My 5 Step Journey Towards Ergonomic And Fast Typing
One Of These Doesn’t Belong: Keyboards, Wrist Pain, Mice, Typing Mastery, And Mics
Ever experienced a twinge in your wrist after hours of typing?
Have you tried saving time by using keyboard shortcuts? Ctrl + Shift + Alt + X to enter Suggestions mode in Google Docs. Ctrl + Shift + Esc to open Windows Task Manager. Did you find your fingers aching from contortions in unnatural positions?
Maybe you've attempted to shake it off, dismissing it as a fleeting discomfort. I've been there, trapped in that cycle of pain and dismissal.
Why does my wrist hurt? Am I doing something wrong? Did I ruin the form while lifting weights during my workout? Did I sleep in the wrong position?
These questions were the start of my journey navigating ergonomics. Each step of this journey introduced me to ergonomic concepts, equipment, and software. Some promised relief, while others promised productivity. Not every attempt held up to its promise.
I accelerated my writing of consulting case studies and blogs a few months ago. The continuous typing led to wrist pain, leading me to research carpal tunnel syndrome and tennis elbow. Repetitively forcing one’s limbs into unnatural positions triggers both conditions. These are often caused at one’s workplace.
One day, it got really bad. I opened doors, shook hands, or ate my dinner with my non-dominant hand. So, I started my search for ergonomic solutions.
Overwhelming Options In Ergonomic Keyboards
I was astonished to see the variety of ergonomic keyboards. I got anxious and overwhelmed trying to buy one. However, my research also surfaced a sidecar concept: ergonomic mice. I decided to buy an ergonomic mouse while I figured out the keyboard.
Step-1: Why Buy An Ergonomic Mouse?
I discovered marketing material that considered vertical mice or trackball mice as ergonomic. A vertical mouse encourages a natural handshake position for your hand. On the other hand, using the typical horizontal mouse compresses nerves in your wrist and causes wrist pain. After experimenting with a medium and a large size, I found that the bigger model suited me best. Despite some drawbacks like not fitting in my under-desk keyboard tray, I choose the large size. Using the large vertical mouse brought some relief to my wrist.
The Appeal of Mechanical Keyboards
After more reading, I discovered the benefit of mechanical keyboards over membrane ones. Using membrane keyboards causes discomfort to your fingers as you often press the keys until they reach the bottom, a process known as "bottoming-out". Whereas, your fingers get tactile feedback when using a mechanical keyboard, which means you do not press the keys more than required. So, your fingers feel less impact.
Enthusiasts also say mechanical keyboards are fun. Mechanical keyboards last longer than membrane keyboards. You can type faster on mechanical keyboards.
Mechanical And Ergonomic
I came across many benefits and styles of ergonomic keyboards. Many of the ergonomic keyboards were mechanical.
The Kinesis Advantage 360 caught my attention with its split layout, mechanical keys, adjustable angles, configurable keys, thumb cluster, concave key well, ortho-linear layout, and multi-layer system. I learned a lot from the marketing material of the Kinesis, so I don’t want to explain the benefits of each, because I did not learn the benefits independent of corporate promotional material.
Other keyboards, like the Dygma Defy and the MoErgo Glove 80, fit these criteria. Other popular mechanical ergonomic keyboards were the ZSA Moonlander, Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, ErgoDox EZ, and Dactyl Manuform.
Step-2: Choosing A Key Type: Silent Or Tactile?
Mechanical keyboards can have Silent, Tactile, or Clicky types of keys. Each produces different noise levels. I ruled out Clicky.
I couldn’t decide whether to go with tactile or silent keys. Both had their pros and cons. The silent keys sounded ideal for a quiet workspace. But, silent keys do not provide physical feedback to your fingers, so you bottom-out the keys. Silent keys feel like typing on clouds or marshmallows. Tactile makes typing sounds, so it may annoy your co-workers or add noise to your video recordings.
Step-3: Noise Of Mechanical Keyboards
Typing on a mechanical keyboard makes much more sound than typing on membrane keyboards. I cared about the typing sound because I wanted to be a good co-worker. I didn’t want to annoy co-workers by typing loudly. I didn’t want my Zoom meetings, podcasts, or video recordings to capture keyboard noise.
A co-worker of mine had a mechanical keyboard many years ago. His keyboard was so loud that you could estimate his typing speed even through a Zoom meeting.
Trying Out Different Key Switches
All online research and forums suggested, “try out the keys.” But I didn’t feel qualified to make a long-term decision based on a few minutes of typing on some keyboards. I didn’t find good options in Ireland to buy key switches of the different types, use, and return. I wanted to decide by looking at reviews and expert opinions online from the comfort of my home.
Yet, after no online solution, I searched for an electronics store. I found one and went there. I tried out various keyboards at the electronics shop and made notes. I decided I preferred tactile keys and wanted. But, the noise issue remained.
Reframe: Dealing With The Noise Of Mechanical Keyboards
I reframed the problem. The problem is not the creation of noise from the keyboard but the capture of sound by the mic. The solution lay not in minimizing the keyboard noise but in reducing the mic's capture of keyboard noise. Through various tests and readings, I learned that repositioning my mic and using noise-canceling filters could minimize the captured noise during calls or recordings.
I tried my membrane keyboard with my Blue Yeti mic on Zoom and OBS.
I realized Zoom noise cancellation works pretty well. So, I tried OBS noise suppression. The noise suppression of OBS was not as good, but it was good enough. I also realized the importance of using a boom stand, the cardioid beamforming setting, and keeping as low a gain as possible.
I got my brown tactical keys mechanical keyboard eventually, and I immediately did a noise test. I was ready to return the keyboard or make more purchases if noise was an issue.
I found Zoom’s noise cancellation amazing and OBS okay-ish. I decided to continue using the boom mic. I was also set to use my new keyboard! If only I could figure out how to use it next.
Step-4: Training Myself to Use the New Keyboard
I got the Kinesis Advantage 360, which is an ortho-linear, concave key well, multi-layer, split, mechanical, adjustable tented, and programmable keyboard with thumb clusters.
But, I knew that transitioning to the new keyboard would take deliberate practice to retrain my muscle memory for touch typing. I was still surprised when my speed dropped from 110 words per minute (WPM) on my old keyboard to 20 WPM on the new one. I used to use the keyboard as a pianist earlier. Now, I had to learn to use it as a typist.
Despite my initial typing speed dropping to 20 words per minute, I was determined to stick to the new keyboard and relearn typing. I had relearnt breathing after a medical emergency. I was sure I could relearn typing. I followed tips from James Clear’s Atomic Habits and Benedict Carey's How We Learn. I did daily practice sessions, deliberate practice, short multiple sessions each day, along with self-evaluation. I gradually increased my speed back to 100 words per minute over 21 days.
Step-5: Putting The Feet To Work Using Foot Pedals
During my touch typing training, I faced next-level issues. I realized I was stretching my fingers to hit the shift key for capital letters or punctuation marks. Redditers suggested a solution: foot pedals. Using a foot pedal would use the idle 2 limbs out of 4. Despite my skepticism, I decided to give it a go, and surprisingly, it worked. But, it did introduce a new problem: ankle pain. I'm still experimenting with different foot positions to use the pedals without discomfort.
An Optimization Approach To Your Computer
In this journey, I have found various ways to adapt to ergonomic computing, alleviate my pains, and continue my passion for writing. With experimentation and adaptation, I've created a more comfortable work environment for myself. My wrists are happier.
As a chef wouldn't compromise on the quality of their knives, we, as knowledge workers, must consider our keyboard and mouse with equal importance. Our keyboard and mouse allow us to gain and share knowledge, which drives our economy. A modest 10% improvement in our computer peripherals can significantly increase our productivity while minimizing injury.