A quick way to double your productivity—master keyboarding

Note, if you want to jump straight to resources for learning to type faster, click here.

This summer, my family went to Puerto Rico for vacation. And I must confess, for the first few days, I felt a bit out of place. One of my biggest personal handicaps is that I don’t speak a foreign language; my perceived inability to communicate often left me unwilling to try, even when all that was required was a simple “gracias” or “buneos dias.” Luckily, my wife, who is fluent in Spanish, wasn’t very tolerant of my relying on her to be my translator, and she gently prodded me into getting over my fears and simply interacting with the local people.

When I got back home, I realized that there may be some parallels between my learning of a language and how some faculty learn technology. What better place could there have been for me to learn Spanish than Puerto Rico? Almost everyone is bi-lingual, and very willing to help me learn. Yet it was my fear of being not able to communicate, or being perceived as dumb or unclutured for not knowing the language that often got in my way. What better place is there to learn technology than a school? Everyone is a teacher, and everyone is willing to help.

What’s the parallel to learning technology? I think it’s typing. This summer, I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of my colleagues with technology, and I’ve come away with two observations—1. Our faculty can learn anything, and overcome any frustration, be it spotty wireless access, faulty iWork installations, whatever. 2. There’s a huge range of understanding of technology on our faculty, and just like our students, I think this range of understanding can sometimes cause members of our faculty to feel like they “aren’t getting it” or are somehow “not good with technology.” And this feeling, more than any real lack of skill is a huge stumbling block to learning. One of the easiest ways to perceive this is to look at how faculty keyboard. It’s not a hard and fast rule, but generally, the more comfortable one is with typing, the more comfortable one is with using the computer.

Being a good typist does not instantly confer the skills of computer understanding upon someone. When you break 60 wpm, you do not suddenly learn how to write computer code, or to decode arcane error messages. Instead, it’s more like the language thing—if you are comfortable with the language of Spanish, you can get a lot more our of your vacation, since you can interact with the locals and learn from them. On the other hand, if you aren’t comfortable with the language, it’s pretty natural to withdraw from some interaction, and as a result, lose out on some opportunities. If you’re not comfortable typing, every interaction with your computer is a struggle as you try to find the right key to press—not a good starting point to learn about how the computer can make your life easier.

Good news—everyone can learn to type faster

But this is good news! We can all learn to be better typists, and learning to type isn’t some genetic gift, like height, that predetermines our destiny with computers. It’s my strong belief that when you break down the story people who are “good with technology” you’ll see years and years of practice behind their story, just the same way you do when you examine how someone becomes good at basketball, writing or knitting. In my case, I started programming computers around the age of five in a very haphazard way. Along the way, I’ve learned to type, but never according to the rules or best practices that typists use. I know where all the keys are, and can type without looking, but keeping my fingers in place about the home row is something I still haven’t mastered. So I’m a decent typist who can hit 50-60wpm when I’m cranking, but usually am a bit slower.

How much faster could I be if I took the time to learn exactly where to place my fingers and then practiced regularly, for 5-10 minutes each day? I think there’s little reason to doubt I could hit 65 wpm consistently, with far fewer mistakes, and if you measure productivity purely in terms of words typed on the page, that’s a 30% improvement—a huge increase.

So if you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable with technology, one sure fire way to get more comfortable and increase your productivity is to invest a few minutes every day learning to type. If you’re a hunt-and-peck typist, you could literally increase typing speed 10-fold in less than a year.

And you can learn to type for free online. There are plenty of great tutorials and practice games online. Two of the best I’ve found are:

  • Typing Web Tutor: this works you through how to become a typist from the very most basic skills—where to place your fingers, and then has step by step exercises to practice each skill—home row, top row, bottom row, etc.
  • Type Racer: this is fun way to practice your skills—type racer gives you a random piece of text from literature, and then you “race” by typing it, and as you type a little car races across the screen. You can race against the clock, or the computer will match you up with a stranger to go 1-on-1.

So that’s one of my small goals this year—learn to type like a pro. Slightly larger goal—learn a foreign language.

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About John Burk

The ramblings of a physics teacher.
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One Response to A quick way to double your productivity—master keyboarding

  1. wms1stgrade says:

    I love thinking about this in baby steps. 5-10 min a day working at anything can allow for huge strides in the long run!

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