Tools for Thought

Thinking beyond productivity

Increase Typing Speed, Increase Productivity

by Andre · 5 Comments

Typing Competition For anyone who works at a computer daily, few skills have higher leverage over the course of a career than fast, accurate touch typing. The benefits are by no means limited to professional typists, writers and personal assistants, any more than learning to drive is only of use to chauffeurs. Typing is as much a cornerstone of computer literacy as being able to navigate Word, Excel, Quickbooks or Photoshop.

I wrote about the importance of typing speed a while back, but it wasn’t until recently, when I decided to increase typing speed by double that its value was reinforced. When I wrote the previous post, I tested at 54 wpm, which I considered sufficient. I was wrong. I haven’t reached my goal of 108 wpm, but after two months I’ve reached 93 wpm, and the difference is substantial. Expressing thoughts in writing through inarticulate typing is like trying to talk with a mouth full of marbles — it’s possible, but arduous enough to often feel as though it’s not worth the effort.

Good typing vs. adequate typing

Increasing your typing speed isn’t about bragging rights. And while many typists will argue or imply that doubling typing speed cuts one’s working time in half, the gain isn’t quite that linear.

There is, however, a close correlation between fast (accurate) typing and good typing. Good typing is lacks self-consciousness. You have a sentence in your head, and your fingers carry out that sentence autonomically, not unlike the way your mouth and throat allow you to speak your sentence without conscious effort. Adequate typing gets the job done, but with much more time and effort, and less pleasure.

Less-than-good typists typically think that they’re spending the bulk of their writing time thinking about what to write, rather than how to get that content into the keyboard. They’re generally unaware of the continuous partial attention they give to the mechanical process of typing, so they attribute the additional effort required to continually refocus as “composition.”

Adequate typists are “functionally literate” keyboardists who “know” where all the keys are (at least the ones closest to the home row), and generally strike them with the correct fingers, but have trouble with numbers and shift-key characters. They usually don’t have to look at the keyboard, but do have to spend a split second of low-level thinking determining where their fingers need to move with each keystroke. At least hunt-and-peck typists are self-conscious of their self-consciousness.

A global skill

Increasing typing speed transforms the experience of writing. It can mean the difference between wanting to answer an email immediately or letting it sit in your inbox. It can mean the difference between wanting to comment on a blog post or lurking. It can mean the difference between taking notes or relying on memory. It can mean the difference between learning to navigate frequently used applications with shortcut keys or using the much slower mouse — which requires taking one’s hand away from the keyboard, then returning to the home row (a greater distraction for subpar typists).

Fluid typing is a meta-skill that automatically increases your facility with almost any computer application, even some ostensibly mouse-driven ones like Photoshop. You get into the habit of learning to navigate new apps by looking for the shortcut keys, which often overlap between programs (like Ctrl-O to open a document). When I’m learning a new program, I make it a rule to use the mouse the first time only to see if the menu listing for the desired feature indicates the shortcut key: for instance, in the Windows Live Writer app that I’m using now, I see that the Insert menu shows Ctrl-L to add a picture. Once I know that, I no longer use the mouse to add a picture.

Getting started

I suspect that there’s better offline typing software out there than I’ve come across personally. My experience with CD-ROM titles like Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, which are bloated with multimedia content, was frustrating enough to almost put me off of learning to type forever. I much prefer free, online, Flash-based typing tutors like Peter’s Online Typing Course.

Typing Lesson 4 - 1 POTC consists of 18 progressive lessons. You move on to the next lesson when you can type three refreshed screens of refreshed text in under 60 seconds with no errors. I recommend putting in 30-60 minutes a day, avoiding the temptation to skip to the next lesson prior to completing three screens in a row without error — even if it means sticking to the same lesson unit for several days. Learning to type is a skill for lifetime, so there’s no reason to rush through the content.

In addition to the 18 lessons, the site contains seven exercises to try. I’d suggest skipping them until you’ve completed all of the lessons. The lessons will get boring, but switching to other material for variety’s sake will only increase the training time in the long run. Of these exercises, the most useful one is the “Make Your Own Exercise” tool, which allows you to copy and paste text from whatever real-world source you choose. This can come in handy if the type of text you’re used to working with is different from the norm. For instance, a programmer might want to paste in code to get more practice with special characters, numbers and whitespace.

(Photo credit: Foxtongue)

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Tags: Productivity


  • AxelNo Gravatar // Dec 22, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    There is no Dvorak at Peter’s Online Typing Course. I’d recommend
    Quite handy for people that just want to get better quickly and don’t want to spend 60 minutes a day for the next two months …

  • @TheGirlPieNo Gravatar // Dec 22, 2008 at 6:51 pm

    AH! The perfect kind of post in this “useful” category:
    short, to the point, just enough personal perspective to guide me, a link that’s vetted and a valuable suggestion on how to use it better. As a self(un)taught typist, you make some great points — thanks, and keep up the good work.

  • xxxjthxxNo Gravatar // Dec 23, 2008 at 7:11 am

    Once you force yourself to type without looking at the keyboard the rest should be a matter of time (I think its better to have some additional time at this point, since initially this will slow you down). One needs to remember the proper assignment of fingers to particular keys in order to minimize the amount of movements in the process.

  • RobinNo Gravatar // Dec 26, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Did you ever consider that typing might be made obsolete by direct Brain computer interfaces? Primitive versions of these already exist and when they are sophisticated enough they could let humans “type” at speeds much faster than is feasible with traditional typing.

  • AndreNo Gravatar // Dec 28, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    @Robin: That would be interesting. I suspect there would have to be a way to transcribe the user’s most intentional thoughts without capturing every stream of consciousness. Assuming that “signal-to-noise” problem issue were resolved, a brain interface could be a powerful tool.

    But I don’t think it would obsolete typing any more than typing obsoletes pens. It would just provide a more useful option for a more specialized context.