This is quite a bold claim but there are some good reasons why learning to use the keyboard more efficiently will be a massive boost to your productivity.
I’ve been learning better keyboard skills (and I don’t just mean touch typing) for the last few months. Indeed I’m still going but I thought I would share some of my thoughts and experiences since I’m rattling through my daily workload so much faster now – and we could all use some help there right?
Trying to pack more into your day
We’re all leading busier lives, faster lives and trying to do more things than ever before. Computers and communication technology has seen to that. In my industry we’re running more multi-channel campaigns than ever before. This means we’re coordinating across social, email, website, AdWords, print, radio, tv, mobile, etc. I’m told there was a time, before I was around mind, when you only had print, tv and radio to worry about. And if we’re running campaigns across those channels, it means our potential customers are actually using those channels in their daily lives – hectic.
Personally have to plough through 50-100 emails a day, and I’m really, really, ruthless about what I want in my inbox in the first place. And that’s just one channel that you could reach me on. I use other tools like WorkflowMax, Skype, Slack and
Sqwiggle to keep in touch with my team and organise projects – which really cuts down on those really long ‘send to all’ email threads. One thing all these methods of communication have in common however is that you’re typing out your message more often than not – with the awesome exception of Sqwiggle which is ace for distributed teams.
So with all that typing on the keyboard in all our lives, you’d think we’d all be button-tapping demons. But we’re not. The average user is all about the mouse for operating a computer, and only reverts to the keyboard when a message is to be tapped out. We jump back to the mouse at every opportunity.
Killing off the mouse
Steve jobs famously said that ‘it had to work on your jeans’ when he briefed the design team for the mouse attached to the Macintosh. It’s a fantastic device that improved on the, keyboard only, devices of the day. Computers then were complex affairs; little emphasis was put on the usability of computers and the software they ran so the mouse really helped people get to grips with this new computer generation. They could just point and click at the thing they wanted.
Fast forward to now however and computers, and the software they run, are all about usability. Making it easy for the average consumer to use without training, while at the same time providing ways for power users to breeze through their daily work. Touchscreens have also become commonplace, replacing the trusty mouse in a variety of applications – more increasingly on laptops also.
So my argument is the mouse is becoming redundant – just like video rental stores have been killed off by video on demand services?
Squeezing the most out of my time on a computer
I started a couple of months back learning some new keyboard shortcut commands for my Mac. Things like creating a new email immediately no matter what was currently in the foreground. This meant at the exact moment I wanted to compose an email I could hit the key combination, the window popped up and I immediately started typing. Then I also learnt the shortcuts for sending the email when I was done. I never had to go near the mouse.
If you imagine that I send the same amount of email as I receive each day – somewhere between 50-100 but we’ll assume 50 here. And if I could save 15 seconds, in total, per email, then I could free up around 12.5 minutes a day. And that’s assuming that I was a reasonably good user of my Mac in the first place.
This got me thinking. Where else could I save time? What other tasks did I do repeatedly, on my Mac, each day, that I could save a few minutes each on?
The problem I realised with the trusty old mouse is, that every time I go to use it, there is a slight delay in moving my hand position from keyboard to mouse. There is another slight delay in locating the pointer on screen and then it takes a few seconds to navigate to and click the buttons I need to. This delay is made more acute when using a touchpad on a laptop – especially when I’m squeezed on a rush hour train as I am right now.
But that’s not how my brain works. It works much faster than my hands can move, when typing, and certainly when operating the mouse. But if I keep my hands in position on the keyboard all the time (and providing my computer is working fast enough) then I can make the computer do things immediately as I think of them.
One thing to note here is that I use a Mac largely because I’ve never experienced them slow down with age quite as much as my Windows based laptops used to. I need it to keep up with me and that means I spend the money on a good machine!
Working out where I could save
To test my new found time saving method, I got myself an app called Time Sink. It runs unobtrusively on my Mac (a PC, Mac and Linux equivalent is RescueTime) and monitors what applications I spend most of my time in. This way I can focus learning shortcuts for those applications to see the biggest gains in productivity.
I also got myself an app called CheatSheet (a PC equivalent is KeyRocket) which let me quickly pull up a list of the shortcuts available in the app I was in at the time. This way I could learn new shortcuts in my most commonly used apps and quickly pull up the reference if I forgot what they were.
Now at this point I should mention its not as simple as just swapping to using your keyboard more. You need to overcome the default reaction to use the mouse every time. It just takes a small amount of brain power in the beginning to remember to do it.
9-4 each day and a beer on the beach
In the first few weeks I learnt over 25 new shortcuts without too much effort. And a rough calculation on time saving puts my reclaimed minutes each day at somewhere between 25 and 55. Thats huge. Imagine what I could do with that reclaimed time – every single working day! You could nip down to the beach at 4pm instead of 5pm, or just decide to write more articles like this one as I’ve done.
keyboard shortcuts were actually invented so people could use some of the earliest personal computers. They fell out of use when the mouse came around but I think its time to revive them!