My Colemak Experience

I have been wanting to switch to an alternative layout since at least 2013. That’s how long you can procrastinate on whether to learn Dvorak or Colemak. In the end, I decided for Colemak. Why? Because of my trial buddy at Automattic – who did the switch the previous year. So, there you go: millions of articles on the internet debating both systems and I let a personal recommendation be my guide. Real life at its best.

Why change at all?

I had formal training as a secretary. When I learned the trade, typewriting was part of the training – and extensively so. The result was astonishing writing speed. Basically, I was able to write faster than I could formulate a coherent sentence in my head (which might attest to my lack of speed when thinking?). But QWERTY isn’t really comfortable, at least if you believe heatmaps like this one:

Compare this to a heatmap of the same text using Colemak: looks like the fingers might have a little less distance to travel for each sentence – a distance that adds up with time. I am not sure whether this is enough to avoid Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, but it surely does not increase the risk.


So when the Christmas holidays came around, I decided to go cold turkey

How to learn Colemak in a month or less

With “learn” I mean “be able to type at a relatively comfortable speed, comparable to what you did before”. Going cold turkey is NOT enough in this regard. It actually requires deliberative practice to get from WHERE THE HELL IS THAT STUPID LETTER AGAIN to answering your emails without starting to cry.

But it is possible, as you can appreciate on my 2.5 weeks and 4-week snapshot:

colemak.pngAnd this is how I did it:

  1. Get a Colemak keyboard cover, just in case.
  2. Print the design on a piece of paper and attach it to the side of my laptop. I wanted to avoid looking at the real keyboard as much as possible.
  3. Install Colemak and change your keyboard.
  4. Commit to 10 minutes of this 9-day course.
  5. All the while, write everything else with Colemak as well.
  6. Make a list of words that you feel you need to know at speed: your name (it’s tremendously reassuring to be able to type your name – even if in real life you use TextExpander). See below for my list 🙂
  7. Practice this list every day for 10 min
  8. Check your speed and accuracy regularly, for example here. Bonus if you then look for words that include the keys you miss most often.

I won’t go back. I am not yet at my original speed, and I still make mistakes, especially when I am tired, but I am comfortable doing live chat and participating in discussions on slack. Time will take care of the rest.

PD: This is my list of words I used to practice in the beginning. It’s a mix of English (mostly work related) and Spanish (mostly blogging related) words.

Valentina, my password, subscriptions, csv import suite, have a lovely day, WooSupport, product vendors, bundled items, variations, minimalism, saludos sostenibles, deliberate practice, meditación, interpretación, actitud, Mataró, worldwide

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