Going Commando - Put Down The Mouse

Also important is touch typing. I’ve been coding for about 8 years now, and only learned to touch type last year (after several false starts). While I’ve seen dramatic improvements in raw productivity, it’s the less tangible benefits that have surprised me.

I find I’m more likely to learn and use the keyboard shortcuts discussed here. My ergonomics are better. I feel more comfortable with lightweight, keyboard-centric text editors. I am much quicker in a terminal now which I find more productive than gui based shells (particularly on unix/cygwin).

My coding has improved too; cumbersome things like documenting and unit testing your code become less of a burden. I learn faster because I can prototype code quickly and feel out language features. Interactive shells like irb become a playground where you can introspect the code at close to thinking speed.


That’s the thing about searching for something, every program has a different way of doing it. A few possibilities: Ctrl-F, Alt-F, Ctrl-E, / (slash), ’ (single quote).

That being said, I’m all for keyboard shortcuts, however, I hate the “default input” mode where you have to use key modifiers like the Control, Alt, Windows, Meta, Alt-Lang, et cetera to do extra functions. I would rather have input be more modal like it is in vi. Modal keyboard interfaces are going to be faster still than non-modal key modifier based interfaces.

Whoops, I forgot my main point. I was going to suggest a keyboard like this one:


It is a desktop keyboard based on the Thinkpad notebook keyboards, so it has the Trackpoint thing in the middle. If you haven’t used one lately, there have been a couple of improvements. When you hold the middle mouse button (down by your thumb) it causes the track pointer to go into a scroll mode that you can use to scroll around documents.

Brendan Dowling wrote:
I hate the “default input” mode where you have to use key
modifiers like the Control, Alt, Windows, Meta, Alt-Lang, et
cetera to do extra functions.

Agree 100%. That’s why I loved XTreeGold. C = copy, etc.

I use the keyboard for almost anything, but two things consistantly bite me:

  • In Windows Explorer, there is no keyboard shortcut for New Folder.
  • In MacOS, Apple-Q is quit, and Apple-W is close a window. You have no idea how many times I’ve accidentally quit an application trying to close just one window of it.

In firefox, there is actually a better search key over “/” if you’re looking for navigable links. You can use the “’” key and firefox will do an incremental search only for anchor links. When it’s highlighted, you can just hit enter to navigate it.

This doesn’t solve the problem that Jeff points out for images that you want to click, but it solves 80% of the links that I want to click on.

With either search type, you can use cmd-G to find the next occurrence of it’s type (on OSX, I’m sure it’s probably alt-G or ctl-G on windows/unix) and cmd-shift-G to do a reverse search.

cmd-1 through cmd-9 can also be used to select different tabs (this works in a number of other programs besides firefox as well).

If you switch to the Dvorak keyboard layout, Apple-Q and Apple-W end up on separate hands. So, just learn to type all over again and your problem is solved!

@ Ben Hollis

For a new folder in windows explorer you can do alt + F, alt + W, alt + F and it will create a new folder. (this is assuming no file is highlighted)

The pathetic fact is that every other application uses different shortcuts for the same functionality.

What do you guys have been countering for getting a “Find” in different applications? I’ve a few:


It’s annoying when I hit Ctrl+F and I get an email to be forwarded in Outlook. What a shame.

I must agree that VIM is amazing, and you’ll never touch another fancy-pants IDE once you’ve gotten over the horrible learning curve.

But the best VIM tip ever has nothing to do with VIM:


The caps lock key is the biggest waste ever of keyboard real estate, and re-mapping it to CTRL is almost as big a leap in productivity as giving up your mouse.

In Windows Explorer, there is no keyboard shortcut for New Folder

Alt+F, W, F? Or use the right-click equivalent menu (ctrl+f10) key.

Still waiting for that eye-controlled computer. Until I get an eye cramp or blink at the wrong time or something. Maybe a brain-controlled computer? Then what happens when my thoughts stray, as they inevitably do? sigh Can’t win for trying.

Is it possible to navigate through different links in blog posts using only keyboard?

A great example of software that uses the “light up shortcuts” is Inkscape: http://www.inkscape.org/

What an awesome piece of UI…

Jeff, Opera has a tutorial dedicated to those who’d like to browse without a mouse.

Many people are reluctant to try Opera though. If it had AdBlock, it would be perfect.

I definitely don’t recommend going commando. Using just a handful of shortcuts is enough to boost productivity by a huge margin. It’s the usual Pareto Principle. If you try to remember a lot more than these, you are entering the region of diminishing return: allocating your precious memory for shortcuts infrequently used.

This is my policy for choosing shortcuts:

  • Used very frequently (obvious)
  • Consistent on most platforms you use
  • Consistent on most applications you use
  • Easy to remember (no more than 2-key combination)
  • No need to remember shortcuts for tasks that immediately requires you to use the mouse anyway.

For me, remembering about 20 shortcuts is enough (did you say I need memory upgrade?) At the top of the list are these generic shortcuts:
ctrl-z undo
ctrl-x cut
ctrl-c copy
ctrl-v paste
ctrl-a select all
ctrl-f find


From Ben, ages ago:

  • Test subjects consistently report that keyboarding is faster than mousing.
  • The stopwatch consistently proves mousing is faster than keyboarding."

Mousing may “be” faster. Although, I’m skeptical about what the tasks were, I’ll concede that mousing is probably faster for selecting text unless you type 80+wpm. However, “feeling” faster isn’t useless, particularly when you are storing large chunks of some mental model in your head(like maybe a program). I’d bet that CONSTANTLY solving visual search tasks induces enough of a cognitive load to muck with serious programming tasks.

In my house, “going commando” means doing with out underwear.

Me: You do any laundry this weekend?

Wife: No, sorry. Didn’t get to it.

Me: No, problem. I’ll just go commando.

The best key to use for shortcuts are the F keys, and only a few programs actually use them. Only one key required. I wish that F1 wasn’t always help, how many times have you pressed that by mistake? Generally, I would prefer that the first few F keys change what window or panel or dialog or field has focus, making them quick replacements for the mouse. Then it should be the most commonly typed (not neccesarily the most “important”) actions.

One problem is that the range of keyboard shortcuts is pretty limited these days. Windows itself has taken up many of the ALT keys, and some of the F keys.

I’ve also set up some of those keys I never use (the windows key, right-ctrl, insert, home, end, scroll lock, printscrn/sysreq, pause/break) to do basic window management stuff like cycle the windows, maximize, close etc. faster than the normal key combinations, and so I can also remap the F keys to do more common application actions.

If you use Linux, try out the “ion” window manager: http://modeemi.fi/~tuomov/ion/ . (There are also a few others.)

“Lighting up” shortcut keys is an excellent idea, and really should be built in, requiring no extra programmer effort to enable.


BTW, Linux users-- try tilda. It pulls a terminal down from the top of the screen like the Quake2 console on a keypress. I have it configured to come down when I press F1. Then you can run programs maximized (no more stupid window micromanagement) but still have a terminal handy for any quick purpose.

http://tilda.sourceforge.net or apt-get install tilda. There’s also a similar program based on KDE libraries instead of gnome libraries, that one might have a few extra features too.