Learning to type like a grown up

by Andy Appleton

Over the last year I’ve slowly developed hand and wrist pain from long stints at the keyboard. I recently decided that enough is enough and I need to take it seriously if I want to be able to do the job I love for the rest of my career. My first naive attempt at a fix was to purchase an ergonomic split keyboard. I went for the Microsoft Sculpt ergonomic after reading some good reviews, particularly Marco Arment’s.

This actually made things worse and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the problem was my typing technique. Like many people of my generation I was not taught touch typing and have never felt the motivation to learn independently. I was using two fingers per hand and making some weird shapes as I reached for different key combos. The rotated hand position on the split keyboard accentuated these movements which led to more pain. On top of that I realised that I needed to look at the keyboard out of the bottom of my eyes as I typed – the split layout hid the keys from view which led to a lot of missed keys.

Doing it properly

It was Christmas and I had a few days off work so I decided to stop making excuses and learn to touch type. I went cold turkey on my old technique and started following the course on typingclub.com. It was hugely frustrating for about two days until I had worked through the lessons for all of the main characters but I was able to become reasonably productive within half a week, albeit at a glacial 20 words per minute.

I’m now a month in and am able to type fluently without looking the keyboard and often without consciously thinking about the location of individual keys. My speed is up in the 35-40 WPM range and I’m more accurate too. I’ve pretty much completed the typing club course but I keep revisiting the speed test lessons to try and edge up my speed and accuracy. I now absolutely love my ergonomic keyboard – it keeps my wrists at a neutral angle and is really comfortable. If you secretly know that your typing technique sucks you owe it to yourself to learn touch typing. You will be frustrated for a few days at worst and will be faster and more comfortable within a month.

What about the wrist pain?

Touch typing is just one helpful factor in trying to eliminate the pain I’ve been experiencing this last month I’ve also done a lot of reading and have visited a doctor. A big change is that I’ve started using BreakTime app to force me to take a 2 minute break every 20 minutes [1]. This lets me stretch out my hands regularly to make sure they’re not cramped in the same position for long periods. I’ve also made a conscious effort to not use a keyboard unless it’s really necessary, I’m trying to keep away from the computer at the weekend and in the evening to give my hands time to rest and recover.

The doctor tells me that I can expect it to take 6-8 months to fully recover but I’m starting to feel a bit better already. If you’re dealing with hand or wrist pain I would strongly recommend doing some reading (this page from Clay Scott is very thorough) and making some changes to your work setup. Mine is not too bad and hopefully I’ve made good changes early enough that it won’t become a longterm problem, I strongly encourage you to do the same.

  1. I was expecting this to kill productivity but as a programmer I actually find it a good opportunity to think about whether what I'm doing is really correct. It's easy to blindly dive down the rabbit hole of a suboptimal solution and the breaks are a great way to counter that.