Tech Life Meh. I can do better.

Saving Seconds

I’ve been ripping on the mouse for years.

The argument is one of precision. The mouse, while incredibly useful as a casual means of interacting with a computer, is not a productivity tool, because when you use a mouse you sometimes miss and missing isn’t productive.


Calm down, yes, when it comes to art, to replicating the natural brushstroke, there is nothing better than the mouse (except a Wacom tablet), but do this for me. Go find the Photoshop guru on your floor and watch him or her work. Yes, the mouse is in play, but did you have any idea how much manipulation he did via the keyboard? Want to know why? Because anyone who has a deep, meaningful relationship with a computer is constantly looking for a way to save a few seconds.

The Learning Contradiction

Most of the time when you’re sitting at your computer, you’re doing exactly the same things. Your brain protects you from this mundane observation because your brain is really good at repetition. This is both a blessing and a curse. I’ll explain via an example.

Application switching inside of an operating system is the foundation of NADD. The ability to quickly context switch between apps is so common a task that they’ve developed a keyboard command just for us. In Windows, it’s Alt-Tab, and in Mac OS X, it’s Cmd-Tab. Problem was, when I made the move from Windows to Mac OS X, there was no Cmd-Tab equivalent, so my first moment inside of Mac OS X felt like this…

  • “Pretty.”
  • “WTF with maximizing windows?”
  • “Shit, how do I switch apps?” CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK CLICK

The pathway I’d learned to do a simple, essential task was blocked. A task I’d taken for granted was now a mental hangnail, which threw off all my timing.

A quick search of the Internet revealed a fine shareware replacement for application switching. After the install of the new system preference, the hangnail vanished. I didn’t think about app switching again. Was my new solution faster? I don’t know. All I know is I’d unblocked the path to do what I needed to do so that I could forget it was there.

The blessing of learning a thing is also a curse. By learning to do a thing, you also forget it’s there, which means as new, improved means of doing things show up, you remain blissfully ignorant. I’m a fan of this ignorance because I’ve got other crap I need to do, and I don’t want to sweat the details, but here’s the rub: the details might be wasting a huge amount of your time.

Saving Seconds

Let’s try a test. From this article, I want you to count the number of discrete steps it takes you to compose a new mail message. Each key or key combination you click is 1 point. A mouse drag is one point. A mouse click is another point.

Ready? Go.

There are two types of people. The ones who waited for me to say Go to compose a new mail and the ones who read “compose a new mail message” and pressed the three keys that are necessary, from anywhere in the OS, to fire up a new compose window.

Anything more than three points to compose a new mail is a massive waste of your time.

“Rands, you are a nerd. I am not. I enjoy the slow gracefulness by which the mouse glides over to my dock and I select the mail application, after which I select the File menu, followed by New Message. Aaaaaaaah.”

All I’m reading is 5 points. All I’m thinking about is the 37 mails you send each day multiplied by 5 points = 185. Let’s multiply that by 30 days in a month, which is 5550 points. Finally, let’s multiply that by the number of other micro-tasks you’re doing where you’re doubling the amount of necessary effort. Ok, I can’t even do the math; I’ve got the productivity shakes here.

Ok, deep breath. Whooooooooooo.

You’re likely not in as a big a hurry as I, that’s fine. You may have an extremely casual, informal relationship with your computer and that’s cool, too. Perhaps this article is not for you, but my question is this: do you want to spend your time heading towards doing stuff, or doing stuff?

This article is for the folks who, when they discover a simpler way to get something done, a shortcut, they get a rush because they know simplicity is elegant and efficiency is a turn-on. The target audience for this article is people who, when presented with some else’s desktop, can’t help but stare and size it up. Their question is, “What is this person doing that will make my world move faster?”



How many fingers are sitting on the keyboard right now? Go type something. Looks like I’ve got all ten in play, but as I watch myself type, I’m really only using six or so. Yes, my form is crap, but I’m still hitting 90 words a minute on most typing tests.

Would you rather have ten smart fingers or one big, dumb thumb? Ten fingers, of course. Then why in the world are you holding onto that mouse right now?

The first thing we need to do is get you to understand the degree of your mouse addiction, so I’m going to ask you to unplug your mouse. It’s important to leave the mouse in the same familiar spot on your desk, but it must be unplugged.

Ok, now go work for 10 minutes. No cheating.

At some point during these 10 minutes, you’re going to forget the mouse isn’t connected to your computer and you’re going to grab it and the pointer is not going to move. You’re going to think, “Huh?”

Good. Jot yourself a note about what you were doing:

  • Switching to Mail
  • Selecting Format Menu
  • Selecting a paragraph of text

Each of these represents a second or two you can save. Each task that you jotted is a task where some maniacal productivity nerd has already stared at and figured out a way to make it faster. This leads to the second part of your exercise.

For each note on your list, I want you to discover a non-mouse-based equivalent. Start with the local help system. Better yet, let someone else do the work for you and search Google for “Must have keyboard shortcuts for YOUR FAVORITE APP”.

You might not find a shortcut for every task, and even if you do there’s no telling whether that particular shortcut is going to stick in your head, but my guess is… one will stick. It will stick because its value to you will become instantly apparent. I made fun of the Windows Start key for months until the key showed up on my keyboard and I realized it was the simple starting point for EVERYTHING I DID ON MY PC. I’m on a Mac now, but I can still close my eyes and imagine firing up Word: START-RUN-“Word”-Return. Four points… meh. I can do better.

The point of this exercise is awareness. Once you’ve found one or two shortcuts that shave a micro-second here and there, you’ll become more aware of other places where you’re repeating yourself. You’ll start looking for time-saving shortcuts elsewhere because there is bliss in saving time.

Practice Productivity Minimalism

Like your desktop, you’re going to construct your own version of productivity nerdery. Still, here are some of my favorite moves and observations.

As much as possible, I keep my system of shortcuts as simple as possible. My ideal is that I should be able to sit down at any vanilla Mac OS X system and fly. The primary reason has to do with my personality. I’m a nerd and I know that without constraints I’d tweak my productivity system endlessly. I’ll explain.

I recently pinged the Twittersphere regarding how many folks actively maintain their Address Books. As expected, the graph of the responses formed a pleasant bell curve with most folks responding with a healthy “I maintain it as I need it”.

Then there’s the guy who sent me the 700-word email describing, in detail, the precise process he uses to maintain his Address Book. This mail included AppleScripts and shell scripts. I read the whole mail. I ran the scripts, too, because I can appreciate the obsessive nerd personality.

I’m that guy.

I’m the guy who will spend the entire goddamned weekend reorganizing my tagging system because I didn’t like the tone or the tense of my previous tagging system.

Paying attention to productivity is a slippery slope. The system efficiency addiction associated with saving time can become so compelling that your process begins to control more of your time than your product.

Only Essential Additional Tools

Given my minimalist approach, I keep my list of required productivity apps short. In additional to the feverish use of Cmd-Tab for application switching, I also use LaunchBar.

This is the cornerstone of my interaction with the operating system. This is a utility that allows access to just about anything in your hardware and on the Internet via a simple Cmd-Space-application/URL/whatever. Your question is, “Does LaunchBar do my_favorite_task?” And the answer is, “Yes, it does. And if it doesn’t do it out of the box, it’s probably a five-minute configuration exercise to make it happen.” In the past ten minutes, I’ve used LaunchBar to: make a TinyURL for Twitter, search for the LaunchBar website, look up John Adams on Wikipedia, and fire up a half-dozen applications. My favorite game to play with LaunchBar is: “I wonder if…?” where I just start typing “I wonder if…it looks up maps”.

Yeah, it does.

Many folks prefer Quicksilver to LaunchBar and want to argue endlessly about the pros and cons of each. Realize this debate has nothing to do with the strengths of the respective tools, but is merely a manifestation of the zealotry of the nerd personality when it comes to defining, defending, and fretting about the inessential details of their favorite tools.

There are a bevy of other tools you can obsess over. TextExpander is popular with heavy email users in my crowd. There’s also a healthy sprinkling of AppleScript on most of my friends’ desktops. Everyone has his or her own system for productivity, which leads me to my last thought.

We’re All Wasting Seconds

This is the presentation I want to see at the next conference: in a room full of people, anyone is welcome to walk up to the mic and plug their laptop in to the projector. They’ll be asked to complete three simple tasks:

  1. Send a mail to a friend
  2. Find something on the Internet
  3. Save a bookmark or an image.

I would be fixated.

After the presenter was done with the tasks, we’d be able to pepper them with questions: “You did that too fast, what were you doing?” or “What haxie are you using on your dock?” or “I smell AppleScript… what the hell was that AppleScript?”

If each speaker had five minutes, in an hour we’d have 12 different speakers doing the same tasks completely differently, and I promise you’d find a small fix that you’d forget immediately that would forever have added a few seconds to your life.

54 Responses

  1. I love you, Rands. I am exactly the “What is this person doing that will make my world move faster?” guy.

    Some of my favorite moments in the world are watching other extremely efficient developers and power users in their native environment, getting things done. System administrators are particularly notable for this because they usually have a whole subsystem of convenience methods for the command line.

    I learned four simple shell aliases from a developer at Amazon that have no doubt shaved days if not weeks off of my tasks in the command line world.

    Anyway, I’d be right there beside you in such a presentation, soaking up every millisecond in savings. Great post.

  2. Haha, great post. I love it!

    On using launchbar for TinyURL, I’m sure you might already be used to this workflow, but you might want to check out the Tiny URL service for the services menu. This is one of those essential tools I cannot live without. I set a keyboard shortcut for it to be cmd+shift+c.

    Then in any browser, when I copy a URL, if I want it to be tiny, I simply add shift to the sequence and the TinyURL gets silently copied to my clipboard instead of the real one. Its genius…

    Anyways, awesome post … and I agree about the minimalism. I don’t even use Launchbar or QS anymore instead learning new default ways to do things just so I don’t have to rely on other tools that frustrate me when they don’t work right.

  3. Thing is, I totally do this on the road. People are so gawdawfully inept at being efficient in cars, and I’m such a hyper-efficiency machine that only a crotch-rocket will do. Doesn’t anyone want to get where they’re going, or do they actually LIKE sitting at red lights needlessly? My life would be so much easier if I could transfer my traits to the PC instead and just drive on autopilot like everyone else in the land.

  4. I would have read your post, but I saved so much time not reading it that I feel justified in using my mouse for 30 additional seconds.

    J/K, of course, I read and agree. So odd, too, that there are some out there who still suggest the mouse is faster, even for advanced users who are more “at one” with their computers than they are with any actual humans.

  5. Ryan Ballantyne 16 years ago

    What do you think of the famous research done by Apple in the 80’s that showed that the mouse was often faster than the keyboard because it took people a few seconds to remember what keystroke they needed to press?

    I think it can be true. Take your example of sending a mail. I tried it both ways. Turns out I hadn’t sent an email in a while, so to get to Mail I had to go cmd-(tab tab tab tab tab) cmd-n. Six points. Using mouse and keyboard both, I get three points: mouse to dock, click Mail, cmd-n.

    Exposé is another case where the mouse is often faster. Do I use cmd-tab or Exposé more? That depends – how long ago did I touch the app I’m looking for? If I’m going back and forth between two to four apps at a time, cmd-tab wins, but for hunting down that window that I know I opened, like, an hour ago, Exposé wins every time.

    I know you can use Exposé with just the keyboard, but I’ve found it’s almost always faster to just use the mouse. Get a mouse with lots of buttons and something like ControllerMate, and you can have the Exposé buttons on the mouse itself, which saves even more time.

    Do I scroll with the arrow keys or the mousewheel? Depends. Do I use shift-[cmd/option/control]-arrow keys to select text, or do I use the mouse? Depends. You can’t entirely write off the mouse as a productivity tool – sometimes it’s actually faster to click.

    Of course, a properly calibrated mouse is essential to using it productively. You need a good balance of speed and acceleration. This is why I can’t stand to use most Windows machines, since (due to the lack of an acceleration curve) most Windows users jack the sensitivity through the roof at the expense of any kind of precision. This affects trackpads most adversely, to the point of making Windows laptops all but unusable for me.

  6. Ah you keyboard fascists. Why can’t you just do things your way and let everybody else do it their way. New mail message is three mouse movements and two mouse clicks here. To beat that in the number of steps with the keyboard you’d need to be lucky.

    Perhaps a time saving example other than Twitter would have been more convincing as simply not using Twitter should be far superior to any keyboard or mouse based solution in terms of efficiency.

    I don’t think that keyboard navigation is wrong. There certainly is a place for it. But it’s not how we learn using applications, it’s not the way in which we think about applications and it shouldn’t be the way in which programmers primarily think about applications. Because if it is you end up with powerful tools like vi or emacs that may be very efficient for those in the know but are ‘puzzling’, to use a positive word, for the other 100% of the population.

    And tomorrow we’ll count the interactions you need to open an image from a web page in a graphics application…

  7. Niklas 16 years ago

    Scientist: We have tested this multiple times in a lab, and the result is unambiguous: The mouse is faster to use than the keyboard but the keyboard seems faster to the user because the use of higher lever cognitive functions trigger what can be called a small amnesia.

    Sceptic: I don’t believe you because the keyboard seems faster!

  8. Start —> Run is [Windows] + [R] (+Word). Much easier, gotta love keyboard shortcuts. Hotkeys can be even more fun. That said, I’m on Mac nowadays. And its sad that there still is this [fn] + [delete] thing, especially considered how big the market is. Not everyone is a nerd. [F6] is a great shortcut too. Simplicity can makes things harder if suddenly I need to hit 3 keys to obtain the same result one keystroke does in Windows.

    Disclosure: I love shortcuts and hotkeys, more even I love my Mac. But I think things could be easier. Sometimes MS hits home, sometimes Apple does it. Hotkeys don’t work if combinations are complex (more than 2 keys – non NADD level).

  9. kureshii 16 years ago

    The mouse is faster, for commands you don’t use often (and therefore need to actively remember the shortcut for). In other words, make keyboard shortcuts only for task you do really often.

    I don’t compose more than 5 emails a day, so right-clicking on Thunderbird sitting in my system tray and selecting “Compose New Message” works well enough for me, or just pressing Ctrl+M in the app window. Do I really need Ctrl+Alt+N (or an equivalent shortcut) just to launch the Compose window?

    Rands needs it because he writes 37 mails a day. I don’t because I write 5. Not everything needs a keyboard shortcut. I memorise keyboard shortcuts for obscure functions only because when I’m thinking, having to move to the mouse irritates me. Sure, it’s a nice ergonomic Logitech mouse, but when I’m thinking out the next bullet point to go in a report I don’t want to have to move my mouse to Table -> Insert -> Rows Below, so it’s Alt+A-I-B instead.

    By default, your brain is wired to remember things you do often. If you do a certain task often the keyboard shortcut is instinctive and definitely faster, if not the mouse may already be good enough.

  10. Your computer interaction techniques are scarily reminiscent of my own. From using LaunchBar for damn near everything (and I’m sure there’s lots of stuff I could/should be doing with it that I haven’t stumbled upon just yet) to finding all the keyboard shortcuts I can about an application.

    I love one of the trends now of applications including a Keyboard Shortcuts item in their Help menu. Take a peek at NetNewsWire’s list; I don’t think I use the mouse at all with NNW, from launching it (with LaunchBar) to reading feeds (spacebar, right arrow/b) and flipping between tabs (0, 9, and cmd-\), etc. I just have no need for the mouse.

    And after reading your comment about using only about 6 fingers whilst typing I paid attention to my hands as I took that typing test (103 wpm, by the way). I too use only about 6 fingers the majority of the time.

    Great article!

  11. ANDREAS ALEXELIS 16 years ago

    For Windows users, there is a free application called Auto HotKey. It is programmed in a script form and it kind of intercepts any signal (keyboard, mouse) and associate it with practically any application or window.

    You can set your shortcut keys even if your application does not support shortcut keys at all.

    You can keep using your the shortcut key you used for your old app. even if you switch to some other.

    The best part is that the script can be compiled into a single executable, so you save it on a memory stick and you take it to any vanilla Windows system (that has USB 😉

    It has a bit of a learning curve, but I think it is well worth it.

  12. Just so many THANKS! I still use the mouse a lot (especially while I’m just reading text, I tend to randomly select/deselect the area I’m reading; and then, the scroll is really convenient at times), but I still do so much more using the keyboard. Started back in college, where the desk wasn’t too convenient for the keyboard, so for faster typing I took the keyboard on my knees… and then it would take forever to reach for the mouse.

    It’s just faster from the keyboard. Even though I clock at only 76-ish words per minute (now I’m back to trying to improve the result).

    But then again, I think I’m as close to a classic case of NADD as one can admit to. (I’ve not switched to MAC OS – although I’ve dabbled enough to know I do enjoy it, and am looking forward to some of our products being enhanced to be runnable on MAC, so I can get to the testing there…)

    Ah well. JUST wanted to say, thank you for posting these – I do enjoy reading them, finding some of the things I do in them (well, not 100%, but enough), and I also learn a lot.

  13. Great article and I totally agree despite the fact that I’m using Quickilver. 😛


    If you read this could I please also be on your beta tester list? This is exactly the way I want to use my menus.

    My email: [email protected]

    Thanks in advance

  14. Henry Baughman 16 years ago

    I too am a productivity nut, but I have gone in the opposite direction of most geeks. I spend the vast majority of my free time on the Internet. Despite using Google reader to manage my dozens of RSS feeds I always have scores of tabs open in Firefox.

    When using this medium I rely heavily on the mouse. Not because there aren’t shortcuts on my keyboard, but rather because my mouse is faster. I agree that clicking the back button is a tremendous waste of time. That doesn’t mean that the mouse ought be entirely discarded. Firefox offers two great extensions for mouse gestures ( all OS) and ( Windows and Mac; crashes Linux). A normal mouse movement deserves a point (or perhaps two), because unless one is pointing to a corner deceleration and aim must be taken into account, but a mouse gesture involves a couple twitchy motions from anywhere on the screen. I can open a Gmail compose mail tab in three points (click and hold right mouse button, move mouse NE, move mouse West) which are at least as fast as a keyboard command.

    All of my mousing used to mean constantly switching between the keyboard and mouse — the biggest time killer most people have when using both input methods. In order to solve this problem I taught myself to type on the Dvorak simplified left handed keyboard ( While I can only type ~40-50 words per minute with this layout, it is more than sufficient for the web addresses that occasionally need to be spelled out. When I need to type anything longer I can easily switch to the qwerty layout (~90 wpm) (I’m learning to use the Dvorak two-handed layout (, but am still far too slow to make that my primary typing layout)

    One downside of the one handed keyboard layouts is that it moves your hand to the center of the keyboard, and thus far away from the ever important ctrl and alt keys (I still use normal short cuts a lot). I solved this problem by binding those two keys to the thumb buttons on my Logitech VX mouse.

    One thing that I couldn’t live without is vertical tabs. Rather than have tabs across the screen they go down the right side of my window. This modification can be done for Firefox by tweaking some settings in the TabMixPlus extension ( and the userChrome.css for Firefox as per these instructions ( As an added bonus using the scroll wheel on tabs (as an alternative to ctrl-tab (Windows and Linux)/alt-tab (Mac) intuitive (and a breeze on the Logitech revolution with hyper-scrolling).

    Love your site,


    P.S. It is worth noting that outside of the Internet I am a keyboard shortcut junkie.

    P.P.S. I too would love to watch that presentation of productivity geeks.

  15. Scott Guelich 16 years ago

    Great post Rands, It’s good to see others are just as keyboard driven.

    I’m finally finishing up a new app now that will help cut down on mousing. The one (and probably only) missing Mac feature that makes me jealous of Linux/Windows is the ability to access the menus via accelerator keys. Apple has a clunky workaround to be accessibility compliant, but it’s slow. And the new Leopard Help > Search is too picky unless you know exactly what you’re looking for (it really doesn’t help when Apple renames menu items, like “Make Archive” -> “Compress”).

    So the new app I’m wrapping up dynamically adds menu mnemonics to Mac menus — like on Windows/Linux — but with more Mac styling. It runs in app space too, so no evil system hacks or code injection. It should be in beta by early summer: email me if you want to be a tester.

    @Ryan, regarding that Apple research: I wonder how the results would turn out now that screens have gotten so much bigger? I used to discover apps by exploring their menus, but the bigger that screens get, the less inclined I am to drag the mouse up to the top-left edge. Now being able to pop menus open quickly by keystroke is helping me rediscover my apps again.

  16. I’m worse.

    In my last job, we used Siebel CRM. It has an awful UI and everything takes ages when you’re not physically close to the server. So I ended up writing an application that gave me a nicer UI and I added shortcuts and popup menus that allowed me to do the daily tasks very efficiently.

    Ok, it took a couple of weeks to write and refine the thing, but it was great!

    The interesting thing is that a lot of people do not understand this. To those people, it is absolutely normal to open the same applications every morning or to perform the same 3 copy&paste operations whenever they write an email to a customer. Drives me nuts.

    I’m currently trying to find out how I could do something similar in my new job. It’s almost like a curse.

    And of course, I’m reading email using emacs and gnus. The ultimate keyboard shortcut experience 😉



  17. Shezi 16 years ago

    There is one other use of the windows key that few people ever seem to do: It’s another Ctrl-key. One that is unbound in any application.

    Right now, I have about 20 bindings like these:

    Win+X – Xemac

    Win+A/Z – Sound up/down

    Win+1/2/3/4/5/6 – switch to desktop #i

    They’re probably my most-used key combinations.

  18. I’m worse.

    In my last job, we used Siebel CRM. It has an awful UI and everything takes ages when you’re not physically close to the server. So I ended up writing an application that gave me a nicer UI and I added shortcuts and popup menus that allowed me to do the daily tasks very efficiently.

    Ok, it took a couple of weeks to write and refine the thing, but it was great!

    The interesting thing is that a lot of people do not understand this. To those people, it is absolutely normal to open the same applications every morning or to perform the same 3 copy&paste operations whenever they write an email to a customer. Drives me nuts.

    I’m currently trying to find out how I could do something similar in my new job. It’s almost like a curse.

    And of course, I’m reading email using emacs and gnus. The ultimate keyboard shortcut experience 😉



  19. Oops… that shouldn’t have been there twice…

  20. You’ve been reading Taylor again, haven’t you…?

    One counterargument: People – especially those working at a desk – are not unproductive when they do those mechanical tasks of opening a new E-Mail. They are doing thinking in the meantime. Mechanically/Trained activities do not block the thinking process, quite the opposite they allow for thinking.

    As someone who not only writes, but also reads a lot of mails, I have to say: If you can find a way for people to use a bit _more_ time to think when composing a message, a whole lot more time could be saved… 😉

  21. Gawd, thank you for spending some real time on this topic.

    Don’t get me wrong – I *heart* my Mac and it’s become my primary system in spite of its smaller display area. If, however, I were king, it would be no less difficult to operate a Mac without a mouse, as it is a Windows rig.

    That it’s not so, is why I put off getting a Mac until I absolutely needed one… in spite of having an abundance of experience with Macs dating back to System 7.

    …And those Mac fanatics who are constantly bugging your friends to replace their Windows systems with Macs, please just STFU until you’re directly asked to make a purchase recommendation. It makes us feel like second-class citizens and consequently we become irrationally hostile to your insistence that the Mac is a better computer.

  22. That’s all well and good, but I have to admit that I don’t use that many keyboard shortcuts on my work machine – it’s FreeBSD box and I’ve always loved focus-follows-mouse in X. I tend to keep one hand on the keyboard for the application specific shortcuts and use the mouse to bring focus. Even more so, I use synergy to interact between my laptop and my work machine, turning my laptop screen into extra desktop real-estate.

    Cracking article though. 🙂

  23. kerry 16 years ago

    Rands my man, what is the three key combo that lets you open a new mail message in OS X?

  24. Jane ODell 16 years ago

    I use a laptop for greater productivity. MBP two-finger scroll has completely accelerated my web reading. Quicksilver also. Annoying when I get to work and Win2000 doesn’t have QS–I’ll have to remember the run command. The big one that annoys me on Windows– when organizing files in WinExplorer, there is no keyboard shortcut for “New Folder”. No Ctrl-X in MS applications. I find I have to use the mouse more in Windows because I can’t easily find shortcuts for the things I do repetitively, and my employer sticks with either MS standard apps or old versions of major software. Of course, the only reason they replaced the Data General mainframe system was because it wouldn’t live past Y2K, so information productivity is still a new concept. We had local IT people–they have been collected at a central help desk facility, and now we do our own troubleshooting. They don’t capture the cost of our time, so voila, they saved money! Just like they saved money on HR by downsizing and collecting in a central location. Now nothing gets done, unless its a raging wildfire crisis, so again, they save money! Oh, sorry, I was ranting.

    In any event, thanks for the tips on shortcuts, I too would like to watch a presentation and pepper folks with questions about shortcuts. Given my level of NADD, though, I’d like the shortcuts to be vanilla OS X or Win, and work across multiple apps–which I think is a tall order.

  25. “Many folks prefer Quicksilver to LaunchBar and want to argue endlessly about the pros and cons of each. Realize this debate has nothing to do with the strengths of the respective tools, but is merely a manifestation of the zealotry of the nerd personality when it comes to defining, defending, and fretting about the inessential details of their favorite tools.”

    Can’t vouch for more than this….check any page where apple and Windows are mentioned;-)

    btw,a great article.Kudos Rands.

  26. jason 16 years ago

    So I’m really interested in this 700-word e-mail and the scripts for the address book. Any chance you could share those Rands?

  27. Alan Grow 16 years ago

    The ultimate culmination of this idea is the ratpoison window manager (“Say good-bye to the rodent”).

  28. i find this post to have a few good points, but a bit too much black/white.

    obviously for certain things, keyboard shortcuts(once well memorized) are faster than moving/clicking a mouse. however, there are functions a keyboard is just not viable. how do you click on links of a web site? you tab through?

    a few points you addressed have nothing to do with mouse, it’s about consistency in application design.

  29. I’ve always naturally assumed that Macs were horrible, horrible, horrible at shortcuts, customization, and compatibility. It’s nice to see them finally get their shit together.

  30. Randy 16 years ago

    Great article!

    I too am a big fan of the keyboard and minimizing the switches back and forth from keyboard to mouse. I was overjoyed when I found this link to the Microsoft keyboard shortcut tips: Keyboard Assistance and Shortcuts for Microsoft Products

    Many of the IE shortcuts work in FireFox as well.

    My new favorite is web addresses using Ctrl-Enter. It adds a www. prefix and a .com postfix to what you type in the address bar. That’s 8 keystrokes saved!


  31. Kailden 16 years ago

    Everyone has their style…for me it’s:

    Xmonad, a tiling window manager on Linux, that has gmrun on a keyboard shortcut, open terminal as another, and using remind+dzen for meeting notifications, and mutt for email.

    Tiling window managers are great now that big wide monitors are becoming the norm.

    My desktop looks a little strange, and perhaps mutt is a little ancient, but its hard to argue that it isn’t productive.

    Its still a work in progress…I’d love to be able to sync better with Google Calendar and use gcalcli to bring it all back down in daily agenda emails….

  32. Alan Grow 16 years ago

    Jy: “however, there are functions a keyboard is just not viable. how do you click on links of a web site? you tab through?”

    Strange as it may seem, firefox on a mouseless system isn’t that bad. You get used to using the “/” search interface to select the link.

  33. @alan grow: i agree firefox is one of the more keyboard friendly browsers out there for surfing. however, the point of this thread is saving secs here. at least that’s the impression i got. can you argue clicking on a graphical/foreign charactered links using a mouse is slower than typing it out?

  34. Alan Grow 16 years ago

    @Jy: It’s all about your typical usage pattern, so YMMV. I’m usually browsing APIs, reading reddit, or using Gmail (all in English).

  35. Chris K 16 years ago

    I, for one, usually work with one hand on the keyboard and one on the mouse. But I’ll tell you why I won’t switch from windows to osx or linux until I find a match for one program. Strokeit. If you’ve used mouse gestures in Opera, you know. To compose a new email? alt+tab (2 points) or click the mail program (since it’s always running), and right-mouse-button-drag-down. Done. Is that 2, or 3 total? I count it as 2, one for the click to select and one for the “stroke”. To get rid of that new email? One stroke. Open a link in a page riddled with them into a new tab? One stroke. And so on for all of my commonly used things. *That* is the kind of thing that has actually made people ask “what the heck did you just do?”

  36. Randy MacDonald 16 years ago

    Yes, 3 points to send a null message, when you’ve trained your OS with thousands of points to set up your defaults for Subect: and To: That sounds correct. Not.

    Also multiplying the claimed points by an estimate of the message volume, ignoring the optimization that would be done in the course of getting that volume out, or even subtracting the 3*nessage count points that you stipulate cannot be avoided: not the best math.

    Perhaps a more scientific, and less juggled approach would be better.

  37. Sigivald 16 years ago

    Win-R, outlook, ctrl-n. (Or, if it’s open, mouse to the tab on the vertical taskbar, click, ctrl-n.)

    (I use Windows for my mail and work, not OSX, which I use for other things, and only at home.)

    Now, if I did compose 37 mails a day, I might want to make that faster.

    But I don’t – typically I send less than one, on average. I spend more time reading mail than sending it, and precious little reading it.

    Me, I spend more time thinking about what I need to make the software do, and how, (as a programmer, that is), than fiddling with the interface, most of the time, so I just don’t care.

    The sticking point in my workflow simply isn’t lack of keyboard shortcuts or too many mouse steps.

  38. I don’t know if you realized that you were indirectly asking for everybody’s favorite trick, but here’s mine:

    I use Quicksilver hotkey triggers to bind my most commonly used apps to cmd-F1–F6 (that’s as far as I can easily reach with my left hand, but to give me more spots, I stack them up by using cmd-opt-Fkeys also). Since the same action handles both launching and switching to, I’m never more than 1 “point” from most of the apps I need, whether it’s already running or not, and it doesn’t matter if my right hand is on the keyboard or the mouse.

    It turns out to be much faster than cmd-tab, because you don’t have to pause, interpret the order of the icons, count how many presses you need, and then execute those presses. It’s just 1 movement, and BOOM, you’re in Mail, no pausing or thinking required.

    I’m sure you could do this with other tools too, and the quicksilver implementation detail isn’t the important part, it’s the instant-access that you come to rely on and use without thinking.

  39. You think MICE are bad, wait’ll Apple rolls out those multitouch iMacs (or displays or whatever they’re working on).

    I will happily eat my words if they somehow make poking at your monitor more efficient than a keyboard, but yeah.

    When I’m drawing, one hand is using the Cintiq stylus and the other hand is riding the keyboard at all times. It’s the most efficient way I can do my job.

  40. Marc Liyanage 16 years ago

    @Chris K: Try xGestures. I love it and it’s only USD 5.-, ridiculously cheap for what it does.

    I wrote about it in my blog.

  41. You might think you are saving time in the long run or something, but you’re not. The milliseconds it takes pale in comparison to the several minutes per that it takes you to compose 37 emails. So it’s not like you’re cramming 10 hours of work into 8 hours. You’re still getting the same amount of shit done.

  42. I browse with Opera, so with its built in mail client ‘compose a new mail’ is Ctrl+e. So I guess if Opera is your browser of choice thats 1 point which is pretty hard to beat….

  43. I love your idea to unplug the mouse. I never thought of doing something like that.

    I am a programmer who just recently completely jumped ship to OS X after flirting with both win and mac for several years. There is one place Windows has OS X beat and that is rapid text navigation and selection.

    Take this example, for the code:

    public static void myExample() {

    Say my cursor is at the beginning of the line and I need to add a parameter, “String arg,” to the function. On Mac:

    Option + Right Arrow [4 times]

    Right Arrow [1 time] (or Option + Right Arrow one more time)

    On Windows:

    End Key [1 time]

    Ctrl + Left Arrow [1 Time] (putting the cursor in between the parans, admittedly, is a fuction of the IDE. I’m using IntelliJ for both Mac and Windows. The same functionality on both platforms…)

    Because Home and End key are not present, or rather, they provide useless functionality, I’m left with 3 extra points, more than double what it is on Windows!

    Yes, Option+Left|Right Arrow provides the same functionality, but hitting Option with your thumb is a long stretch. Hitting Option with my pinky isn’t a solution either. Another common idiom is to “Ctrl+Shift+End” to select an entire line… How do you press hold Shift with your pinky when it is on Option?

    Your comment about Cmd+Tab throwing off your timing is so true. Something just hasn’t felt quite right since I switched and that statement nails it.

  44. Rands, I’m a bit surprised that you forgot how to reach Word in Windows. It’s only three steps for the HYPER-SUPER-DUPER-EFFICIENT-CHAMPIONSHIP-EDITION:

    1). Start + R (brings up Run window)

    2). type “winword”

    3). push enter

    I’ve lost all faith in ye, Rands! You’re growing slow in your old age!

    Heh, just kidding. One of my favorite WinXP tricks (before it came irrelevant with Vista/OS X) was to place program short-cuts into the Windows root folder. I could launch all my favorite programs with Run that way with words I remembered easily, instead of relying on a manufacturer’s occasionally inexplicable word choice–if they even included the option, that is.

  45. James 16 years ago

    I personally use Humanized enso for all these needs. Getting to my email and writing a new message is only 3 points. It is very nice. Check it out at They are working on the open source cross platform version right now at. Google code I would really recommend getting the prototype from the blog and the betas until it goes opensource.

  46. 2 Points to create a new mail:

    1) Move mouse to dock

    2) Click “New Mail” dock icon

  47. As I hate mouse trackpads, I’ve learned all the keyboard shortcuts I can for my laptop, on top of the stuff I all ready knew.

    I really do dig this one. It’s an interesting idea, and I’d really be interested in seeing an article about this with pixel rigs.

    I dig it.

  48. For me, it’s a question of swapping. I prefer the keyboard but I don’t mind working with the mouse. What I can’t stand are the poorly designed apps that force you to do both. When I constantly have to switch back and forth between the keyboard and the mouse, I get so frustrated feeling my productivity fall away.

    I will however share my all time favorite windows shortcut: Shift-F10

    I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine what it does.

    Great article by the way.

  49. I’m a big fan of shortcuts. Being on the computer for a living makes you appreciate any improvement in productivity whether it be code completion, not having to minimize windows to launch an app on the desktop, whatever. One tool recommended by a coworker that I’ve found useful is launchy. It’s like a Quicksilver for Windows

  50. This is why a lot of people like to use Blender for 3D work. It is based around the keyboard for commands and the mouse for navigating the 3D space. That makes for a very effective way to work. Same goes for other software – the more useful/meaningful the shortcuts system is, the faster one can work.

  51. I bought a Macbook a month ago, and though I’ve used Macs every now and then this is the first time I have one of my own and thus have the time to do more than work and actually _learn_ it.

    Of course, I need an IRC client to feed my NADD. Sadly, all native IRC clients for OS X seems to be designed by someone who once overheard someone describing IRC and then made a client based on that.

    Like Colloquy. It has graphical emoticons — and a menu to insert them. I just spent a good five minutes laughing hysterically at how I had to move my hand to the mouse, move it, click twice and then have it add this to the input field:


  52. Swissfondue 16 years ago

    I find the MacBook Air’s multi-touch trackpad saves me time. Right-click is one two-finger tap. Selection an additional tap. Scrolling with two fingers on the trackpad saves me going to the mouse or finding the arrow keys.

    Maybe we can start a new metric: how many taps to complete an action?

  53. I’m one of those “anything that saves a few seconds, or even two clicks is a good thing” people. As a result, I’ve written a handful of AppleScripts that do things like get file paths, search WikiPedia and Snopes, and the like.

    Anyone who wants ’em, you can find them at my website: