Learn Touch Typing in 4 Minutes

The most underrated productivity hack could save you hours each month

If you used all ten fingers to type, you would be a lot faster. The math is simple: Type with ten instead of eight, and you should gain 25% in speed.

Today, everyone needs to type, yet few people ever receive formal touch typing training. From 2002 to 2003, I did. Eleven-year-old me was annoyed at the theory and repetitive exercises, but when I graduated with 135 key strokes per minute, I knew my life would never be the same.

I just took a simple typing test, and my speed has increased more than threefold since then, making me more than twice as fast as the average typist.

I’m a writer. I type all day long. You needn’t be impressed by these numbers nor seek to replicate them. But if you spend even a small percentage of your day typing — which, be it for work or for pleasure, you do — any increase in type speed will lead to significant time savings.

At 30 words per minute (WPM), a 300-word email will take you ten minutes to write. If you can type twice as fast, you’ll do it in five. That’s a lot of minutes saved if you write enough of these emails — or anything else for that matter.

For all the productivity hacks out there — manage your inbox, use a calendar, have shorter meetings — mastering touch typing seems to be the obvious, low-hanging fruit no one is reaching for. Why is that?

First, there’s the effort barrier. It’s a repetitive task that takes practice. Like learning a language, such study comes easier when we’re young, and now, we’re not sure whether the work will be worth the reward. Then, there’s timing. You need to make time to practice, and we’re all busy. What’s more, at first, touch typing will slow you down. Whatever broken system you’re currently using, it’s established, and you don’t have to think about it.

Finally, and this is the most dangerous argument not to bother with touch typing because it sounds so reasonable, your current system feels good enough. You might be typing with eight fingers or six or hit 95% of the keys with five and use one for only a single key — and it all feels like it’s working.

Trust me, it’s not. Your slowness is costing you. Dearly. You just never find out about it because we don’t have typing competitions. We don’t see the person at the other end of our email typing at twice our speed — but that’s exactly what’s happening. While you feel fine winging it, they’re running laps around you on their keyboard. When it comes to small tasks at work, speed matters.

Luckily, you can learn the gist of touch typing in about four minutes. In fact, you only need a single graphic to understand how it works:

This simple, color-coded keyboard is at the heart of every touch typing class. It’s what I stared at 18 years ago, and what I suggest you print out and hang on your wall. Study it for a few minutes each day, and use it as a guide.

The idea is that each finger is responsible for one diagonal column on your keyboard with the exception of your thumbs, which only cover the space bar, and your index fingers, which cover two columns each.

In my class, we spent a lot of time memorizing exactly which letter should be hit by which finger, but that’s not necessary so long as you cross-reference your finger-to-key allocation frequently in real-time.

Whenever you sit down to type, keep the above graphic close by. Place your fingers properly on your keyboard. Your index fingers go on the F and J button (that’s what the two little bumps are for), the others in a row behind them. Try to only move up and down with each finger, and, as you go about your day, look up every now and then to see which finger should hit other keys.

There are also plenty of free typing trainers online, like this one, which cover the basics and provide short practice lessons, also based on the diagram. Finally, it helps to play a fun typing game for 5–10 minutes each day, like TypeRush, where you can anonymously race cars and boats against others.

Test your typing speed weekly, track your best WPM out of three runs, and watch your accuracy and pace increase over time.

Again, the math here is simple, and it doesn’t lie. If you spend one hour a day typing, which is a conservative estimate, doubling your typing speed will save you 30 minutes — every single day.

In the beginning, it’ll be tempting to go back to your old system as, initially, it’ll feel faster. Stick with the process. Keep practicing. Follow the rules. The diagram might be coded in rainbow colors, but what lies at its end is better than gold.

-Nik

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