One of the most useful productivity enhancements I’ve implemented in the last year has been a shift to use the keyboard as much as possible, and the mouse as little as possible. You might think, “Really? How does that provide a significant productivity enhancement?” Well, how long do you think you spend moving your right/left hand from the keyboard to the mouse each time you switch between them? Maybe a second? That’s not very long, what’s the big deal? It’s only a big deal because you do it so many times. If you do that switch on average about once per minute for an eight-hour work day, that is 60 * 8 = 480 seconds = 8 minutes wasted just going back and forth. That is 40 minutes each week, and 40 * 48 weeks = 1920 minutes = 32 hours each year! I know this sounds kind of ridiculous initially, but if you make a concerted effort to use the keyboard more, you will immediately start to notice how much faster you can do things on the computer, even over the period of just a few minutes.
It is definitely true that you can get really quick with a mouse, but you will never match the speed of someone who knows what they are doing with a keyboard. With a keyboard, a whole universe of shortcuts are available to you, and in many programs you can create your own. This includes all Microsoft Office programs, which most people use at least a small amount each day. I have included some of my favorites below, with an emphasis on those that I had to do some research to figure out.
One aspect of using only the keyboard that bugged me for a while was not having the ability to scroll through a Microsoft Word document without also moving the cursor. This is an action you would normally do with the middle scroll button on a mouse, or by clicking the up and down arrows on the far right side of the window. But I found a Microsoft macro that you can implement to do the same thing, which happens to be a feature that most other modern text editors like Notepad++ have. A macro is a bit of code that allows the user to specify automated behavior. In Word 2010 and 2007, you can access and add your Macros in the “Developer” Tab, in the “Code” section, with the “Macros” button. That will bring up a menu, and you can specify the name of a new macro or edit a macro you already have. When you specify the name of a new macro and create it, it will bring up a Visual studio type interface where you can type the macro into the macro function (between the Sub commands). For the scroll up command, use this macro:
For the scroll down command, use this macro:
You can then assign these macros keyboard shortcuts, so that you can scroll with your keyboard instead of your mouse! In Word 2010 and 2007, you access the keyboard shortcuts by selecting “File” at the top, “Options,” “Customize Ribbon,” then the “Customize” button at the bottom left next to the “Keyboard Shortcuts”. When a new window pops up, find the “Macros” category at the bottom of the “Categories” listing. Then select the ScrollDown macro, and assign it the shortcut of Ctrl-Down. Then select the ScrollUp macro, and assign it the shortcut of Ctrl-Up. I set these macros to have keyboard shortcuts of Ctrl-Up and Ctrl-Down because that is what most other modern text editors use for this feature by default, and it just works well. Now you’re done! Just click close or OK until you’re back to your document, and try your new shortcuts! If you need more detailed directions, see this website, which is where I found these macros.
I also found a macro for Microsoft Word that allows you to paste text into Word documents without any formatting, which I assigned the keyboard shortcut of Ctrl-D using the same method (I never used the shortcut that Ctrl-D was previously assigned to):
This is a very convenient shortcut that allows you to easily paste text from different programs into Word without worrying about crazy formatting messing things up, and allows you to bypass the long route going through “Paste Special” in Word. If you need more detailed directions, try this site or this site.
Another important shortcut that you may already know about but don’t use is the Menu button close to the lower right corner of your keyboard (though this is only applicable to Windows machines). This has the same functionality as the right-click button. However, this button has the advantage of being on the keyboard instead of way over there on the mouse! If you don’t have this button on your keyboard, Shift-F10 has the same functionality most of the time.
Some other cool keyboard shortcuts:
- Ctrl-PageUp and Ctrl-PageDown to switch between tabs in browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox and Google’s Chrome. This is one of my biggest time savers because I find the tabs I’m looking for so much faster.
- Ctrl-W to quickly close tabs.
- Ctrl-Shift-T to re-open a tab exactly as it was after you closed it in Chrome. This is REALLY handy in Chrome, which does not make it easy to re-open previously closed tabs with the mouse. And when you think about it, it makes intuitive sense: Ctrl-T opens a new blank tab, so it makes sense that hitting SHIFT (which often makes other keyboard actions move backwards rather than forwards) brings up a window that was previously closed. You will often find that as you learn more shortcuts, they will feel increasingly intuitive, especially in the better made programs.
- Shift-Space to select a whole row in excel. After selecting the row, you can easily hit the menu button to insert or delete rows.
- Alt-space, and then M to move, N to minimize, X to maximize, S to size, and R to restore a window using only the keyboard.
- Spacebar to pause and un-pause (i.e. play) songs in Pandora.
- Ctrl-Plus (the plus on the numeric keypad on the far right side) to resize all columns in windows explore to the perfect width.
I also highly recommend turning on and using keyboard shortcuts in Gmail. I resisted doing this for a long time because I was under the mistaken impression that activating them would lead to a lot of mistakes as I tried to compose emails. Now I can crank through my Gmail in far less time than it used to take me. It’s easy to get started on this: just activate them in your Gmail settings, and then to look up what the shortcuts are just hit Shift-?. Unfortunately Google calendar is sorely lacking in keyboard shortcuts. And I also dislike the new navigation menu at the top of google product pages like Gmail and the Calendar, because it is much more difficult to bring up new instances of Gmail and the Calendar from current instances using the keyboard. But such is life.
Once you start learning all these keyboard shortcuts, you become more and more eager to learn new ones. It is very easy to find listings of shortcuts online for almost any program. I also like to save all the best keyboard shortcuts I find into a document like a Gmail draft or Google Docs document. And if you want a particular keyboard shortcut, just try a search and the odds are good you will find someone who has come up with a solution.
I strongly recommend getting a high quality keyboard as well. You can get keyboards relatively cheaply these days, and you can get external keyboards that have soft keys like most laptops have. This makes it even more pleasant to use your keyboard, to the point where it can feel really good just tapping the keys. I also like gel wristpads, but that’s just a nice perk.
Another strong advantage of knowing how to do everything with the keyboard is that using laptops becomes much more pleasant. You can get pretty good at using the track-pads on laptops, but they are still pretty inefficient.
Overall, it is going to take you some time to learn keyboard shortcuts, but the time savings in the long run far outweighs this small initial investment. Give it a try, and if you find any cool shortcuts please feel free to leave them in the comments section below.