In high-school I maxed out at 125 words per minute on a QWERTY keyboard. It didn't cross my mind that there were alternatives for another 10 years. I remained locked at that typing speed, using the same typing techniques that I nurtured as a child.
After some reflection, I concluded that I was often typing for more than 8 hours a day.. Perhaps, I should devote a little bit of time into optimization. This began a life-long interest in human-interface devices and techniques. I began to collect unusual keyboards and I switched entirely to the DVORAK keyboard layout.
The DVORAK layout is designed with the vowels and most used consonants laid out on the home row. Because of this, most words are typed by toggling back and forth between your hands, increasing your efficiency over QWERTY (which often requires 2-3 or more keys from a single hand in sequence). The ideal circumstance is to type one letter with each hand, back and forth.
It's been 11 years since I switched and I'm very happy to have done it. I had some doubts at first because I had to relearn. But, the relearning was an opportunity.
Like me, you might have learned how to type on your own. You probably use 2 fingers on each hand and ... you're probably actually pretty good at it. This makes it pretty difficult if you want to relearn and improve your technique. There's a good chance if you're still reading this that you've considered improving your technique. But, haven't had much luck in changing your habits.
Well, have I stumbled across the deal for you! When you learn a new layout, you can't rely on your habits.. at all... So, you are free to create entirely new ones.
In short, here's what you can expect. With 2 weeks of reasonable practice you can be up to 30-40 words per minute. This is frankly fast enough to completely switch to it in most cases.
DVORAK is Easier to Learn
Since typists were scarce during the war, the U.S. Navy selected fourteen typists for a 1944 study to assess whether Dvorak retraining would be feasible. Dvorak found that it took an average of only 52 hours of training for those typists' speeds on the Dvorak keyboard to reach their average speeds on the qwerty keyboard. By the end of the study their Dvorak speeds were 74 percent faster than their qwerty speeds, and their accuracies had increased by 68 percent.
- Source: http://www.mit.edu/~jcb/Dvorak/
Visual Confirmation is Your Enemy
Either buy a new keyboard printed with that layout or get labels to put on your keyboard. The last thing that you want is visual confirmation. You don't want to look at your hands at all. We're actually trying to learn good technique, not learn to type the same way that we did as children.
Learn the Right Way (tm)
Instead, print up a picture of the DVORAK layout, tape it to an index card.. Then, tape it to the top right of your monitor.
When you need to know where a key is, you look at the layout, not at your hands.
In this context, visual confirmation is the antithesis of progress.
Use a variety of fun tools like https://learn.dvorak.nl/ to make progress.
PRACTICE CORRECTLY. Use the right fingers. Every moment spent practicing the wrong way is time you will have to unlearn.. Which may never actually be done.
The Ultimate Benefit
I didn't know what the benefits would be when I switched. I just knew that this was a great place to optimize. The benefits that I found are:
- Increased Comfort
This is by far the largest benefit. Typing on a QWERTY keyboard is a triathlon compared to DVORAK. Sitting down at a keyboard and casually belting out a monologue, a blog post, or source code is all FAR easier. The effort and comfort improvements are alone worth the change.
- Increased Speed
After a year or so I beat my previous speed of 125wpm and climbed up to 140wpm. When straining I can get around 150wpm on a good day. This is a solid improvement.
- Improved Punctuation
For programming, the improved positions of the semi-colon, period, and comma are a tremendous advantage.
- Simple Switching
I can switch to a QWERTY keyboard with just a couple minutes of warm up, even after using DVORAK for 99% of my typing for 11 years.
- Actual Technique Improvements
I tried many times to improve my technique with QWERTY before switching. They were mostly wasted effort. In a couple weeks of practicing with DVORAK, then switching to full-time DVORAK after I hit 40wpm or so (2-3 weeks), I was able to completely change the way my fingers operate on a keyboard.
I consider typing a hobby. I do it for fun. I play typing games like Typing of the Dead and frequently enjoy TypeRacer. After years and years of training and exploring improvement techniques, learning and using DVORAK was the only investment that I've made in typing that has ever mattered.
There aren't actually many downsides to this... You'll require a small amount of warm up when using QWERTY, but you won't forget how to use it. shrug
The one strongest issue is that your keyboard shortcuts will now be distributed differently around the keyboard. Traditionally, ctrl X, C, and V are used for cut, copy, and paste. With DVORAK that won't be the case. I suggest that you just get used to the two handed shortcuts.
But, what about all of the other shortcuts that I've already learned? Look, I don't know what's right for you. But, I'm generally wary of past investments preventing future gain. If I think about it for a moment and weigh improved comfort, speed, and accuracy for ALL typing vs shortcuts.. After 11 years I'm absolutely 100% thankful for my decision.
COMMIT to the change. The benefits FAR outweigh the small negatives. It just takes familiarity.
When you switch, after a month or two you may have second thoughts.. Just power through it. You'll be glad that you did.
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