General Speed and Efficiency Tips

April 20, 2015

Categorized: Non-Technical

In real life, I’m frequently asked how I get fast at things on the computer. This guide addresses some common tips for speeding up at general computer use for beginners.


Good Equipment

If you’re hunched over cross-legged on a bed peering into a tiny screen, using a mini-keyboard and touchpad — you’ll probably never be as fast as someone on a desk and full-sized desktop. You’ll probably need to either lower your speed expectations a bit or get different equipment.

Different equipment works better for some people. Everyone has different abilities, and everyone is comfortable with different things. Use what feels best for you. Physical comfort is huge and is different for everyone.

For example — I frequently develop on both a two-monitor, mechanical keyboard desktop and a laptop. I can feel the difference between these two environments — on the laptop I’m noticeably slower just because the configuration isn’t quite as good for me as the big monitors and the sweet keyboard.

Learn Your Keyboard

Get Good at Typing

You should know where the keys are without looking at the keyboard. You should get to the point where you’re able to do it without ever looking at your keyboard. Looking slows you down and may actually reduce your accuracy (switching focus makes it tougher to keep your place). There are typing games you can use for learning, but one of the most helpful things you can do is just type and practice!

Set your index fingers on the F and J keys. They usually have small ridges on them so you’ll always know where to place your index fingers again without looking at the keyboard. Think of them as centering tools.


I use the keyboard and its keyboard shortcuts for a lot of things. It’s not just for typing words. If all you know is CTRL + C and CTRL + V, you’re missing out!

Almost everything you want to do can be done with a keyboard. Some developers work exclusively on the keyboard, rarely — if ever — touching their mouse (or even working without!). If you use command line tools a lot, you’ll see this is where their power is — things that take many mouse-clicks and drags and slow can be accomplished in a few keystrokes.

For most people, though — sometimes the mouse is better, sometimes the keyboard is better. Figure out which works best for you — but do get comfortable relying on the keyboard for more than just typing.

Example Windows Shortcuts

Some awesome keyboard things I use all the time:

  • Tabbing between form fields.
  • Windows Key + D: Get to your desktop.
  • ALT + TAB / ALT + SHIFT + TAB: Switch windows quickly.
  • HOME / END (combined with CTRL to move more or Shift to select): A lot of people seriously underuse these keys. They are awesome for jumping up, down, around a document quickly.
  • CTRL + END / CTRL + HOME: Again, a lot of people seriously under-use these keys! Jump to the top or bottom of a document quickly.
  • CTRL + Page Up / CTRL + Page Down: Up and down your open browser tabs we go!
  • CTRL + 3 / CTRL + 7 / CTRL + {NUMBER}: Jump to the third or seventh (or fourth or fifth or whatever’th) tab of Firefox or Chrome. Not extremely useful if you have a lot of tabs open, but if it’s just a couple and you can quickly see where you need to go, very neat.

Program-Specific Shortcuts

Programs often have their own shortcuts for things you’ll do only within that program. These are some of the most useful shortcuts you can learn. For instance:

  • There are tons of Photoshop and Illustrator keyboard shortcuts. I’d be much slower in both of these programs without the keyboard — mouse movements to go over and switch to the brush or the eraser or the marquee tool are all much slower than hitting the key for these tools.
  • It’s been about eleven years since I got Microsoft certified, so many of the Word and Excel shortcuts have rusted out of my brain — but those are there, too!
  • Even your browser has shortcuts for commonly used features (e.g., Firefox: CTRL + J for downloads, CTRL + B for bookmarks, CTRL + L for selecting the URL bar quickly).

It can be tough to learn on top of learning the programs themselves. They’re still worthwhile, though, as they can seriously speed up your workflow, and make it much faster to switch quickly between two different tools.

Remember, too, that there are some awesome non-keyboard shortcuts buried in the right click menu. For instance, Firefox/Chrome can close all of the tabs to the right (excellent for when you’ve opened approximately 8,000 tabs and now need to close them…).

Learn Your Tools

Find and Replace

I spent an embarrassingly long time not knowing about Find and Replace tools (generally shortcut CTRL + H or in the Edit menu). If you’re looking to change over a lot of the same text quickly (for instance, on a Wiki page) Find and Replace is awesome!

Notepad++ has a pretty awesome find and replace tools (ps — yes, you can find and replace new lines and other invisible characters).


I use a text replacement program called AutoHotKey. I have some of my most commonly used longer text strings coded in. For example — a few paragraphs of Lorem Ipsum text, some commonly used business/employment/job-related drafts, etc. I generally don’t input basic code strings in here — I save that for whatever development environment I’m using. I’ll never be able to hand-maintain code-related shortcuts as well as my environment can.

This is probably my biggest time-saver, because it saves tiny amounts of time over and over again. When I want my post template, I just type my replacement phrase, and AutoHotKey swaps the phrase out.

You can actually use AHK for a lot more than I use it for — it supports a lot of complex scripting stuff. I haven’t quite figured out how to use it for much beyond text replacement, though it’s still a ridiculous time-saver!


I use KeePass for a few reasons — chief among them password security. However, KeePass also has another huge advantage as far as passwords go. You can set up a universal shortcut for many websites where you just hit CTRL, ALT, A and your user and password are automatically typed into the appropriate fields for you. Seems like a little thing, but over time, it adds up.

Another thing, too — the KeePass autotype is only wrong if my passwords are out of sync. I don’t have to deal with “Wrong Password” or “Wrong E-Mail” or frustratingly non-descript error messages when logging in anymore.

KeePass is a huge time-saver for mobile devices. Do you really want to type 614mo56OX*Kk61sg10eG on your phone keyboard every time you want to log into Instagram? Nope, that’s going to get tedious very quickly. Thankfully, there are KeePass apps for your mobile devices, too. With a syncing service such as Google Drive or Dropbox, you’ll be able to keep all your passwords in order.

Do note, whether syncing is right for you depends on your security needs. If you’re storing bank details for a million people’s pensions or bank details or whatever, you’ll definitely want to go look at some other security resources.

Other Automation Tools

These days, there’s something out there for pretty much every purpose. Forget hand-alphabetizing a simple text-based list or prettying HTML markup yourself. There are online generators, markup fixers, and text fixing tools for these exact purposes. If you try one generator and it doesn’t work, try another. There are tons of different tools, some of which work better than others. If you find a nice one, bookmark it!

Do be careful of sinking too much time into this. If you don’t find a generator, sometimes even if you can code something that does exactly what you want, you could have fixed the problem faster by working manually in the time it takes to build that automated tool. It really, really depends on what you’re doing and how often you’ll have to do the same exact task again in the future, so evaluate each situation accordingly.