Everyone knows the scene. The computer hacker, often with a ridiculous time constraint, is tasked with breaking into a virtual environment or stopping others from breaking into theirs. Often typing streams of green text, their fingers caress the keyboard in a seamless blur, putting thought into action and controlling the computer with simultaneous grace and speed.
This is not reality. Computer programmers and hackers do not take seconds to hack into defended systems on the fly. Writing sophisticated code takes time and effort.
However, efficient programmers, software engineers, and hackers are still much more adept at manipulating their computers than the average person. Watching them can be reminiscent of the movie scene with the hacker. Screens shifting here and there. Text appearing, being highlighted, and moved around rapidly.
Many of the lessons they follow are not exclusive to programming. Rather, anyone who wants to be able to more quickly plant their ideas onto the screen can and should take the time to learn how to become more productive on the computer.
The following are three tips that I have learned over the past few years to decrease the amount of time I take doing menial tasks on computers and more effectively plant my ideas onto the screen.
Some of you may already know these tips, but even if you do, it is doubtful you use them to their maximum effectiveness. In line with my previous article on personal productivity, I wanted to provide additional ideas to improve it. I hope they will help you.
- Shift your mindset around computer use
The first step to increasing computer efficiency is to shift your mindset around how to use a computer. Your goal should be to reduce the amount of time you spend using your mouse and shift that time towards the keyboard, and to shortcuts specifically.
When you learn how to accomplish a computer task with a shortcut rather than a mouse, you significantly reduce the input time between a thought you have and an output.
Usually the steps are as follows: have a thought about what you want to do on the computer, start moving the cursor over to a part of the screen associated with that, finish moving the cursor across the screen (sometimes after over or under shooting the place you wanted it go), click or double-click, repeat step 1.
If you know a keyboard shortcut, you replace the time spent moving your cursor across the screen with a rapid keyboard input.
While there is a learning curve (and it will take time upfront to learn the shortcuts), combined, the millions of times you might end up using shortcuts will save countless hours in the long run (8 days per year by one estimate)!
- Memorize your shortcuts (and prioritize the important ones)
Once you convince yourself of the merits of using your mouse less, the obvious next step is to learn the shortcuts to all the tasks you want to keep on doing.
To do this, you should prioritize learning shortcuts by their relative importance to your daily tasks on the computer.
For example, if you spend a lot of time writing text, learn ctrl-left/right arrow and ctrl-shift-left/right arrow (option instead of ctrl on mac). If you find yourself taking a lot of screenshots, learn windows-shift-s (cmd-shift-4 on Mac). And no matter what you do, you should be using alt-tab and ctrl-c, x, v.
Below is a list of the most important shortcuts I use.
*Note the use of the shift key in shortcuts: making it either go the opposite direction it otherwise would (1) or highlight text in a document (2).
E.g. (1): alt-tab vs alt-shift-tab (cmd-tab / cmd-shift-tab on macs)
E.g. (2): ctrl-shift-left arrow selects the word to the left, while ctrl-shift-right arrow selects the word to the right (option-shift-left arrow and option-shift-right arrow on macs)
|General Computer Use||Windows Shortcut||Mac Shortcut|
|Undo / Redo||Ctrl-z / ctrl-y||Cmd-z / cmd-y|
|Switch applications (cycle to the right / left)||Alt-tab / alt-shift-tab||Cmd-tab / cmd-shift-tab|
|Find specific text on the page||Ctrl-f||Cmd-f|
|Take a picture of a part of your screen||Windows-shift-s||Cmd-shift-4|
|Open the task manager||Ctrl-shift-escape||Cmd-option-escape|
|Browser Shortcuts||Windows Shortcut||Mac Shortcut|
|Go to the next / previous submission form in browsers||Tab / shift-tab||Tab / shift-tab|
|Switch browser tabs (to the right / left)||Ctrl-tab / ctrl-shift-tab||Ctrl-tab / ctrl-shift-tab|
|Document Shortcuts||Windows Shortcut||Mac Shortcut|
|Copy / Cut / Paste||Ctrl-c / ctrl-x / ctrl-v||Cmd-c / cmd-x / cmd-v|
|Move cursor to previous / next word (While typing)||Ctrl-left arrow / ctrl-right arrow||Option-left arrow / Option-right arrow|
|Select previous / next word||Ctrl-shift-left arrow / ctrl-shift-right arrow||Option-shift-left arrow / option-shift-right arrow|
|Move to beginning of previous / next paragraph||Ctrl-up arrow / ctrl-down arrow||Option-up arrow / Option-down arrow|
|Select previous / next paragraph||Ctrl-shift-up arrow / ctrl-shift-down arrow||Option-shift-up arrow / option-shift-down arrow|
- Practice, practice, practice
Regardless of what shortcuts you memorize, their ultimate usefulness will emerge only when you integrate them seamlessly into your everyday keyboard use. To do this, you must actually practice them. Imagine their use case when you first see and learn them. As quickly as you can after that, start applying them before you forget. Like a new word, a shortcut can become an integral part of your vocabulary or forgotten forever. It just depends on how frequently you use it.
So, in the moments after you learn the shortcut, it is therefore crucial that you actually try it out for yourself. You can do some practice here. Even if it initially feels like it’s out of your way, I promise it will be worth it!
Are there any I missed? If so, please comment below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.