greater increases - at times up to 50 percent for tasks such as cutting and pasting. Mary Czerwinski, the VIBE research manager, is excited about her group's discoveries, asking, "If you're able to squeeze 10 percent more productivity out, do you know how much money that will save?"

    One of the user studies that the VIBE group did required users to navigate through a series of doors, and then back their way out. They wanted to test the user's ability to remember a series of actions on a small display versus a large display.

    "The interesting thing is that they try to get it right. We found that memory capability is considerably improved on a big display over a small display. There's something about engaging the peripheral vision that improves your spatial memory of what has gone on," said Starkweather.

    They've also found that additional monitors greatly help women in computing. See same article.

    My own experience with this is that I perform better when I can get more pixels in my field of view, regardless of screen size, as long as I can read what's going on. An additional monitor improves both constraints. In contrast, when I have to work with a laptop and an 800x600 display, it's like sipping information through a straw. This is regardless of other factors like network bandwidth. Your mileage may vary.

  • What? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ErikZ ( 55491 ) * on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:33PM (#36144180)

    If you're unable to splurge 130$ on a second monitor, the company is in trouble.

    Another way to phrase this question is "Do you *really* need all those pixels to do your job?"

  • i can code without my glasses, too,
    but nobody would suggest they're not necessary.

  • Is the amount of productivity increase you get for investing in a second $130 display for me worth worth it. I don't have hard numbers but I can't image its not the case. There are periods of boom and bust around here when it comes to work load. Right now its bust but next week after some other major projects on other teams complete it will be boom again. The schedules desired won't leave me much slacktime to spend on Slashdot.

    Being able to have documentation on one display be it technical docs on api's

  • by DdJ ( 10790 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:34PM (#36144206) Homepage Journal

    The answer isn't universal -- it depends on what your development target is and how your tools work.

    Here's a specific example. Know when having two monitors was awesome for developers? Back in the days when one of those monitors was attached to a VGA card, another to a MDA card, and you were debugging full-screen graphical apps under MS-DOS. You could run the full app on the VGA screen, but run the IDE and debugger on the monochrome screen on the same system at the same time. There was no way to do anything comparable with just one monitor.

    But if you're programming for the web? Or for an Arduino? Or for an Android phone, testing/debugging real hardware? Some individual work habits may make some developers more productive with more screen real-estate, but not due to anything inherent in what they're doing.

  • If you've never worked with dual displays, well, you can't miss what you never had.

    But once you've had it, and gotten used to having it, it can be hard to get used to not having it.

    I'm not one to use full-screen windows, but if I'm working on, for example, a script to process data from a file, I'd like to have the script (obviously), a sample data file, probably Google, and the requirements doc all open at the same time. To have all those windows visible together is just a plus.

    That said, if there was real

  • Yes!!! (Score:4, Informative)

    by superwiz ( 655733 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:52PM (#36144582) Journal
    In fact 3 monitors are probably ideal. Development, as a mental process, involves a lot of switching between medium-term and short term views. It also often takes context switching. I prefer the development screen in front of me, the api descriptions on one screen and the details pertaining to the context of the project on the left. I like having 3 screens when I write code for the same reason that I like to do math on the dinner table. Bringing multiple contexts together takes a lot of space.
  • by Derekloffin ( 741455 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:56PM (#36144662)
    No. I likewise don't need a broad band connection, a decently fast computer... hell, I might be able to manage with some paper, a pencil and candle light just so long as I can get that code into the computer at the end. However, would that hurt my coding speed, oh yeah. A second monitor is like any tool for a job, you can probably get by without it, but like trying to clean your house with a toothbrush, it won't be nearly as cost effective.
  • by david_thornley ( 598059 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @04:58PM (#36144690)

    I can't believe a decent developer comes cheaper than $100K/year in the US, counting everything. A decent, perfectly usable, monitor will run something under $200.

    That means that, if the corporate budget was sane, providing the extra monitor would be worth it if it improved productivity by 0.2%. If taking the monitor away cut the developer's productivity by one half of one percent, it's costing the company more than it's worth within five months. If the developer's claim of reduced productivity is even slightly true, that's a real false economy.

    The morale effects alone will probably drive down productivity by full percents. When the developer thinks the company isn't willing to spend $200 to keep him working as accustomed, the developer is likely to get a feeling that the company doesn't care how productive he or she is, and will lose motivation and an edge on hard problems. When management takes the attitude that the developer is whiny because he or she is trying to hang on to his or her tools, bad things are going to happen.

    With the time needed to adjust workflow and habits to the reduced screen estate, as well as some time complaining and trying to make a business case, it's likely the developer will lose four hours very fast, and there's the money saved from not just going out and buying a monitor for Accounting.

    People may not want to work for a company that does things like that. Does management have any sort of handle on how much productivity staff turnover costs them? And, of course, if the developer has any substance to the claim of reduced productivity, even in the sligh

    • by RobinEggs ( 1453925 ) on Monday May 16, 2011 @05:54PM (#36145700)
      I agree with your sentiment, but there are other considerations to make in a business setting. As far as simple costs go, the sticker price on another monitor might be $200, but there are often large costs beyond sticker price in the corporate world. The purchase has to be requested formally, then approved, then ordered, received, and installed. The real cost in accounting, paperwork, and labor could be a surprisingly large percentage of the final cost. Granted, there's almost no plausible final price at which this isn't a worthwhile investment if, as you say, the developer realizes even a fraction of a point in productivity gained, but never forget that nothing is cheap in business.

      The other thing is that sometimes people can be irrational weasels. If getting a new monitor for this guy inspires someone from accounting to request one for better spreadsheet management, and ultimately everyone down to the mailboy starts thinking they need dual displays, that's a lot of money and annoyance in the short run in exchange for relatively small productivity gains in the long run. Then you factor in the relatively small possibilities that some people who get more screen space will therefore require more desk space and thus better furniture to accommodate it, which could lead to people needing more square footage, etc.

      And god help the company if someone decides that they don't need a new monitor, but someone else got something cool so they want a better chair. Some people react irrationally to the perceived status inequality behind equipment purchases. It's pure monkey brain at work, but it creates a lot of tiresome whining and bloated spending sometimes.

      Anyway, you're fundamentally right. In almost any imaginable it's probably better to buy the guy a new monitor, but don't underestimate the chain of annoyances such a purchase might cause.
      • by epyT-R ( 613989 )

        The purchase has to be requested formally, then approved, then ordered, received, and installed

        if it costs multiple fractions of the cost of the monitor to get it to the employee, that speaks of really shitty business practices. not the fault of the employee. in this case, the monitor already exists.

        The other thing is that sometimes people can be irrational weasels.

        And god help the company if someone decides that they don't need a new monitor, but someone else got something cool so they want a better chair. Some people react irrationally to the perceived status inequality behind equipment purchases. It's pure monkey brain at work, but it creates a lot of tiresome whining and bloated spending sometimes.

        then it's up to the company execs to grow spines and be the objective leaders they're supposed to be. this requires them to have some knowledge of the subjects they hire people to deal with...not everything, but at least the generalities. in this case they should know enough before oking inter-department

    • Sometimes the guys with the asset list in account sections think it is perfectly reasonable to lift what they need from another area without going through the departments that paid for the stuff - in their eyes accounts own everything.
      I'm lucky I don't deal with that now, but previously had to deal with account bastards so pettily evil that one demanded I rush out and buy a specific expensive printer for him with my own cash and then demanded afterwards three competing quotes and a written justification of

To do two things at once is to do neither. -- Publilius Syrus