It’s been seven whole days since I switched from qwerty to Dvorak, and I’m happy to report that progress is steady and my accuracy and speed are improving day by day. There is a hurdle I still repeatedly trip over, and it’s the one that prevented me from making the switch originally a year ago.
Dvorak is possibly a worse layout for coding in HTML/PHP than qwerty is.
What qwerty has going for it in terms of coding, is the relative location of all the special characters that programming languages rely heavily on: brackets, quotes, semi-colon, etc… Dvorak purposely distances those keys from the home row, making them more difficult to reach, especially repeatedly with your pinky fingers. The greater-than/less-than characters right now are my biggest challenge because using the right shift key has never felt natural to me.
I think my memory has reserved a special place for where these special keys are. Because I spend less time typing out new code, and instead am rearranging existing code and improving it, special characters aren’t being accessed enough to purge the old muscle memories as quickly as normal letters. To solve this, I think I’m going to come up with some exercises to do during the each day to stretch my pinkies out and get them doing what I want them to, instead of what my memory remembers them doing.
Learning Dvorak keeps reminding me what it’s like to learn to play an instrument. So many little mistakes need to be made and so much practice needs to happen before you can play your first full song. Relearning how to program with Dvorak is like switching from drums to bass guitar on your favorite song – you know every note and beat, you just can’t hit them without dedication and practice.
Today I said this in a comment, and it summed up day 4 of dvorak quite nicely:
…it’s ended up to be less about speed. I’ve gotten so good at navigating qwerty (about 95 wpm on a good day) that in recent years I’ve slowly taken it for granted. I’ve been careless with my words because they were so easy to put down. Now that the cost of typing has increased, I’m expressing my thoughts more mindfully, and slowing down to focus on each of them instead of rushing to get them out before they disappear.
Insomnia strikes, so in an attempt at brevity for the sake of sleeping, things are slow and steady. I am still quite amazed at how little my fingers move around, and at how quickly I’ve been able to adapt to the new layout. In light of yesterday’s revelation, I’ve started using downtime to silently recite words and keypresses, hoping to speed up the purging process of the qwerty routines.
A few days ago, I Instagrammed a photo of my keyboard in pieces; I’m including it in this post in place of more insomnia-induced rambling…
After my second full day of Dvorak, I can tell that my fingers are doing much less traveling around the keyboard. It almost makes the keys feel small and squished together while typing because my fingers leave their respective positions so infrequently. I have managed to commit a few commonly used home-row words to muscle memory already — the & has.
Taking the time to learn Dvorak has come with an interesting observation: I do not know which key represents what letter – I only know that moving my fingers in a certain way yields a positive (or negative) result.
If you sat me down and told me to draw a qwerty keyboard, I would have came to the same conclusion, but still it’s quite an epiphany – I use a keyboard for 10 hours a day, but can’t draw one without pretending to type on one.
It’s a reminder that typing was once something I didn’t do.
I’ve gotten a dvorak rhythm down, and while not a very fast one (about 15 wpm) I think focusing on accuracy now will help improve my speed later. I’m able to reliably touch type without looking at the keyboard, and can tell immediately when I’ve hit an incorrect key. I’m picking up some new typing habits though, which seem to be mostly positive:
- Left thumbing the spacebar
- Using the right shift key appropriately
- Thinking before I type – This sounds weird, but I pick my words more carefully now that they take longer to type
- Brevity – I can tell I’m using fewer crutch words, staying more focused on what I’m typing, and typing with the intent of maximizing the return of my efforts.
So far that’s the biggest take away for me: type with intentions.
Today is the first day of the rest of my Dvorak life.
I tried to switch a year ago but only lasted about 2 hours before being so disoriented and frustrated that I gave up and (literally) swore it off as something I would never have the patience or commitment to try again. Today I decided to give it another go, this time swapping the physical keys so I could cheat and see where the new key placement is.
Aside from the obvious change in keyboard layout, my biggest pain-point has been self inflicted by way of not having the nubs under my index fingers anymore. I’ve gotten so used to picking up my laptop (or sitting down at my desk) quickly finding the home-row, and getting to work, the flatness where I /know/ there should be texture is slowing down my existing rituals. The new layout also goes against where my brain wants the new key locations to be; the L, M, R, and W keys feel backwards, and I want to invert the E & U, and T & H keys. I know I’ll adjust, but right now it still feels pretty odd.
What I’ve found to be the most helpful is to focus on avoiding spelling errors, never guessing at placement, and pausing to remember the last time I successfully typed that letter and what the word was. This is helping me treat learning dvorak like I am learning a completely new instrument rather than associating new (healthy) behaviors with old (potentially bad) ones. Already after one day I can see how many of my touch-typing qwerty’isms won’t be useful anymore.
So… If you’re one of the people in my life that have gotten used to my long-windedness and quick response times, look forward to some brevity and typos!