Thursday, July 24, 2008

Keyboard Shortcuts

Perhaps it was my use of emacs in college. Or maybe the fact I was using my trackpoint mouse so much that it was making my hand hurt. No matter the reason, I have recently been kindling a healthy obsession with keyboard shortcuts. For the most part, quality programs will ship with useful shortcuts. Mastering these can go a long way toward boosting your productivity.

One tell-tale sign that you may benefit from investing some time in learning keyboard shortcuts is if you find yourself using the mouse to perform the same tasks over and over throughout the day. In my case, I noticed that I was using the mouse for just about everything...even in the programs I use constantly (e.g. Eclipse and Firefox).

However, when I investigated the available shortcuts for these programs, I found the majority of shortcuts marginally helpful at best (obviously this would be the case given the diverse user bases for such programs). There are just too many, and staring at or even printing off the list of all shortcuts is quite painful. And the thing about shortcuts is that you really need to internalize them. If you have to look them up, if you even have to think about them, then they may be more of a hassle than they are worth. To cope, I have developed a little system for internalizing them (similar to many others I'd imagine)...each time I read/hear about a potentially useful shortcut (aka a shortcut for some task I often perform, or sometimes even for a new task that seems useful) I write it on the whiteboard above my desk. This way, each time I want to perform that task I can quickly glance up to see the shortcut...and after a few times, I find I no longer need to look up and can remove it from the board (and transfer the shorcut to my notebooks for when my memory fails next). Alternatively, infrequently used shortcuts (which I had mistakenly presumed useful) will waste precious space for a short time until I erase them (from both board and mind).

Although I believe this system is improving my productivity, I find myself getting frustrated while watching friends and colleagues use these same programs without the added benefit of shortcuts. In fact, particularly in Eclipse, I find that most users have a very limited subset of shortcuts which they have deemed worthy to internalize. Often times, these same users will be astonished at the power of a few commands which they haven't yet discovered. Even now, I will hear of some new shortcut (new to me that is), and a week later be wondering how I ever lived without it.

For this reason, I plan to document my favorite shortcuts here...hopefully without creating yet another long list of marginally helpful entries. Admittedly, a blog is probably not the proper forum for such a list, so my intent is to provide a bit more context/narration for each shortcut than you might otherwise find. Stay tuned...
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