Humble Ergonomic Keyboard

In a previous post I started talking about the problems with computer mice.
Remember that other piece of equipment, the humble keyboard?
Well it may seem dull and boring to you now, but it can save you loads of clicking with the aforementioned mouse and become a truly ergonomic keyboard.

Ergonomic Keyboard

Just to start a program with a mouse typically involves something like “Click Start, click programs, click folder, click the program you actually want to run”.

If the mouse if giving you trouble, why not do all this with the keyboard instead?
In the old days, this would have been even more time consuming as you pressed the Windows (or Start) button on the keyboard, and then started playing with the cursor keys trying to work out how to navigate through the menus.

Ergonomic Keyboard Program Search

However, on a PC with the lovely (or loathsome, depending on your point of view) Windows 7 it is much easier with the built in search facility.
For example, if you have a copy of Microsoft Word, you can press the Windows button on your keyboard and the cursor defaults to sitting in the search box.
You can then start typing “word” and you should find that Microsoft Word magically appears before your eyes.
At that point you can just press enter/return and the program will start up: easy!
It’s possible that Windows may find more than one possible option, depending on what other programs you have installed on your machine, but you just use the cursor up/down key to select the one you want before you hit Return.

You’ve got to admit that this is loads better than the previous click, click, click.

You can find a description of this process along with screenshots on the Microsoft Windows 7 features site.
There’s also a video that can help you in various places too.

Launch Control

If you have an older version of Windows then don’t despair, there are many application launchers out there.
With these, you can assign a default hotkey like Alt-Space to the launcher which will pop up and allow you to type in the same kind of way as with the Win 7 launcher above.
2 really good ones are Launchy and Find and Run Robot.
They are even clever enough to remember which programs you’ve launched before and with which key combinations.
In other words, they learn from your past choices so you can often type just 2 or 3 letters before pressing enter.
Launchy in action

Run Faster

So that’s starting a program.
How about when you’re already running a program such as email or a web browser?
Well, the majority of programs (at least any program worth its salt IMO) have some keyboard shortcuts.
Most of us know common ones like Ctrl + C for Copy and Ctrl + V for Paste (and if you don’t then you should have serious words with the person who taught you how to use a computer!), but there are often loads more available.
Even browsers like Internet Explorer and Google Chrome have shortcuts available, even though they are by nature heavily click based experiences.
Common ones are Ctrl + T to open a new tab, Ctrl + F4 to close the current tab, Ctrl + TAB to move from one open tab to another.
Or have you tried holding the Ctrl key down while clicking on a link?
This will usually open the link you clicked in a new tab automatically: useful if you are researching that new skirt/top/car or whatever, and need to compare different models but want to keep your original search as well.

 

I’m not suggesting that you learn every hotkey for every program, but it is well worth picking your top 2 or 3 most used programs and learn the shortcuts for those.
Not only will they save you wear and tear, but they can also help you work more efficiently so you can spend less time on the machine.

Pause for thought

Now a caveat: a lot of this depends on what kind of RSI or wear and tear you are receiving and probably has a lot to do with you, how you are built, work habits, etc.
If mouse usage is what is causing you pain, then this could be very helpful indeed.
It may be that typing is the very thing that is hurting the most, in which case the above advice may or may not help.

Typing Class

However, text entry is something that we all have to face, so you can either find an alternative (which I’ll cover in this series), or you can at least try to reduce it.
…and yes, you’ve guessed it, there are programs out there designed to help with that too.
Here are just a few examples:
AsUType (PC)
TypeIt4Me (Mac)
While the program launchers will help to get programs started, these programs will help with your general typing.
They do things similar to the way that MS Word does, but with extra bells and whistles, as well as the ability to work in any program where you enter text.
For example, AsUType can highlight spelling mistakes in any program (even notepad), while many of these programs allow you to create “boilerplate” phrases that you can enter in just a couple of keystrokes.
One example I have set up is where the letters “kr[space]” expand into:
Kind Regards,
Tim
Some alternatives allow functionality similar to Word’s auto-correct in any program.
Phrase Express does this but also tries to track the words as you type them and use your history to give you intelligent suggestions as you continue.
I must admit that I’ve had mixed results with this, and I think you have to use it for several days before you start to receive any real payback from it.

The Ergonomic Keyboard

You may have noticed that despite the title of this post, I have not said anything about “ergonomic keyboards” such as you can buy in electronics stores.
These are supposed to be shaped or sculpted with different contours in order to make typing more comfortable.
I do not use one myself and so cannot really comment on them.
I have heard very mixed reviews of them, generally more negative than positive so have steered clear of them.

…and Rest

One thing you should always do however, is to make sure you have a wrist rest and place it properly in front of your keyboard.
Your fingers should be settled in the correct typing position on the keyboard and the wrist rest should be under your wrist.
-Sounds obvious, but the wrist rest doesn’t have to be directly next to the keyboard, which was a mistake I made at first.
The idea is for your wrists to glide across the rest, without putting pressure on them and to use the rest as well, a resting place when you stop or pause in your typing.
Before I had a wrist rest, I tended to have my arms “hover” over the keyboard even when I wasn’t typing.
This unwittingly caused or exacerbated some of the discomfort in my shoulders and neck.
Ok, so you’ve got your wrist rest, you’ve started launching programs with the keyboard, and you’ve found new ways to work in your favourite programs.
Trouble is, you’re still getting problems from using the mouse and you can’t get away from it …or can you?
In the next post in this series, I’ll be looking at some of the alternatives that are available that could let you turn your back on that mouse for good.
This is part 4 of a series of articles on Ergonomics and computers.
Follow the links below to the rest of the series:

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