Productivity suggestion: stop using the mouse

Posted at 09:00 on 03 September 2018

I could write a long, rambling blog post here with anecdotes and examples, but instead, I'll just get straight to the point. If you want to see significant productivity gains, and avoid having repetitive strain injury destroying your programming career when you head into middle age, stop using the mouse. Mousing may be easy and intuitive, but it is slow, cumbersome, and it trashes your wrists.

I speak from experience there. When I first started experiencing wrist pain, I found that of all the things I tried -- ergonomic keyboards, learning Colemak, what have you -- by far the most effective step that I took was to cut down on my mouse usage and adopt a more keyboard-centric workflow. Today, about thirteen years after the first onset of discomfort, I'm almost entirely pain-free.

But even if you aren't suffering wrist pain, mousing is still painfully inefficient and cumbersome for many tasks. Watching people thrashing around with the mouse, selecting text then faffing about with toolbars and popup menus is painful when you know that they could achieve pretty much the same thing far more quickly with judicious use of Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V.

Here are things that you can do to make a start:

  • Start by learning keyboard shortcuts in your IDE, your word processor, and your web browser. Find (or create) cheat sheets, print them out and refer to them regularly.
  • Look for features of your software that let you accomplish things all the more quickly. For example, most modern text editors will let you quickly search for a file by name by typing a keystroke such as Ctrl-P, or a command by typing Ctrl-Shift-P.
  • Learn to use Spotlight on the Mac, or the search facility in the Windows start menu (press the Win key, then just type the name of the program or document you want to open).
  • Install Vimium on Chrome or Firefox. With this, you can press "f" to bring up shortcuts on each link or input box on a web page that you can type to jump to them.
  • Learn to use the command line. If you're on Windows, git bash is your friend.

Once you get into the swing of things, you can then start considering other more advanced techniques, such as customising shortcuts in your most commonly used programs, or even learning to use a keyboard-centric editor such as emacs or vim.

Learning to go mouseless takes time and effort, and the chances are that you're not going to be able to go cold turkey right from the start. But like learning a new language, it's well worth the effort of learning a new shortcut every day. Your wrists will thank you for it, your boss will thank you for it, and your stakeholders will thank you for it.