Have you ever learned to do something left handed that you can do proficiently with your right? How about learning to type on a DVORAK keyboard instead of a QWERTY keyboard? Have you started to learn a new language and had to be very careful to say a sentence with the correct verb tense? How about learning to operate a computer without a mouse? All of these “exercises” make our brain feel rather funny because we are not merely learning, but remapping. Remapping taxes our brain in a different way because it’s not just a single redirection, but a nearly complete reorientation. Talk about expanding our brains!
The Case For Efficiency
There is a learning curve to use keyboard shortcuts instead of a mouse and visual interface. The benefits, however, are enormous. For a word publisher, being able to keep both hands on the keyboard and never having to break concentration to reach for a mouse allows for continuous typing and streams of consciousness. The same benefit can be stated for most data-entry and numerical positions. The number pad (also known as the 10-key) is usually in a difficult position for mouse users because the right hand has to swap between the right keyboard, the 10-key pad, and the mouse. These hand changes are so inefficient that good users eliminate one option, either opting for keyboard and 10-key, or keyboard and mouse.
Command, Not Use!
As I prepared to enter the business workforce, investment banking programs were rumored to completely cut new recruits’ mouse cords. I’ve also heard of accounting programs having 10-key speed drills where users keep their eyes closed and key in a sequence of 100 verbally dictated numbers. This is no joke! This is a ruthless training method that puts us on a path of efficiency. Eliminate the comfort mentality and move toward fullness of productivity. Let’s keep our minds sharp and optimized!
We often think we need to learn how to use software and its visual interfaces. Instead, the real mentality needs to be that software should be optimized for user’s commands. Too often visual interfaces slow us down as our inputs needs to traverse the visual space instead of the intuitive reaction and conscious space of our minds. Think about it. The keyboard is right underneath our fingertips! If we hold the program or interface in our head and imagination, instead of the visual screen, with a single fraction of a thought, we can dictate what menu option we need to use and execute it with a few quick keystrokes. We don’t need to wait for visual tracking, visual confirmation, or visual response and processing. We think with the environment in our minds, and our output is like second nature since our thoughts require no more effort than key strokes. No mouse movements. No looking for. No menu searching. No trying to click or highlight various ranges or corners
Alt (Ctrl, Tab, Shift)
Microsoft has made excellent strides in promoting keyboard shortcuts in its Office products. Simply hit the Alt key once and you’ll see letters hover of each menu option. Press a letter and the next few options in your desired sequence; now you have a keyboard shortcut! In Excel 2003, most shortcuts could be access all with the left hand. In later versions however, more shortcuts are in need of both hands to key in the shortcut combo. This is slower for a user since they can’t have one hand on the number pad or arrow keys and one hand using shortcuts. They need both to do shortcuts, and yet need another to use the arrow keys or number pad. Thankfully, Excel does allow us to access some of the 2003 shortcuts using backwards compatibility.
Start to build a functional library of the keyboard shortcuts you use most. You can also search the web for “Keyboard shortcuts for [insert name of program here]” to expand your awareness and see additional functionality. You’ll find other shortcuts using Ctrl, Ctrl+Shift, and the always practical Tab and Shift+Tab. And don’t forget the function keys, especially F4 and F5! Practice each new shortcut, and then add it to your list as you find it relevant!
Become A Shortcut Ninja!
Soon enough you’ll here whispers around the office saying, “Ridiculously fast. Insane and crazy! An effective and talented power user!” What complements! But what matters most is freeing up your time to do more value-added activities. Use your brainpower for something better than playing in menus and manually formatting your document.
Below is an example of the custom keyboard shortcut list I personally use for Microsoft Excel. Read for reference, or use it as a template for your own list (link to Keyboard Shorcut Excel file)!