Remember in kindergarten when your art teacher went over the basics of using glue? Our first instinct was inevitably to pour glue all over whatever we wanted to stick together, only to find that our paper transformed into a decidedly un-stuck goop. The rule of keyboard shortcuts is exactly the same as the rule of glue: A little does a lot, and a lot just makes a mess.
Today we'll explain why the right way to use keyboard shortcuts is to memorize seven or fewer of them, then use the mouse for everything else.
To learn why, we need to take a trip back to Apple HQ in the late 1980s. When Apple designed the Macintosh user interface, they spent over 50 million dollars (in 1980s dollars!) researching the optimal interfaces for productivity. What they learned was deeply counter-intuitive. It turns out that people overwhelmingly feel like keyboard shortcuts are much faster than using the mouse. By the stopwatch, just using the mouse is overwhelmingly faster.
The reason is that recalling the correct keyboard shortcut is a high cognitive function. In other words, every time we need to use a shortcut, our brains have to filter over 100 options to find the correct one. The human memory isn't optimized for tasks like this, and it takes a little bit more than two seconds to figure out the right shortcut, every time. We're busy thinking, though, so we don't notice as those two seconds elapse.
Mousing is much easier, because using the mouse is recognition rather than recall. Instead of summoning up the list of 100 options in our minds, then filtering it in place, we just need to glance at the menu and identify the correct choice from the options already listed there. Human memory has evolved to be incredibly good at tasks like these, so even though it takes us a bit longer to move a hand over to the mouse and click, we're actually saving time.
So why even bother with keyboard shortcuts at all? Because learning a very small set of keyboard shortcuts makes us faster. If we learn seven shortcuts, and rely on mouse-driven recognition to do everything else, we can save a lot of time. Filtering through seven shortcuts, the capacity of our working memory, takes essentially no brainpower, but allows us to speed up essential tasks.
Paring down the dozens of keyboard shortcuts into just seven is a daunting task. Fortunately, there are three defining characteristics of a valuable keyboard shortcut to learn.
Today's Action Steps involve choosing a set of shortcuts that map to the commands you regularly use in your mail client, then making a cheat-sheet to help you learn those (and only those) shortcuts. We've provided some client-specific tools to help make the process smoother.
Choose a configuration above to see today's action steps.
|Test subjects consistently report keyboarding is faster than mousing. The stopwatch proves otherwise.||Tweet|
|The optimal # of keyboard shortcuts to memorize is 7. For everything else, use the mouse||Tweet|
|Get your own customized Gmail or Outlook Keyboard Shortcut Cheat Sheets here||Tweet|
Today, we evaluated how to effectively use one of the most powerful, but also most frequently misused, tools for power email users. Tomorrow, we'll recommend some additional tools that power email users add to their email clients.