Experiment: Using the Colemak Keyboard Layout For Two Weeks

Recently I have been investigating using better, more ergonomic computer equipment. To this end, several months ago I purchased an ergonomic keyboard, the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000. During my investigation of keyboards, however, I came across a lot of discussion about alternative keyboard layouts, and their various pros and cons, and have decided to try switching to the Colemak Keyboard layout.

About Me

I don’t have any issues with RSI, or pain or stiffness in my hands. I would like to keep it that way, and so I would like to use good ergonomic equipment and practices to keep my hands that way. I work in IT, and do a large amount of typing throughout the day, so even a small improvement to the quality of my typing can pay off for me.

Choosing Colemak

During my investigation on different keyboard layouts, I of course found a lot of information on Dvorak, another popular alternative layout. Certainly there are some significant benefits to Dvorak:

  1. It has more OS support (comes built-in on Windows)
  2. It’s more widely used, and therefore more studied.

So why choose Colemak?

  1. Most importantly for me, it keeps some of the keyboard shortcuts the same, like Ctrl-C, Ctrl-X and Ctrl-V. On Dvorak the common pattern Ctrl-C -> Ctrl-V are both two handed shortcuts. 🙁
  2. It has slightly less finger travel than Dvorak. For more details, see https://colemak.com/Ergonomic
  3. It keeps almost all the symbol keys in the same place, which is nice.

Day 1

The first day was so hard, and it went soooo slowly. Very frustrating, and by the end of the day I was getting only 12 WPM. I found I was constantly having to read off the image of the keyboard layout to type simple things.

Days 2 – 7

Once I got through the first day, I slowly improved over the next few days. I found that I was not having to look to remember the keys on the home row, and only check for keys above or below. However, even with the home row, I would get stuck with a mental block about once per sentence, trying to un-jumble the keys in my mind. This significantly slowed my typing, but as the week went on, the pauses would get shorter and less common.

Days 8 – 14

Once I was past the first week, I found I was no longer running into issues getting stuck, however my accuracy and speed were still lower than I had on QWERTY. However, as the week progresses I found my speed and accuracy picking up. I also started using the CapsLock backspace key, which is great.

Conclusion

So how fast am I typing now? I just tested my typing speed, and I’m getting 35 WPM. That’s not bad, but it’s not great. I have previously scored up to 50 WPM on QWERTY, although I haven’t tested my speed for a while. However, I plan to continue using Colemak, as I find it very comfortable to type on. We’ll see how I’m going after a couple of months of usage.

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