Optimizing your Time with Keyboard Shortcuts
Copyright © ProZ.com, 1999-2021. All rights reserved.
How many words can you translate in a day? This is not an easy question to answer because there are many variables involved that can affect your daily output. One of the key variables affecting daily output is effective use of time. Usually you won’t be given as much time as you’d like in order to carry out a project, but one thing is certain: if you can produce more in less time you will make more money. By learning to use keyboard shortcuts rather than reaching for your mouse, you will be amazed at the time you can save.
This point was driven home to me in a workshop on resource optimization for freelance translators given by Xosé Castro after a Proz.com translation conference in Montevideo, Uruguay. During the presentation the desktop of a portable computer was projected onto a large screen for the audience to see. I was randomly chosen from the audience and agreed to get up in front of them to perform a simple daily task. I was to open Word, type out a short phrase and select a specific word from that phrase in order to bold and italicize it. Then I was to name the document and save it to the desktop. As I sat down at the computer I noticed that Xosé was holding a stopwatch.
My hands were on the keyboard, the collective gaze was upon me and I was waiting for the word “GO.” When it was uttered, I nervously double clicked the Word icon and typed out the phrase with fumbling fingers. I reached for the mouse and highlighted the appropriate word, accidentally highlighting half of the word next to it as well. I then searched for those little buttons with the “B” and that crooked “I” which are cleverly hidden up in the toolbar and whose location changes with every new version of Microsoft Word. It seemed like this was taking forever. When I finally finished over a minute had gone by. Then Xosé sat behind his laptop, cracked his knuckles like a piano player about to begin a concert, and carried out the exact same task in 8 seconds. Oh, and he never touched the mouse.
As professional linguists it is essential that we master the keyboard. If you’re typing a translation and you take your hands off the keyboard you have halted production. If you grab the mouse in order to do something that you were perfectly capable of doing more efficiently with your keyboard, then you’re wasting your time and money. And guess what, you can perform just about any task with your keyboard. Learn to master it and your mouse will just sit there collecting dust, having become completely obsolete. In Windows, you’ll close each application using “alt+f4” rather than trying to zero in on that tiny “x” in the top right-hand corner. You’ll switch between windows with “alt+tab” and even assign your own personalized keyboard combinations for the tasks you perform the most (“ctrl+alt+t” opens Translator’s Workbench on my computer and “ctrl+alt+w" opens Word).
Of course you’ll never master the keyboard unless you learn what all of the keys do. Did you ever wonder what that key with the Windows logo on it does? How about that weird key between “alt” and “ctrl” to the right of the spacebar? Well, as it turns out they’re extremely useful and they can save you lots of time. As we mentioned earlier, that means more money.
Mastering the keyboard may seem like a daunting task, but it’s not. There are many different keyboard combinations which can vary depending on your operating system or the programs that you use. However, you are a professional linguist and you handle the keyboard every day. You’ll be surprised how fast you pick them up and how easy they are to retain. Once you have adopted these new habits you’ll be amazed at the time you save. You’ll see others fumbling with the mouse and think “I can’t believe I used to waste my time like that.” So the sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be optimizing your time.
The first step of your new endeavor is the most difficult. I recommend you do it “Cold Turkey.” There’s no “patch” for this. You can’t be weaned from your mouse. You need to unplug it and leave it somewhere that’s hard to reach (like the basement or the attic) so you won’t be tempted to go and get it. Then print out a list of keyboard shortcuts for your operating system, along with the software that you use the most and keep it within glancing distance while you work (mine was taped to the wall above my monitor). Just do an advanced Google search with the name of your operating system in the “all these words” field and “keyboard shortcuts” in the “this exact wording or phrase” field and you’ll get plenty of results.
The first day was extremely frustrating for me, but after three days I was already more efficient than I was when using the mouse. I discovered that the strange key between “alt” and “ctrl” to the right of the spacebar is the equivalent of a right click on the mouse, and many useful combinations involving the key with the Windows logo on it as well. I still can’t tell you with certainty how many words I can translate in one day, but I know my daily output has increased significantly now that I’ve taken complete control of my keyboard.