Watch Out of Personal Folders

Last week I have volunteered giving a time management lecture to colleagues in the Israeli industry. Every time I give, I get something back. This time I was challenged by the audience about the usage of personal folders, which encouraged me to drill down to this topic a bit further. It seems the mailboxes of all the participants were extremely small (~150MB-200MB) which forced most of them to save their emails into folders under the personal folders section.

My view on personal folders is clear – do whatever you can to avoid using it. Here is why.

Lack of Backup

Personal folders are not saved on the Outlook server and therefore are not backed up by default. This means that if your Hard Drive is damaged, your emails are gone. Yes, gone.

You can configure Outlook to save the personal folder to a network folder, which can be used as a backup alternative. However, one needs to keep in mind that accessing the folders on a network drive slows down Outlook operation (for example, search results).

Lack of Accessibility

Personal folders are not stored on the Outlook server, which means they are not accessible for your account from other computers. For example, if you are using both desktop PC and a laptop, the search folders would be accessible only on original computer where you have defined them. You can work around it by pointing your personal folders to a network location, and configure the personal folders on both your computers to point to the same network location, but this alternative has its limitations. For example, there is no way you would be able to access those emails from a mobile application (since mobile applications have limited customization and configuration capabilities).

Conflict with Search Folders

Outlook search folders are a great way to provide us a specific search view on our emails. However, search folders can work either on the server folders (our mailbox) or on the personal folders, but not on both. I have failed to find a workaround to this issue. This is a huge drawback.

Let’s sum it up

We were giving some solid arguments on why we should not use personal folders – lack of backup, lack of accessibility and conflict with search folders. Now let’s look on one aspect we should use personal folders. We should use personal folders only in case our mailbox quota is close to its limit. In such case, it is recommended to move the oldest emails to a personal folder. This is being used as an archiving activity.

One last tip on that aspect – in case your mailbox quota is close to its limit, please go to the large-size-emails search folder and look for large size emails. Those emails usually contain large size attachments. You can go to such emails, right click on the attachment and select “remove attachment”. This provides you the ability to keep the email without the attachment that affects your mailbox quota. If the attachment is important for you, you can save it aside before removing it (thanks to Nave for proving me this tip during the lecture).

Be good and use personal folders properly.

Meetings: Looking at the Wrong Direction

In my previous post on where should we meet, I have mentioned how I think meeting rooms should be designed. I only managed to change one room (out of 20) in my organization and you probably stuck with the same problem as well.
So today I would like to say what we CAN do while sitting in a traditional meeting room.

One size doesn’t fit all

Somewhere in the past, someone has designed the traditional meeting room, while imagining that meeting rooms would be used by a lecturer standing by the screen displaying a presentation.

If that was reality, then OK. However, reality is different, at least in High-Tech companies and specifically in R&D departments.
Most of the time meetings in meeting rooms, are done while the presenter is sitting down with her laptop, usually at the head of the table (the side that is far away from the screen). The presenter lectures from her sit and presents from her laptop on the big screen.

Did you notice what is wrong here? Imagine that you are one of the participants in the room. Now think where your head and sight are targeted to. Is that the screen direction OR the lecturer direction? Remember, the lecturer and the screen are in different directions.

Do you see what I mean? You either looking at the screen for conveying vitual information OR you are looking at the lecturer to get engaged with the lecture. I heard a lecture recently describing that looking at the speaker face while she speaks leverage your communication to 80% (as opposed to 20% where you don’t see her face, but just hear her voice). Amazing.
So what does it mean? It means that our information gathering during a meeting in traditional meeting rooms is poor.

What can we do about it…

Simply request the presenter to sit near the screen, even if it means the presenter would sit with her back to the screen. After all, the presenter has her laptop for presenting and she can see what everyone else can see.

I know there are many kind of meetings, dependeds on the type of the organization. However, many of the meetings in R&D groups, that require presentation (design, architecture, whatever) are of this kind (lecturer with a laptop, presenting). And BTW, the bigger the room, the poorer the communication engagement (plus you leave the meeting with hearting neck after moving it back and forth endless times between the screen and the presenter).

Think about it.

Where Should We Meet?

This is my first post that discuss items beyond the outlook domain.

There are endless books on How we should conduct our meetings – setting objectives, agenda, summary, etc. I read quite a few of them and I found the information very useful for getting the right guidelines for performing efficient meetings. However, I felt there is still something missing in order to take meetings to the next level. Therefore, I decided to challenge the norms and do some experiments on myself, and on my teams. My teams were kind enough to participate in those experiments (I hope they don’t hold that against me now…).

Traditional Meeting Room

Meeting room with a big table in the middle and many chairs around it. If you are lucky, there is a white board placed on one of the walls. If you are working in a technology company, you might also have an audio or video conferencing device for connecting remote people.

What bothers me in that room

The table. Yes, the table.

If we come to think about it – what the purpose of the table is? We are not serving food or treats during the meeting (at least not in most of them). We don’t encourage laptop usage in the meetings (laptop == multi-tasking == person-not-engaged == why-this-person-came-to-the-meeting-from-the-first-place). Well, maybe except for the organizer or presenter, but that is just one person with a laptop.

So what the table is used for? I think it is used for hiding behind it, for blocking some of our body language, for text messaging behind the table, for putting barriers between us and the other participants. It is a kind of a shield that blocks the meeting energy and people’s engagement. It doesn’t sound like something I want to have in my meetings.

And there is the white board, the main tool for collaboration, which is placed on one of the walls and sadly has limited access for most of the participants. White board is great, I love it, but the limited access to it damages the collaboration volume in the room.

My conclusion

Not a good room design in my opinion. The more I come to think of it, the more I’m confused on why rooms in high-tech companies (that foster for brainstorming and idea sharing) are designed that way.

I would use those rooms for status meetings or large audience meetings (personally, I’m trying to reduce those kind of meetings to a bare minimum).

Stand-up Meeting Room

This meeting room type resides on the other extreme. No tables, no chairs, all participants are standing up. Those kind of meetings are designed for high engagement. Researches show that stand-up meeting enables us to accomplish the same goal in a shorter time (33% more efficient).

I have tried it in various combinations. I am using stand-up meeting room in our Scrum daily meetings that take 5 to 15 minutes. It works very well.

I have tried 30 minutes stand-up meetings – those were a bit too much for the people to take.

My conclusion

A great way to meet for short discussions – up to 20 minutes. It is really an efficient usage of the time and it enables high engagement levels of the participants. The problem is, that most companies don’t have such rooms. I recommend to fight for such a room. If you have many meeting rooms in your company, choose one and get the table and chairs out of it. It worth it.

The Kind of Meeting Room I Like

I like small forum sit-down meeting rooms with a few chairs located around a low table – a table that is used for collaboration. I never saw such a meeting room in any of the companies I have worked for. I have built such a room by removing the heavy tables from my room, finding a low-coffee table (made of glass) and locating it in the middle of my room. As the table is made of glass, I can draw (and erase) on it for collaboration – fantastic!

The fact that the table is low, enables people to see each other in “full size”, head-to-toes, which provides higher engagement levels. The fact that people can see each other head-to-toes really makes a difference (again, researches proved it).

Moreover, the fact the participants sit within the same distance from the table, enables each one of them to collaborate in the same manner – all have the same unlimited access to the collaboration tool (i.e. the table).

I found it very useful for small-forum brainstorming-oriented meetings.

This is my room (so proud of it :)):

Bring it All Together

As most of the meetings I encourage in my group are small-forum idea-sharing and brainstorming meetings (as opposed to status meetings and large forum meetings), I find the stand-up and low-table-room meetings most efficient.

I know the low-table room sounds, at first, like a strange idea (and people walking by my room think I got crazy), but it works for me and my teams. People gave great feedback after using that room – it is fun and efficient (or maybe they are just happy because the meeting is sitting down instead of standing up). Either way, I encourage you to try it out.

I’m still puzzled with my large-scale meetings (5+ participants, 20+ minutes). I still didn’t find a suitable room for that. I would be happy to have a mid-size room, with no table, only chairs, and a white board (even portable white board). I really thing it will boost up our large-scale brainstorming meetings.

One last thing about meetings – we are living in a high technology world with a lot of options to meet virtually over an audio or a video bridge. I’m a big fan of meetings over a video bridge – it is way more efficient then emails (and video bridge is a lot more efficient than an audio bridge). However, if you have the option to meet face to face, do it – it is a lot better option to choose. No technology, so far, enables the level of engagement such in face to face meeting.

Our Instincts Betrayal Us

Our instincts betrayal us when it comes to time management. Period.

Human instincts help us in many conditions. Unfortunately, I have realized that our instincts fail us when it comes to time management. I have watched too many times people that had poor time management skills because their instincts guided them there.

In order to get the right time management instincts, we need to practice, a lot. No one is born with the proper time management instincts – I certainly wasn’t born with it (I was so bad in it 10 year ago…). The initial time management instincts usually send us to the opposite direction – make us use methods that result poor time management.

This post is about making us aware of that. The awareness is the first and most important step in getting better in this time management journey. Let me share a scenario I ran into in my work place in the past year (over and over…).

Use case – reading all notification emails

This example is taken from the software development world. I would mention JIRA here – JIRA is a defect tracking system, while JIRA notification emails are emails that are being automatically generated by the JIRA system for every change in a software defect that is related to the team.

  • Erez: “Ben, do you manage to get to zero Inbox from time to time?”
  • Ben: “No, I have too many daily emails, should I allocate more time during the day for reading email?”
  • Erez: “don’t jump in to a conclusion yet – let’s have a look at your Inbox and see what is going on there”
  • Ben: “OK, here you go”
  • Erez: “I can see you have many JIRA notification emails”
  • Ben: “Yes”
  • Erez: “What do you do with those notification emails?”
  • Ben: “I read all of them. Well, actually I should read all of them, but I don’t always manage to do so since there is a huge amount of them every day”
  • Erez: “OK, why do you read them?”
  • Ben: “Because I should be aware of all the changes in defects that are done in my team”
  • Erez: “Why?”
  • Ben: “Because there might be a defect that would require my attention”
  • Erez: “If someone needs your attention on a specific defect, that person will write your name explicitly in the defect comment and that would be part of the email notification – is that correct?”
  • Ben: “Yes”
  • Erez: “So your team size is 5 people. Assuming the defects are distributed more or less evenly between the team members, it means that only 20% of the emails are really aimed for you to read”
  • Ben: “That sounds right, but for the other 80%, there also might be something that requires my attention, but someone just forgot to explicitly write my name in the defect comment”
  • Erez: “How often does it happen?”
  • Ben: “I don’t know… maybe once in 2 weeks…”
  • Erez: “OK. Let’s do a bit of a math here. Let’s assume you get 20 JIRA email notifications a day. 4 of them (20%) are for you. The rest 16 aren’t. Every 10 days you have 1 that should have required your attention, but your name wasn’t mentioned. This means that 1 out of 160 emails required your attention without mentioning your name. It means you read 100% of emails (the ones that don’t mention your name) for catching scenarios that happen in probability of 0.625%.”
  • Ben: “Mmm… yes, so what?”
  • Erez: “Let’s take it a step further. Every email reading takes ~60 seconds in general (30 seconds for the email, plus 2×15 seconds for context switch between tasks). It means that you spend 1.25 hours a week (160 minutes every 2 weeks) for something that provides you no value.”
  • Ben: “OK, when you put it this way, I see I do waste precious time”
  • Erez: “Exactly. By applying a simple Outlook rule, you can filter out the unnecessary JIRA email notifications and remain only with those that are targeted for you. For the 1-out-of-160 case, you will miss it, but eventually the person that needs your attention will reach out to you – then you can do some lesson learning with that person to make sure your name is do mentioned on such defect comment for the next time”.

See here how to apply such a rule.

This is only a single example that shows that our initial instinct is wrong and it causes us to waste precious time. I have many more examples for such cases. For example, using the read-unread approach for managing emails in Outlook, where read means I handled the email, and unread means I didn’t handle it yet (I would probably write a post on this specific topic). Another example is organizing our emails in physical folders (see here).

I can keep going with endless such stories. I assume we are just too lazy when it comes to investing energy in improving our time management skills, or maybe we just don’t realize we can benefit from it. I see hard workers every day investing endless hours at work, while working inefficiently. And on the other hand, people that work much less hours, achieving higher productivity.

In the industrial revolution days, a worker on a product-line had productivity that is correlated to his/her working hours. In our days, when the workers are knowledge-workers, there is no such correlation anymore. On the contrary, too many working hours cause decline in our productivity. There are many researches out there indicating that.

I was using all the bad practices till I got improved, slowly, by using trial and error of many methods, by reading books and posts, but watching and hearing online courses. My advice is – take the time to improve your time management skills. The more time you invest in that, the more time you would save.

 

Traditional To-Do lists trap us in the “Urgent Zone”

Most of us deal with different type of tasks that land on our table every day. Our basic instinct is writing the tasks down in a traditional ToDo list and set them by priority. This is where most of us stop – trying to handle this ToDo list one by one. As the list never gets shorter, we usually find ourselves handling mainly the urgent tasks, leaving the important tasks aside. Let’s face it, the urgent tasks always take place at the top of the ToDo list, not letting us get to the non-urgent tasks. This is perfectly natural – after all, if we will miss an urgent task, someone would probably hold us accountable for that in the very near future.

So how can we get out of this trap? I want to share with you a practical method that I use for quite a few years and which is pretty simple: instead of holding one list, we should hold 2 lists – urgent list and non-urgent list – each one is handled a bit differently. Let’s drill down on how we should use each of those lists.

Urgent task list

The urgent task list is something we need to look at and handle daily. Example of such list can be:

  • Check whether we have received a problem report from our Beta customer for the product that we need to release next week. (if we will miss that, our product might not be released next week)
  • Get approval for a budget for a New-Year celebration. (assuming we are a few days away from the new-year, missing the date would make this task irrelevant).
  • Set a meeting with one of our peers for getting his approval for our product certification before he leaves to his 4 weeks vacation (his vacation is 2 days from now).
  • Check-in the code today before the official version is being built tonight.

Those kind of tasks should be monitored daily to make sure we get them done and/or monitor their progress closely. Missing daily attention on those would probably cause us miss the goal.

I use to keep those in Microsoft OneNote. I have a folder named “Daily” which I open every morning and look at. Once an urgent task lands on my table, I immediately add it to the Daily urgent task list.

Non-urgent task list  (AKA the important task list)

We all have the list of tasks that are important, but not urgent. This is the abandon list, the never-done list, the wish-list, the list we wish we could do, but we just don’t have enough time to do. It’s not our fault – we work really hard, but we just can’t find the time for it. If only our boss would offload some work from us and allocate us some spare time, then there would be a good chance we could reach those important tasks.

Let’s be honest with ourselves – those are just a bunch of poor excuses. If we want to do something, it is up to us. We might not always realize it, but we do have control over our time (at least much more then we think).

The first step is to acknowledge that we need 2 lists – urgent and non-urgent. Personally, I hold the non-urgent list in an Outlook search folder called DoIt. As most of my tasks are coming through email, all I need to do to add a task to the non-urgent list is by categorizing it as DoIt. A site note: when I say non-urgent task list, I actually means to a list that contain important tasks (as opposed to non-urgent-non-important tasks).

Once a week, I have reoccurring meeting in my calendar that I named “Weekly Review”. In that meeting I’m going over all my DoIt tasks (my important to-do tasks) and integrate a few of them into my next week schedule. Meaning, I’m setting a meeting for a task to be done. The meeting can be with other participants, but mostly those meetings are just self-meetings – I’m scheduling a meeting with myself for accomplishing a specific task.

At first glance, a self-meeting sounds a bit weird – why should I schedule a meeting with myself? I can do it any time without pre-scheduling it. Well, the problem is that although we can, we usually never do. Once we have a self-meeting scheduled in our calendar, we have higher commitment to make that task done.

Let’s fast forward to a self-meeting time-slot: we are sitting with our computer, working on our important task. Suddenly, someone steps into our office/cubicle with a request that would consume our time. At this point, we know that if we will give that person our time, it would be on expense of achieving our current important task. Most chances we would direct that person to someone else that can help him or request him to meet us at a later time. BTW, in most cases, that person would be perfectly fine with such an answer and would appreciate us for protecting our time.

Let’s take the same scenario with one difference – we don’t have our self-meeting in the calendar: we are sitting with our computer, having a free slot to work on whatever we want. Suddenly, someone steps into our office/cubicle with a request that would consume our time. At this point, we know that if we will give that person our time, it would be on expense of our time, but nothing specific that we have pre-scheduled. Most chances we would help that person on the spot, losing the control over our time.

Think about it :)

IM your Email and Meeting

Did you run into the need to start a group chat conversation based on an email or  a meeting? It happens to me all the time and I just discovered how to do it using the great integration between Microsoft Lync and Outlook. It was always there (I think…) and I guess I just didn’t take the time to look for it.

IM

The scenario

Let’s start with describing why we need this. I’ll give 3 main scenarios that I run into (almost) every week.

  1. I want to start an Instant Messaging (IM/chat) with a person on a specific topic that was just discussed over an email thread. I want the title of the IM to be meaningful and describing the email discussion.
  2. There is an ongoing email thread on a topic and I want to move the discussion from the email to an online IM. Why? Because I have decided I want to give the topic an extra attention and that a group IM with the entire distribution list (or part of it) would be the appropriate way accomplishing that.
  3. I have arrived to a meeting on time and I see that many people are missing. I decide I want to reach out to them using IM, for requesting them to join the meeting (…and then tell them that the last to arrive the meeting would bring a cake for the next meeting).

IM an Email

Let’s start with the first scenario, where we want to IM a person regarding a specific email (where that person was on the distribution list).

  • Go to the email
  • Go to the person name on the distribution list
  • Right click it and select IM
  • IM session on Lync would be opened with the email title

The second scenario is starting an IM with the entire distribution list of the email.

  • Go to the email
  • Go to the Respond tab
  • Select “Reply All with IM”
  • Group IM session on Lync would be opened with the email title

IM_Email

IM a Meeting

The third scenario is starting a group IM containing the meeting distribution list (or part of it).

  • Go to the meeting on your calendar
  • Open the meeting
  • Are you the meeting organizer?
    • Yes: click the “Contact Attendees” button
    • No: click the Respond button
  • Select “Reply All with IM”
  • Group IM session on Lync would be opened with the meeting title
  • If you need to remove people from the IM, this is the time to do it (before you type the first letter in the IM session)

IM_MyMeeting

IM_OtherMeeting

That’s it – simple and useful. Such a cool feature.

 

Getting our Email action requests being followed up on

Scene: we are writing an important email with a request for action, and then just before we hit the Send button we stop for a second to think whether we have put it all together the right way for making sure our action request will be done.

Let’s go over a few highlights for covering the important items.

uncle-sam

Distribution list

I believe I have mentioned that topic a few times in my previous posts. The guideline we should use is – use the minimal distribution list that is sufficient to fulfill the email purpose.

Why minimal? because we don’t want to disturb to more people than we have to. We should not disturb more people then we have to, and they in return won’t disturb us when they don’t have to (see also “The More You Send, The More You Get“). Although we should keep the distribution list minimal, the list should contain all the relevant stockholders. Otherwise, we will have to explain ourselves again for those we have missed in the distribution list.

To vs. CC

Keep the To list minimal. When I say minimal, I mean only a single person. Really, a single person. Putting a single person on the To list is the most effective way to get your action item being followed up on (see also “Adjusting Our Outlook Messages Pane: Coloring” for why the email receiver would probably give it high priority).

Sometimes we have an email containing action items for more than a single person. In such emails, we must put all the action owners on the To list. If we won’t put an action owner on the To list, we dramatically reduce our chances that this action owner would follow up on our email.

OK, so we are putting all the action owners on the To list. However, once we have done that, the chances the action items would be followed up drops dramatically (as opposed to a single To person).

Why? because of the “bystander affect“. I know it is not the same, but it is similar. I have re-wrote the bystander affect phenomenon to match an emails sending case: “it is a phenomenon that refers to cases in which individuals on the To list do not offer any means of follow up on an email action item when other people are present on the To list along with them. The probability of follow up on action items is inversely related to the number of people on the To list (bystanders). In other words, the greater the number of people on the To list, the less likely it is that any one of them will follow up on your action item.”

Frustrating… but let’s not give up just yet. We have a way to increase our chances again.

Getting the action owner attention

OK, so we understand why our chances for action-follow-up have dramatically dropped once we have more then a single person on the To list. Now we to increase our chances again.

We can do that by putting an owner name near every action items. We should put the owner name in bold and highlight. Why? because we want to catch the owner’s attention when she/he scans through the email. If the email is a long one and the owner names are not standing out, there are good chances the owners will miss it.

Some people use different highlight color for different people. I use only one color for highlight – yellow. You chose what you prefer.

Let’s put it all together

  • Minimal To list (preferably one person)
  • If more then one person, put owner near each action and bold-highlight the owner name.

Archive the restored archived emails

This article is dedicated to all my friends at work that got panic as result of organizational policy to delete items older than couple of years.

1280px-Panic_button

I would like to talk in this article on how to archive our 2-years-old emails when we have Enterprise Vault Outlook Add-in that already archived our 90-days-old emails.

What is Enterprise Vault Outlook Add-in?

I won’t give here the entire story, but just state that it is a tool that allows you to reduce your mailbox size by automatically archiving your emails without moving them to an Outlook archive folder, and while allowing you to fully view the archived emails by just clicking on them.

Below is an example of 2 emails from my mailbox, one was archived by Enterprise Vault (EV) and the other wasn’t. They are both residing at the same mail folder. The archived email age was exceeding the EV policy limit and therefore was archived. The other email is new enough and therefore wasn’t archived by EV.

Email_ArchiveVsRegular

Below you can see an example of email that was archived by EV. All attachments are removed, the email appears like in plain text format (as opposed to HTML), and the emails text is cut after a few tens of lines.

Email_ArchivedByEV

However, when you open the email (double click it), it automatically restores its original content and format. Since it is so easy to open such emails, the organization policy can be to archive (using EV) emails that are even 3 month old, since those are still easily accessible for the users.

So what’s the problem?

The problem begins when there is another policy in your organization that mandates the deletion of emails older the X years. If you don’t care about such old emails, you can stop reading this post. If you care, then it means you need to move old emails (before they reach the “delete age”) to a personal folder (PST).

Moving EV-archived emails to a PST folder means you have ended up archiving emails that are in a bad format (plain text), partial information (cut in the middle), and without attachments. Plus, those emails can’t be restored (once an email is deleted by organizational policy, it can’t be restored via EV).

I want my emails back. Now. Please.

Quick Solution

OK, the solution is pretty easy:

  1. Select the emails you want to save aside
  2. Restore them using EV
  3. Archive them using PST
  4. You are done

If you need to restore dozens of emails, you cannot do that email-by-email (it will take you forever). The trick is restoring a group of emails:

  1. Select a group of emails.
  2. Go to the “Enterprise Vault” tab
  3. Select Restore
  4. The email icon will be changed to indicate it is in the process of being restored
  5. Wait (in my case it took ~30 minutes)
  6. The emails are restored (the email icon is now as any regular email)
  7. Archive your restored emails using Outlook personal folder

Email_EV_Restore

 

In case you need a direction on how to create personal folder for archiving your items:

  1. On the Home tab, in the New group, click “New Items”, point to “More Items”, and then click “Outlook Data File”.
  2. Select “Outlook data file (.pst)”
  3. In the “Create or Open Outlook Data File” dialog box, in the File name box, type the name as you want it to appear in the Outlook Navigation Pane, and then click OK.

Will the search engine look into my personal folders?

Yes, no worries.

How can I find all the emails that are older than X years?

You can search them. For example, “received:<2014-06-23”.

A few words of caution

When you are restoring emails, your restored emails would occupy more mailbox space, which means that your free mailbox space would reduce. You need to be careful not to hit your mailbox max size (I’m not sure what would happen at that point – didn’t try it). So if you don’t have much of a free space in your mailbox, I recommend to restore-from-EV and archive-to-PST in cycles of small groups.

Control Your Shift

We already had a few posts about the keyboard and why we should be professional about it and skilled while using it. A few weeks ago I was sitting with one of my group members – we were brainstorming some topic and I was summarizing the key points along the way. During the discussion, he looked at my touch typing and was wondering how I leveraged the Ctrl and Shift keys.

CtrlShift

Mistakenly, I thought this is a common knowledge. I guess I learnt it once from someone, and before that it wasn’t common knowledge to me as well. So, let’s briefly go over the most useful combinations (at least useful for me).

  • Ctrl + <Arrow>: use that to jump.
    • Arrow=Right: jump one word to the right
    • Arrow=Left: jump one word to the left
    • Arrow=Up: jump to top of the paragraph (or to the beginning of the previous paragraph in case you are at the top of the paragraph already)
    • Arrow=Down: jump to the start of the next paragraph
  • Shift + <Arrow>: mark the text from the current position to the place you are going with the arrow key.
  • Ctrl + Shift + <Arrow>: mark the text from the current position to the place you are going with the arrow key, while jumping over words/paragraphs.

That’s it. Not too many options and not that complicated, but highly useful while typing and updating a text. If you don’t use it yet, give it a chance, it will make things much faster for you.

 

Let Your Fingers Dance on the Keyboard

I know, the title is a bit melodramatic. I guess it has been a while since my last post. I see people every day that are fast thinkers, but are very slow when it comes to the keyboard. When I come to think of it, we don’t allocate enough time for practicing the tool we use the most, every single day – the keyboard. It doesn’t make sense to me. What do you think?

Touch typing is typing on the keyboard without using the sense of sight to find the keys (Wikipedia).

Keyboard

A Personal Note

I would start with a personal note. I was a software engineer for ~10 years before I discovered the power of touch typing. I wasn’t slow on my typing, and I was using both hands, but I kept looking at the keyboard while typing. Same keyboard, 8-12 hours a day, every day. And still, I kept looking at the keyboard for finding the keys.

One day I was moved to a new cubicle. My new neighbor was a touch-typing person. He was typing fast while looking at the screen, not at the keyboard. It was beautiful. After a couple of days I have decided to give it a try myself, so I have searched for a free touch typing site and practiced that for a couple of days. My fingers were in pain, but I kept going. After a couple of more days, it felt good – no pain and I actually started touch typing. It all took less than a week. I was so happy with my achievement.

The Flavors

There are many “flavors” of keyboard typing I have seen along the years:

  1. One hand, one finger, looking at the keyboard
  2. Two hands, one figure each, looking at the keyboard
  3. Two hands, a few fingers each, looking at the keyboard
  4. Two hands, all fingers, looking at the keyboard
  5. Two hands, all fingers, not looking at the keyboard (most of the time)

We are aiming to the last one.

Great Reasons for using Touch Typing

Here are a few things I have learnt from my experience:

  1. I wish I have done it earlier.
  2. You don’t need any special physical ability to be able to touch type.
  3. Anyone can touch-type fast, it is just a matter of practice.

I use touch typing for the last 12 years now. I feel there are 2 main things we can gain by touch typing:

  1. Our fingers are no longer a constraint for our brain. This means that we type fast enough for our thoughts to flow smoothly.
  2. We type digitally on the spot (as opposed to writing on a paper and later on copy it into the computer).

The faster you type, the more time you save. You can save couple of hours a week by typing faster. This is a simple math. I recommend to practice till you get at least to 45 WPM (Word Per Minute). There are many free sites out there for practicing touch typing. Who knows, you might win the touch typing championship one day.

The Next Challenge

If you are already fast with your touch typing, here is another challenge for you. I took it a step further and bought a BLANK keyboard (this is actually the keyboard name). No letters, no nothing, just black keys all over the place. This is a picture from my desk.

Keyboard_20160107_081214

I use it for the past 6 month and it feels great, especially when you type full sentences (warning: it is a bit more challenging when typing passwords – I got locked out of my laptop couple of times).

The things we can gain from the blank keyboard:

  1. We learn the position of the difficult keys – symbols and such.
  2. We don’t move our sight to the keyboard because there is simply nothing down there that can help us. This forces us to really do touch typing.
  3. We get to the point where we let our fingers dance the on the keyboard, without thinking too much about it.

It is up to You

Really, it is just a matter of a decision. Once you decide you want it enough, you can achieve it. It will take a week or so, but you will get there. Don’t be like the Sloth Trailer from the Zootopia movie… :)