Shortcuts to Productivity

Posted on November 2, 2010

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Earlier this year, I read Neal Ford‘s book, The Productive Programmer.  It is a great book and a short read as well, so I highly recommend it.  In this book, Ford talks about ways to make yourself more productive and the book contains a wealth of useful tips.  This inspirational text got me thinking how I could increase my own productivity.  As a result, I made a few changes; one that has been extremely helpful is expanding my use of keyboard shortcuts, also known as hotkeys.

For my non-technical friends, hotkeys are key strokes that you can use to execute functions you might otherwise use a mouse to access through a menu.  Most computer savvy people are already familiar with some hotkeys, like Ctrl-C to copy and Ctrl-V to paste.  If you’re a UNIX guy, then you have likely mastered the art of the keyboard already and may think that I am stating the obvious.

The reason hotkeys are useful is that keyboards tend to be more expressive than a mouse in the variety of functions you can express.  Additionally, if you are writing a document or coding, your hands are already on the keyboard.  It slows you down to move your hand from the keyboard, find the mouse, move the cursor to the correct location, click on sub menus until you find your command and then click the command.  If you know the shortcut for that command, you can just press it and you are done.  It is one of those things that once you start learning them, you will find that you are much more efficient than you were before.

As I embarked on my journey to find shortcuts for all my favorite tools, I was amazed by how many web applications had keyboard shortcuts.  For instance, if you are reading this blog using Google Reader through an RSS feed, type the letter ‘S‘, and you will notice that my blog entry is starred.  If you type ‘M‘, you can mark an entry as viewed, and if you type ‘V‘, the browser will open up a new tab or window to my blog entry.  Typing ‘J‘ or ‘K‘ will take you to the next or previous blog entry, respectively.  Once you know the basics of navigating, you can fly through your RSS feeds!

I have compiled a list of hotkey reference sites for commonly used software such as Windows, Mac OS X, Microsoft Office, Google Reader, GMail, Eclipse and many more.  I am using Delicious to keep a running list so I can add to it over time, so check in with me periodically.  I recommend trying to tackle only set of hotkeys at a time.  Print out the keys and put them next to your computer.  Once you have tried out a few of them, try going completely mouse-free. See if you can author a document or write some code in Eclipse without touching the mouse.  Every time you need to do something, and don’t know how…look it up!  It will be slow going at first, but once you get the hang of it, you will be impressed with how much faster you can work.  If you have any other useful keyboard shortcuts/hotkeys, please comment below.  Enjoy!

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