A couple of years ago I thought it would be a great idea to ditch the qwerty keyboard and use something a little more ergonomic and productive. It was the most frustrating thing I have ever inflicted on myself. I am here to tell you that you should do it too, unless you are a namby-pamby, then you should just stick with what you know.
Anyone who has ever typed with a mechanical typewriter will recall that if you typed too fast (or mashed all the keys at once—just for fun), the little metal arms inside with letters on them would bunch up at the ribbon and lock together. Innovative minds found a solution for this: the qwerty keyboard, which basically took all the keys that you use the most in the English language, and scattered them as far away from each other as possible. Job done.
This made a keyboard layout maximumly efficient for the mechanical age because it reduced down time, but it had no bearing on typing in the digital age. Some people noticed this, one of them being a professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, named August Dvorak, who came up with a new layout based on efficiency for digital typing. We call this the Dvorak keyboard.
Dr Dvorak reckoned it was best to put the keys you use most on the home row, those you use next-most on the top, and those you use least-most on the bottom, because it's easier to reach up than down. He also figured it would be best to put all the vowels on one hand and consonant on the other because it's easier to alternate between hands than fingers when typing at speed. With a few other tweaks the result is a keyboard that is more comfortable because you have to stretch less, and quicker for typing.
This amazing innovation was then promptly and widely ignored. (Although, to be fair, early Apple enthusiasts and employees were big fans.)
I learned about Dvorak while using the Google machine to find out why my hands hurt after about an hour of typing. I thought the Dvorak solution was cool and made a lot of sense, but I also figured if it was really awesome then someone I knew would be using it. They weren't. So I ignored it.
But a question kept eating away at me:
Why does the whole English speaking world use a system that was designed for inefficiency?
Oh, and there was also a second part as well, which really drove me to distraction:
Regardless of what the rest of the English speaking world is doing, why am I using a system that was designed for inefficiency?
What was my excuse for not changing? Is the new system faster? Studies showed, yes. Is the new system more comfortable? Studies also showed, yes. What's my problem? Perhaps I'm just not cut out for doing new things.
So I did the math. If I could get a 10% increase in speed what would that be worth? I figured I would be typing for at least another 10 years (It could be 50, but let's use 10 and assume I die young or voice recognition gets so good I can completely ditch the keyboard in a decade). I had plateaud at around 60 WPM for the last few years, and I type for about 10-20 hours a week for 50 weeks a year. That's roughly 1.8 million words a year, or 18 million words in a decade. A 10% increase in speed would reduce my typing by at least an hour a week or 62.5 working days every decade. This was all worst case, and also did not take into account the comfort factor of the new approach—if it existed—which could be an added upside as well. Could I learn to type in less than 500 hours? I believed I could, and frankly, the challenge mocked me.
The first week after the switch was the worst. I kept typing nonsense, or hunting and pecking for letters. I found my fat fingers in the way of the letters so I couldn't see what was going on, and I had to keep removing my hands from the keyboard to study the keys. Responding to simple emails took tens of minutes. (Luckily I was running my own company at the time, so nobody noticed.) It was excruciating.
Day one was annoying but also novel. My typing speed went down to 4 WPM. I dare you to type that slowly for an hour when you really need to say something and see how your mental health holds out. Day two was worse emotionally. I got to 6 WPM. By day three I knew I was nuts, but I had been through so much pain already I refused to turn back. Plus I'd taken an hour to move all my keys around. I figured I would have it down in a week.
It took me 74 days to rebreak the 60 WPM threshold. After the first week, days 40-50 were the worst because my typing speed became erratic, with my speed up one day, then down the next. I never knew if I would be able to do it or not. Progress, it seemed, was not linear—a fact I knew intellectually, but hadn't really seen in such stark, annoying, application before.
By day 90 I peaked at 79 WPM, and in reality, I now type in the 70-75 area most days, that's a 25% increase in speed. I also no longer have to take breaks to rub the back of my fingers where they used to get quite sore. So for 3 months of pain, I anticipate I'll save between 156 and 308 working days in the next decade, or over a year. (Or likely I'll just type more, but that's another issue.)
All in all, it has been a success. I've proved again I can do hard things. I now have a computer that no one else can use (unless you have memorized qwerty or learned Dvorak—both a small group).
The only real downside is most phones don't have a Dvorak option (my IPhone does not), and most shortcuts are optomized for qwerty (ctrl-C, -X, -V for example).
Why Haven't You Changed?
So, why haven't you switched? Seriously, I want to know your excuse. Please post it below. (Please indulge me as an exercise in human behavior, not my own smugness.)
Last thought. What's my main takeaway: question everything and make your life awesome. Even if it didn't work, I'd rather have known than not ever tried.