How to Increase Your Computer Efficiency With Shortcuts

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. 

You might not be able to do this, but you still can be more efficient when you use a computer.

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.

  1. 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)! 

  1. 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 UseWindows ShortcutMac Shortcut
Undo / RedoCtrl-z / ctrl-yCmd-z / cmd-y
Switch applications (cycle to the right / left)
Alt-tab / alt-shift-tabCmd-tab / cmd-shift-tab
Find specific text on the page Ctrl-fCmd-f
Take a picture of a part of your screenWindows-shift-sCmd-shift-4
Open the task managerCtrl-shift-escape Cmd-option-escape
Browser ShortcutsWindows ShortcutMac Shortcut
Go to the next / previous submission form in browsersTab / shift-tabTab / shift-tab
Switch browser tabs (to the right / left)Ctrl-tab / ctrl-shift-tabCtrl-tab / ctrl-shift-tab
Document ShortcutsWindows ShortcutMac Shortcut
Copy / Cut / PasteCtrl-c / ctrl-x / ctrl-vCmd-c / cmd-x / cmd-v
Move cursor to previous / next word  (While typing)Ctrl-left arrow / ctrl-right arrowOption-left arrow / Option-right arrow
Select previous / next wordCtrl-shift-left arrow / ctrl-shift-right arrowOption-shift-left arrow / option-shift-right arrow
Move to beginning of previous / next paragraph Ctrl-up arrow / ctrl-down arrowOption-up arrow / Option-down arrow
Select previous / next paragraph Ctrl-shift-up arrow / ctrl-shift-down arrowOption-shift-up arrow / option-shift-down arrow
  1. 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

How I (Try to) Stay Productive: A List of Tips

Jump to the list of tips

As I wrote about last week, the internet age has given us countless devices and apps designed to distract. It still is sometimes hard to distinguish where exactly an activity transforms itself from useful, or harmlessly entertaining, to full on distracting. However, what seems clear to me, is that for most people using modern technology, this line is often crossed. Given this, I thought that it might be useful to write about what I do to prevent distraction and increase productivity in my life. 

I remember when I first started realizing that technology was going to be a serious problem for my academic prospects. In middle school, I often would procrastinate writing papers until the middle of the night before they were due. At this time I did not have a computer of my own, so in some sense I thought it a treat that I was able to use the family computer on a weeknight. I would usually end up watching Netflix until my monkey brain finally ceded control sometime in the wee hours of the morning and I began writing. 

Reflecting upon those experiences at the time, I knew it was a problem. I knew it was going to make it more difficult to succeed come high-school, but I didn’t have a ready blue-print to deal with the problem. I was also too confident in my own capacity for self-restraint to seriously ask for help.

Since then, I have gone through numerous strategies to help curtail the negative influence of technology in my life. Today, I rely on a combination of certain habits and certain restrictions on sites. The following are, I believe, the most important features of my current system.

I have a set-up where I keep my computer in the place where I do most of my work. I, with almost no exceptions, keep this laptop there and do not bring it to where I sleep and do much of my reading. I bring my phone with me, but try to keep it apart from where I am sleeping (or at least on the opposite side of the room if I need it for an alarm). I am still working on improving my phone habit, however.

In terms of technical steps to prevent distraction, I found a few important apps and features in iOS 14.3 that are particularly useful. For my computer running Windows 10, I use an app called Cold Turkey to block every website on a list across every browser. It works by forcing you to install the Cold Turkey extension on each of your browsers in order for them to launch. You can then make schedules both for when websites on this list are blocked, and when you are able to edit this list. I have found this to be very effective at preventing me from accessing certain sites (eg. Youtube, Reddit, and News sites) that I would gravitate to when bored and get sucked into. 

On my phone I have a rather draconian system. The first thing I use is the inbuilt Content Restrictions settings in the iPhone settings. Here I only allow access to sites that I have whitelisted. These are Wikipedia, Google, and a handful of others. I have purposefully forgotten the content restrictions passcode so that I would need to reset it with my AppleID to change these settings. 

This doesn’t work by itself for me because this doesn’t prevent you from installing apps that you can use to easily evade the content restrictions. In response I have deleted all apps that are somewhat distracting and purposefully forgotten my AppleID password so it is more difficult to reinstall them. Hopefully, in the future Apple makes it easier to self regulate your usage and harder to bypass your restrictions. I know my complicated setup isn’t for everyone, but you can still use the productivity features offered in iOS in less extreme forms.

Here is a summary of my productivity tips:

Habits and Home Setup Tips

  • Separate your workspace from your sleeping and resting space.
  • Keep your computer in a different room from where you sleep.
  • Charge your phone in a different room (or at least the opposite side of the room) from where you sleep and where you work.
  • When reading, keep devices in a different room or put them where you can’t hear them.
  • Set time in your day when you can’t use the internet, particularly at night

Tech Tips

  • Use Cold Turkey (or Self-Control for Mac) to block sites or apps that you think are distracting on your PC. Or, only allow yourself to use certain apps at specific times.
  • Use Content Restrictions on iOS to either block all non-whitelisted sites, or block specific sites you find distracting.
  • Turn off notifications from apps that you use too much.
  • Delete apps that you can’t stop using or can’t stop from distracting yourself.
  • If you need a draconian measure, forget your passcodes and passwords that allow you to change these settings or download distracting apps.

Most importantly, I’ve found that this is a continuous process. You will not find the perfect setup for yourself immediately. The most important thing is that you don’t give up. Instead, accept incremental progress as you learn more about yourself and your habits.

Good Luck,

Alexander Pasch

Book Review: Homo Deus – A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Previous week’s post

Some authors are capable of bringing so many disparate ideas to the table that you begin to wonder where the limits of their creativity lie. A few are able to turn the tangle of ideas they introduce into a coherent, compelling synthesis. Yuval Noah Harari has shown in Homo Deus, that he is not only capable of doing this for human history (in his widely appreciated Sapiens), but for the human future as well. Where Homo Deus falters most is perhaps in its repetition. The first two sections do contain several informative strands of thought, but it takes too long to reach the meat of the work: the section concerning the future of humanity. 

Harari’s thesis will certainly be controversial to many readers. He claims that the past has seen the religions of old replaced by the story of humanism: concerned fundamentally with the experiences of human beings themselves. The liberal variety of humanism, which dominated the 20th Century and lives on in democratic societies today, is now under threat by improving technology.

Giving value to individuals makes sense when you need them to fight wars, run factories, and participate in a growing economy. Through artificial intelligence and genetic engineering, advanced machines and enhanced humans will likely be capable of these tasks in the future. This will result in the breakdown of the liberal humanist story. Harari suggests two alternatives: a form of techno-humanism, valuing the experiences of technologically modified humans, or Dataism, valuing the free exchange of information above all else.

Concerned more with convincing than assuaging the reader, Harari relies on analogies from the past and present. He starts by chronicling the shift away from the pre-agricultural human worship of animals. Non-coincidentally, this shift occurred precisely when farmers began to domesticate animals. Suddenly, animals were seen either as a means for human gain or ignored completely. 

Furthermore, rulers were often given divine status precisely to justify the unequal value given to them and provide a structure that society could operate under. When capitalism and mass-mobilization required that men perform additional economic and military duties, they were given more inherent value. When mass-mobilization required these men to leave the factories in World War I, the women who replaced them also gained inherent value in the eyes of society.

These and other examples lead Harari to the conclusion that history describes a web of stories that humans tell one another to justify their actions. These stories are not feeble bits of imagination. The stories we tell ourselves about Jesus, capitalism, science, France, and others, direct the lives of billions of people, altering the world in their wake. For readers of Sapiens, this will be a familiar concept. 

When the peaks of intelligence become uncoupled from regular human beings, the value we give humans will certainly change.

Harari makes it clear that the dominant story of our age, liberal humanism, is under threat. When the peaks of intelligence become uncoupled from regular human beings, the value we give huamans will certainly change. There is certainly evidence that technology will profoundly alter the value structures we now cling to. Liberal humanism, which values every person’s experiences enough to allow them to vote and speak their mind, is likely to change.

The question Harari leads the reader to ponder is what story or value structure will come next? Harari suggests that the likeliest successor is Dataism, or the belief in the value of connecting bits of information. I think this is questionable. Harari does little to convince me that we will be walking away from fundamentally valuing certain conscious experiences themselves. Perhaps this is because this work takes the contemporary materialist line on consciousness (which I will critique in a post next week). Regardless, I think the experiences of the most powerful beings around will likely dictate the value structure society operates under. 

I do accept the likelihood that increasing information flow between people, cyborgs, and machines would usually provide net benefits to society at large. But I think every improvement to society will emphasize the amazing states of consciousness and harmony provided by increased information flow (as Harari in fact emphasizes to defend Dataism). This is different from valuing information flow a priori. The quadrillionaire cyborgs of tomorrow (perhaps a future Elon Musk) will likely not be pleased if increased informational flow leads to their suffering and ultimate destruction.

Whether Dataism pans out or gets panned by its cyborg critics, Homo Deus will certainly expand your conception of what the future will look like and where we’re heading as a civilization. It stands as a creative, albeit lengthy, successor to Sapiens.

-Alexander Pasch

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