Tips for Learning to Touch Type

Having learned to touch type over the last couple of years, I’d like to share some insights about what I learned on that journey.

I had never really given a lot of thought to my typing, it just sort of happened. I played a lot of video games, so my WASD action was strong and I could type in chat fast enough to keep up and that was good enough for me.

Until one day I was sitting using my laptop, and my mother in law was round and said ‘My word, that’s the fastest two fingered typing I’ve ever seen!’ and I had to do a double take. ‘I don’t use two fingers to type!’ I exclaimed. ‘Yes you do’. Then I really started to pay attention to what I was doing and just how achey my fingers, wrists and arms were.

I’d encourage anyone of any age and ability to try it, it’s a really fun thing to be able to do that can make you more productive but most importantly, may reduce RSI and pain in the joints as I found.

1. Be prepared for frustration and failure

It’s really hard. There’s no getting around it. Your head will pound and be full of fog and you will regularly get so frustrated you will want to quit. I was fresh off the embarrassment of the encounter with my mother in law and can verify that having a clear reason for doing it is a pretty solid way to push through the frustration.

2. Find exercises and a routine that work for you

There’s lots of really good online tools like https://www.typingclub.com/ that can help you. They have lots of bite sized exercises you can pick up for a few minutes here and there. I found that powering through and doing loads of them at once more detrimental than good, because the moment the fatigued kicked in it was game over.

Little and often was better than intense and focussed for me but you might find that you are the exact opposite! Find a routine and keep working at it.

My routine was to do initially 5 mins every single morning before starting my work then I built up to 10 then 15 mins over time as I got less tired doing it.

3. Aim for coverage over accuracy

When I first started, I was determined to be 100% accurate at all times, while magically getting a high words per minute count, and get the highest score possible on the exercises. It was a bad, bad idea. It was frustrating and demoralising and really got me nowhere fast.

So I decided to let go. I aimed for the bare minimum to ‘pass’ the exercise and no more. Then I’d move on. I’d learn some new things, then go back to the previous exercises I found challenging.

It’s like when you move onto a new level in a puzzle or game, the previous one seemed so difficult until you try the next one which is even harder! Suddenly level 1 doesn’t seem so bad once you’ve seen the horrors of level 10.

Getting your fingers coverage of more keys is more important that ‘mastering’ a few. The more keys you know, the more you can use them in everyday situations and the faster you will improve. You don’t need to master the keys before moving on, just be content that you can hit it more times than not.

On that note, make friends with the delete key. I’ve been touch typing for 2 years now and I’m still making the same mistakes on the same keys. It’s okay, it’ll come with time and mindful exercises but embrace it and being normal and it’ll serve you well in your journey.

4. Gently work it into your day

Choose tasks that are low priority and start drip feeding your learning into it. Writing non urgent emails and Slack messages is a good place to start as well as typing out urls you’d normally have bookmarked and another opportunity to write a small amount of text.

If you’re going to write Lord of The Rings in an email that might be a bit too much in the beginning, so choose your battles to keep your morale up.

5. Use keyboard shortcuts as much as you can

Your code editor will have LOADS of keyboard shortcuts you can use to practice. Get to know them and build them up little by little. Make custom ones with the letters you feel more confident using. There are shortcuts that are not app specific that are good to train numbers, like command + 1 to choose a tab in Chrome on Mac for example. All these little things add up to help you.

If you feel ultra up for it, give the Vimium plug in for Chrome a go. It allows you to navigate only using your keyboard and helps you to reinforce where the keys. I found it a lot of fun

6. You don’t need to use QWERTY

I found that my motor memory skills were really overriding my desire to touch type. There’s plenty other keyboard layouts to play with though, like Dvorak, Programmer Dvorak and Colemak. This really spices it up and made it more fun for me, and more motivating because I was learning something new.

There’s nothing quite like the joy of typing ‘there’ or ‘that’ on a Dvorak keyboard…

7. Find a keyboard that fits your paws and makes you smile

There are SO MANY different kinds of keyboards. Mechanical, non-mechanical, wired, bluetooth, small, large, split, curvy. Experiment and find what works for you.

I love my mechanical keyboard, it’s a joy to use. It’s much more comfortable than the flat bluetooth keyboard I had previously. Experiment, play and find what works for you. You’ll be much more likely to stick at it through the bad days if every key press makes you smile.

You can order key testers from most manufacturers or from Amazon. Key testers are not only fun to play with but will let you test out the kind of keys you can have on a mechanical keyboard so you can find those that make you feel all fuzzy inside as you type.

PC Gamer magazine have a really good breakdown of what all the different key types mean.

If you want to get fancy there are split keyboards like http://keyboard.io/ which I hear work better for small hands and allow you to get a more comfortable natural position while typing.

There’s also http://www.wasdkeyboards.com/index.php for a more standard but highly customisable keyboard or when you feel ultra confident the happy hacking keyboard. My current keyboard is the Majestouch 2 by Filco, it’s really well built and was a reasonable price. And it’s yellow so I love it.

my keyboard

Treating yourself to a new keyboard once you hit a certain proficiency might be a good way to encourage you to stick to your touch typing practice…

Good luck!

Touch typing is lots of fun and gives me an enormous feeling of pride every day. I hope you might feel inspired to try it too!