I have a challenge for you. If you run two or more monitors as your daily work setup, I want you to stop it. Just for a week. Start on Monday and disconnect your secondary (or tertiary…) display for 5 days. Unless you’re someone like a day trader who needs a constant flow of information in your face, I can almost promise you that you’re going to be more productive.

My typical setup was my MacBook Pro and an older, 24-inch Dell monitor. When the Dell started to discolor from age, I started looking at other monitors to replace it. In the mean time I was using my iPad with Avatron’s fantastic Air Display software to give me a second screen. It worked as a stop-gap measure (and Air Display is awesome for traveling).

But then one day I forgot to start the app and turn it on. I had my browser in full-screen mode, going through email and it wasn’t until I had nearly cleared my inbox before 10 am that I realized I had nothing else running. No Twitter client, no beeping TNW backchannel. Nothing. Just me and Safari.

Pro tip: Need to write something? Try an app like Byword to remove all distractions.

So I thought that I’d try to stay that way for the rest of the day, just to see what would happen. Almost magically, tasks that I’d been burying to the bottom of my list were getting checked off as I completed them. Thousand-word updates to style guides were flowing through like poetic prose. I was getting so much done that I was literally amazed.

The problem is that attention is a finite resource, and yet we keep pushing ourselves to consume more data, more information, all without having some sort of fantastic chip upgrade to our brains. With my dual-monitor setup I had TNW’s backchannel, 5 separate Twitter columns, Safari with at least 4 tabs, Sparrow for my email and then the occasional iMessage or AIM coming through the Messages app. It’s no wonder I couldn’t accomplish anything.

Now I have to take a moment to say this – I’m very fortunate that we have the staff that we do at TNW. If I need to turn off the outside world and go into my productivity cocoon, all it takes is asking News Editor Matthew Panzarino to handle things for a bit. At any other time, I’m not unlike a day trader, relying on those streams of information to do my job.

But that’s my challenge to you — Ditch the second screen this week. And even on your first screen, get rid of the things that aren’t positively essential to you doing the task that you have at hand at this very moment. I promise you that you’ll accomplish more than you ever thought was possible.

Now, watch this guy tell you how to reach inbox zero every single day.

Image: creecher94 via Flickr