Most of my posts have focused on different strategies, but this one is about mechanics – the mechanics of using a computer efficiently and effectively.
I don’t think people stress this enough. Using your mouse and keyboard effectively can literally triple your productivity in everyday tasks. I can probably get about 3-5x more done in a given hour compared to the average person simply because of this. In fact, I think the biggest differences between the interns that successfully finished their project vs the one’s that didn’t was their level of basic computer mechanics.
When I hire people locally, I always ask “When did you start using computers and with what operating system?”. If the answer is pre-1995 and DOS I am satisfied and can move on. If not, I ask them to browse the internet, find some information and copy and paste it into a spreadsheet, just to see their mechanics (generally the domain value spreadsheet as it also tests some fairly simple SEO). If they would use their mouse to select windows, or right click to copy and paste, they would not be hired.
Ok now that I’ve communicated its importance, it’s time to actually get to the meat of this article. I’m going to focus on two basic resting positions – mouse and keyboard, and keyboard only. This post will assume you’re on a PC and using your mouse with your right hand. Also anything mentioned regarding browser is using Chrome, but the hotkeys are generally the same in Firefox or IE.
Mouse and Keyboard
Resting Position: Your left hand should have your pinky over ctrl and shift, and your thumb between the alt and space keys. Your pinky is generally used for ctrl and your ring finger for shift. Here are the Absolutely Crucial Hotkeys:
Windows button – Use this as your standard launcher. Just hit it and begin typing the name of your file or application and it will appear, hit enter or use your mouse to select it. Get used to this when opening any new files or applications. If you are pre-Windows 7 then go download a launcher like launchy.
Ctrl+C – Copy. C should be hit with your index finger. Select with your mouse, hit Ctrl+C.
Ctrl+V – Paste. V should be hit with your index finger. Select with your mouse, hit CTRL+C, then CTRL+V into notepad or gmail.
Alt+Tab – Next Window. Alt should be hit with your left thumb and tab with your left ring finger. Most helpful if you’re on a single monitor (which you should not be!). Select with your mouse, hit CTRL+C, Alt+Tab until in your desired window, Ctrl+V to paste.
Ctrl+Tab – Next Tab in apps that have tabs. Ctrl+Shift+Tab for previous tab. Ctrl should be hit with your pinky and tab with your middle finger.
Ctrl+F – Find on page.
Ctrl+T – New Tab in apps that have tabs.
Ctrl+Z – Undo.
Practice this like crazy. Here’s a good way. Download a copy of my Domain Valuation Spreadsheet, and input some domains into OSE/Majestic and record some of the stats from OSE, archive.org, etc. into it. Whenever switching windows use alt+tab, select the data and copy and paste with ctrl+c or ctrl+v (even though it’s just as easy to write the numbers in yourself you should copy and paste for the practice). Practice it until it becomes second nature.
Here are some honourable mentions for hotkeys
Ctrl+1/2/3/4 etc – Switch to tab number (from left to right)
Ctrl+R/F5 – Refresh current tab
Ctrl+ W – Close current tab
Ctrl+L – Select URL in chrome. Ok you need to use your mouse hand for this, but it’s great for copying and pasting URLs into messages/emails/notes
Ctrl+A – Select all
Ctrl+X – Cut
Ctrl+B – Bold (in almost all applications)
Ctrl+U – View Source of current webpage (usually used in combination with Ctrl+F to find the locations or existence of links).
I got my first computer when I was 7 years old. It was before the days of mice and windows – in fact this computer didn’t even have a hard drive, I had to boot with a floppy disk. Word processors still existed, but there was no mouse to manipulate text, you had to do selections with the keyboard. Because of this I’ve always been comfortable with just a keyboard, and in fact, it’s considerably faster to compose emails, blog posts, etc. without using your mouse, as long as you’re familiar with hotkeys.
Instead of your right hand using the mouse, your right hand will be going between the arrow keys, home/end keys and delete. Your left hand will stay where it normally is. To move things around you will be cut and pasting. The first thing you need to learn are how to manipulate the cursor with the keyboard. Arrow keys obviously move it in all 4 directions but there are tricks to speed this up.
End – move to the end of the line
Home – Move to the start of the line
Ctrl Home – Move to the start of the document
Ctrl End – Move to the end of the document
Ctrl+Down – Move to the next paragraph
Ctrl+Up – Move to the start of this paragraph
Ctrl+Left/Right – Move cursor to next/previous word. Hold Left/Right to move quickly.
Next you need to learn how to make selections with the above. Basically just hold shift while doing all those commands.
Shift+Up Selects everything on the line to the left of the cursor and anything on the line above to the right of the cursor.
Shift +Down Selects everything on the line to the right of the cursor and anything on the line below to the left of the cursor.
After practicing composing your emails like this for just 1 week, you will become accustomed to it and you will be able to work twice as fast. It’s not so much about the slight performance increase you get. I find that switching to your mouse to select requires a bit of focus and creates a mental rift that takes you away from the material you’re writing. Using the keyboard simply puts you immediately into the “edit” state of writing. I generally write a sentence or two, and then quickly switch to “edit mode” then continue writing.
Mental state based on medium
My mental state changes based on the input device I use. With a mouse I tend to be more of a passive observer, I use it to casually read. With a keyboard though I am in a working-state. In fact I find if I am reading something but using only the keyboard to scroll, I take a lot of action based on the reading and tend to alt-tab and take notes on how I can apply what I’m learning. The same is not true for a mouse, and even worse with something like an Ipad.
If you are already pretty advanced at this, let me suggest you use Microsoft Onenote. It is a godsend. I use it to compose my emails, write my blog posts, do my daily todo lists and store every idea I have ever had. The nested tabbing is incredible. Use it. (specially if you already have Microsoft Office!). In fact the only 4 programs I use are Onenote, Chrome, Skype and Excel.
Within onenote I use various combinations of ctrl+a to select, and of course a lot of tabbing. Ctrl+1 and ctrl+2 are the other shortcuts I use, the first makes your selections todo items with checkboxes, the 2nd stars them.
I hope this helps some of you. I really think that basic computer mechanics can not be ignored, especially if you only have a few hours a day available to work. If you don’t have many of the mechanics described in this post, I’d suggest you spend the next week or so practicing it. It is basic ROI – mastering it will triple your output and will cost you nothing.
If anyone has anything to add that I’m missing, please share in the comments!