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Increase Productivity and Relieve Pain with the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

Increase Productivity and Relieve Pain with the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard
Keyboard

    If you have been looking for a way to increase your productivity without having to train your mind to think or behave in a completely new way, then many will point you to the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard. Well, they’re wrong, as I discovered; the time and effort to re-train your mind is quite extensive, but the time spent is worthwhile!

    If you’re prepared to make some sacrifices – or rather, put up with some inconvenience – Dvorak can certainly save you some medical bills and some time.

    The History of the Dvorak Layout

    In the 1860s, Mr. Christopher Sholes developed the first commercially successful typewriter. When it came to the keyboard layout, he researched the most efficient key patterns. Unfortunately, when it came time to type on this layout, at any decent speed the machine would jam up – the key mechanisms would get in a tangle. To get around the mechanical limitations of the machine Sholes simply redistributed the keys so that the more commonly used letters were separated across the keyboard – effectively solving the problem by slowing the typist down.

    The typewriter eventually became a commercial success, but by the time Sholes rectified his engineering shortcomings and proposed a better keyboard layout, the bigwigs selling the product weren’t interested in changing it, fearing that would hurt sales.

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    Fast-forward to the 1930s when August Dvorak became fed up with the inefficiency of the standard QWERTY layout and set out to engineer a better keyboard that met the demands of modern typists. He studied a number of things, such as letter frequencies, physiology, and ergonomics to design what came to be known as the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard.

    Almost eighty years later, Dvorak’s keyboard layout is still rarely used, despite the numerous problems with popular layouts such as QWERTY and AZERTY. Dvorak died a poor man with his faith in humanity shattered:

    I’m tired of trying to do something worthwhile for the human race, they simply don’t want to change!

    – August Dvorak

    Benefits of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard

    One of the Dvorak Simplified Keyboard’s greatest innovations was putting all the most frequently used consonants on the right hand side of the home row, and all the vowels on the left hand side. Every word has a vowel, and with QWERTY that means you’ve got to sprawl all over the keyboard to type almost all of them – the only vowel on the home row is the letter A.

    By putting all those keys on one row, the typist has to move about less and can type a huge number of words all on the one row. This means:

    • Less strain on the wrist, and
    • The average typing speed increases

    It’s not only an ideal layout for those experiencing wrist pain after working with computers all day long, but also ideal for those who want to squeeze the most out of each minute.

    My Experience with Dvorak

    At the beginning of 2007, I began experiencing pain in my wrists. For a while I just ignored it, but when I realized it wasn’t going to magically disappear I decided to do something about it. I figured it was obviously because, as a writer, I spend most days doing nothing but typing.

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    My first investment in 2007 was the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. I set this up with my Mac mini (the irony was not lost on my wife, who still taunts me to this day) and within a week my wrists were feeling better; my left wrist was pain-free, but the effects on my right hand were, while existent, quite minimal.

    In October, 2007, I purchased a Logitech VX Revolution mouse, designed to be a comfortable ergonomic mouse. It’s a notebook mouse that’s not too small, so I figured I could use it at home or take it on the road. It does a good job as a powerful (though somewhat overpriced) rodent, but the effect on my wrist was again minimal.

    My search for some pain relief was what brought me to the next stage, my obsession with productivity aside.

    Three months ago I rearranged my iBook’s keys and started learning Dvorak myself. While the layout has been refuted in studies as having little to not effect, I say: screw the studies. The pertinent wrist pain I was experiencing has all but disappeared, and I can safely say that I get more writing done each day. Whether that’s because it’s simply easier and less stressful, or because the Dvorak layout is by nature more productive, I can’t say for certain – the important thing is that it works.

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    Some Tips for Learning Dvorak Faster

    If you type frequently, you’re going to have to prepare for this change mentally. As a writer, I spend most of my time typing every day, so I was expecting some annoying disruption to my usual way of working – but what I experienced was totally unforeseen. At first I felt as if I had been muted – as though someone had ripped out my tongue and throat too, cutting me off from my primary method of communication. It’s very disconcerting and feels a lot worse than it sounds. I think I learned something, in some small way, of how those with communication impairing disabilities feel.

    Along the way I picked up some tips for getting over this incredibly uncomfortable phase:

    • Don’t do any QWERTY typing for at least the first three months. It is possible to be fast and efficient with both later on, but trying this from the get-go will only hinder your progress. I never completely gave up QWERTY during my transition because typing is my bread and butter and I couldn’t afford that much of a disruption; this decision did slow down the process. When I spent extended time away from QWERTY, using only Dvorak, I experienced significant gains in speed.
    • If you can afford the time and handle the frustration, don’t change the keys on your keyboard around. Print an image of the layout and keep it above your monitor, so you’re forced to refer to something at eye-level as you learn; this allows you to start touch typing much faster.
    • Do use a touch typing tutor that supports the Dvorak layout; if you dedicate yourself to learning the layout instead of just picking it up on the fly, you’ll have a much better chance of success. I suggest Keybr.

    The most important tip is to relax. It’s going to pretty disturbing at first if you’re anywhere near as dependent on your keyboard as I am, so you just have to remind yourself to take it easy. In a couple of days you’ll be getting the hang of it; in a week, you’ll be typing pretty reasonably, and within a month or so you’ll start to see your initial speeds return. Know that they will come with time and patience, and don’t stress over it.

    I do have to stress that investing in an ergonomic hardware set up helped a lot, and that if you’re considering Dvorak for pain relief or ergonomic reasons you should get these things in order too. However, if you find yourself unable to afford the ridiculous prices of some of this equipment, changing your keyboard layout is a good start.

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    More by this author

    Joel Falconer

    Editor, content marketer, product manager and writer with 12+ years of experience in the startup, design and tech digital media industries.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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