Typing fast is a high-leverage skillDecember 29, 2021
Typing fast is the one of the highest leverage skills you can develop in tech. It doesn't matter if you're a designer, programmer, PM, or anything else — slow typing disrupts the creative process and makes it harder to enter flow.
Typing fast is also quite fun. It's a magical feeling when my eyes glaze over, muscle memory takes hold, and the distance between my brain and the computer disappears. In these moments I feel in control of this machine, truly utilizing it as a tool for expression and creativity.
Typing slow is like going for a run with an open parachute strapped to your back. Sure, you're going through all the right motions, and from a distance it certainly looks like you're running, but up close it just sucks. It's slow, it's boring, and it takes all the enjoyment out of the running itself.
At the end of the day, if your job is to use a computer to tell a story, convince a boss, or excite a peer, and it takes you twice as long to do these things, you're falling behind. When you have to stop and think about the mechanical actions required to convert a sentence in your brain into the correct series of keystrokes on your keyboard, your mind can not think freely and it becomes harder to enter flow.
My key goal for writing (or designing, or programming) is to reduce the time between an idea forming in my brain and that idea being captured on the screen to zero — typing at the speed of thought.
For many people, the writing process is split into two distinct phases: drafting and editing. In the drafting phase, my goal is to get out of my own way in order to get words onto the screen. It can look like outlining, or brain-dumping, or in my case it looks a lot like vomiting a lower-cased stream of consciousness into a notes app. However it looks for you, the drafting phase is critical to capturing your most important ideas and preserving them on a computer for future rearrangement.
When you can type quickly, you can draft quickly. When you can draft quickly, you can start editing sooner. When you can start editing sooner, you can share more stories with more people. And the more stories you can share, the more feedback you can receive, the better your ideas will become, and the more inspired you will be to tell the next story.
Learning how to type quickly is a compounding skill. Faster output means more iteration cycles means more opportunities to learn and improve.
Learn touch typing. If you find yourself looking at the keyboard for a particular key or punctuation mark, this is where you should start. Touch typing is the practice of typing without having to look down at your hands. The benefits here are profound: your eyes no longer have to stray from the screen and you can focus on the story you're telling instead of the tool you're using.
Learn keyboard shortcuts for traversing, selecting, and deleting text. One of the most impactful ways I leveled up my typing speed was to build a habit of using keyboard shortcuts for traversing, selecting and deleting blocks of text. There are a few key shortcuts to learn:
- Option + arrow keys — traverses text, either between words, lines, or paragraphs.
- Shift + arrow keys — selects a range of characters
- Shift + option + arrow keys — selects a range of words or lines of text
- Command + arrow keys — jumps to the start/end of a line, or the start/end of the document
- Command + shift + arrow keys — selects all text in a line or document
- Option + backspace — deletes a word
- Command + backspace — deletes all text on the line before the cursor
Reading these keyboard commands is not going to be very useful — try them out! Go open a text file and start typing some words, then play around with all the combinations of option, command, shift, the arrow keys, and backspace. Start using these shortcuts in your work — you'll know you could have done something faster if you find yourself hitting backspace more than twice in a row, or if you reach for your mouse to move the cursor.
Play typing games. There are tons of applications and games designed to help you type faster. A few good starting points:
Spend 20 minutes a day learning to touch-type, increase your speed, and improve your accuracy.
Recognize when you're slow. Here's my rule: if I'm writing a document, or writing some code, or even using a design tool like Figma, if I ever reach for my mouse or trackpad, it's a sign that I should be using a keyboard shortcut instead. Apps like Figma, VSCode, and iA Writer are overflowing with shortcuts designed to improve your velocity and reduce the friction of getting ideas out of your brain and onto the screen.
One app that that's helpful here is Mouseless, which is specifically designed to help people memorize the shortcuts available in popular applications. The productivity gains from becoming keyboard-fluent in your most-used applications will pay for the app in a matter of days.
One last thought: as I was writing this post, swimming in circles thinking about my typing speed as I was typing about how to type quickly, I started to wonder...will we always need to type words onto keyboards? I'm watching the rise of dictation tools like Siri, or developer augmentation tools like GitHub Copilot and GPT3, and wonder: does any of this matter?
Remember when we learned cursive in elementary school because it was a faster way to take notes by hand? Well that turned out to be super useful, huh?
On a long enough time horizon, it seems reasonable that computers will no longer need our character-by-character dictation of instructions. Speaking to a computer will become fluid as the accuracy increases. In time, a computer might learn my particular style and tone, and know what I mean to say before I've even had the chance to say it. Or in the case of tools like Copilot, a computer can simply cross-reference what I'm trying to say with the millions of people who have said similar things like it beforehand, and slingshot me straight to the end.
That's going to be a weird world to live in, but we're not there yet.
However, it does seem like the end state of affairs: a zero-delay interface between our brains and our computers, where thoughts can be translated instantly into a format that is easily formatted and shareable.
Until that time: type faster!
As a quick "proof of work" for this post, I signed up for Typeracer and completed 13 races. My average WPM (words per minute) is 110 and peaked at 133 WPM. For context, the average person types at around 40-50 WPM, and to classify as a "professional typist" (which means...something?) you would generally be expected to type at around 75-80 WPM. In my searching, anything over 100 WPM is considered fast. My eyes glaze over and I find a typing flow state at around 110 WPM.