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Switching to Dvorak

I came across the Dvorak keyboard layout in the past, but I didn’t really pay attention to it. I knew it was considered superior in terms of efficiency and wrist health, but I never really considered to actually make the switch… until something happened.

P.S. You don’t know what the Dvorak keyboard is? Think about the keyboard you are generally using, notice how the first row of letters starts with QWERTY. Now imagine Dvorak is completely different, instead of QWERTY you actually see ‘,.py — it would’ve been a pretty ugly name for a keyboard if it were to follow the same method of naming it, right? Instead it is named after August Dvorak, the main researcher that studied letter frequency and hand physiology and all he wanted to do, was save humanity from wrist pain and discomfort and even make us faster too.

Keyboard looks like this: undefined

The COVID-19 pandemic happened! During the pandemic, like many people around the world I spent a few weeks isolated inside the house, alone with my cat, so I started thinking about what new I could do, what I could learn, how could I benefit from the whole quarantine? I was thinking I have to get something out of this quarantine, I can’t just let it pass without doing anything meaningful for myself. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity after all! Otherwise I will feel like I just wasted two months of my life staying indoors and just working remotely…

I thought about many things, on the professional side as well as personal side. One of them that stuck with me was making the switch to the Dvorak layout. Why? I had multiple reasons to start and stick with it to succeed.

  • First it helps with wrist pain, and while I didn’t really have constant pain, I used to have it maybe twice a year, it seemed to be seasonal.
  • Also, due to the gym workouts I also kept having a synovial cyst in my right wrist come and go every once in a while and it would stay there for months. It wasn’t hurting, but everyone would be horrified by it and nobody could guarantee me that I will not experience pain ever. Plus, doing that surgery has a very high chance of remission and when went to the doctor to check it out, his reaction was: “How long are you gonna keep it there? Until it grows big like a nut?” — funny, but if that’s the only reason to do an expensive surgery for something that’s not harmful and doesn’t hurt, I think I’ll pass and try a different way.
  • Then, there was also the assumption that Dvorak makes you type faster. I was already typing pretty well on QWERTY, around 90 wpm touch typing, but I thought I could do even better. And the final reason was that I thought this is a way to train my brain, it’s a skill I relearn to do in a completely different way, and this surely creates some more synapses in my brain helping me expand my brain capacity, hopefully.

So I picked the day to start, it was April the 1st. And no it was not a joke. On April 1st I started learning the basics, I found some online tutors, switched my keyboard settings to Dvorak, and I began. I didn’t switch “cold turkey” like others would say, since I was working full time remotely and I had to stay productive. I did however try to practice at least 1 hour every day and I wanted to do incremental progress. I would push myself a bit harder whenever I felt my progress was stagnating. It was very hard in the beginning, first I had to learn the position of the letters, then I had to try to remember them while typing without looking at the keyboard. I kept my keyboard with the QWERTY layout, so I would be less tempted to look while typing, but this was really hard when trying to find the new location of the keys and also when having to use keyboard shortcuts. Luckily for a while I used the Dvorak layout with the QWERTY shortcuts, and that helped a lot while making the switch, but as I got more and more proficient on Dvorak, I started making mistakes even on shortcuts so at some point I had to switch to the pure Dvorak layout, with shortcuts and everything.

I have to say, going from around ~90wpm to ~15wpm is very frustrating, it was like something was holding me back, but I kept going. Each day I would learn more about Dvorak and I would keep losing the speed on QWERTY to the level it became confusing. Not only I would start typing QWERTY while learning Dvorak, but I would also start typing Dvorak while trying to do my regular work on QWERTY. So about 2 weeks after I started, because of all the confusion and frustration, I decided to switch completely to Dvorak. My speed was only around 30wpm, which was not nearly enough, but I thought it was decent and I was hoping it would help me get proficient on Dvorak faster and avoid frustration in the long run. By that time I also noticed some changes in my wrists. I had a new kind of discomfort in my forearms, because they used to be in a different position with QWERTY, but now they were adjusting to Dvorak. However along with this I noticed that my synovial cyst vanished like magic. It was visible before making the switch and I thought it’s gonna be there for months, yet a few days after I switched it completely went away and didn’t return since. I was astonished and this was one more reason to keep going.

I practiced daily on online tutors and I kept doing my work though I realized I had the tendency to procrastinate on writing, even simple emails, only because it was a very slow process and I felt completely inefficient. This pushed me to try even harder, sometimes practicing typing for at least 1 hour during the day. I would wake up at 5am and start with a good hour of typing nonsense (check out keybr.com) while having my coffee. only afterwards I would regain my energy to do my daily workout. I wanted to push harder and harder to regain a decent speed so I don’t feel like a snail.

Not having the right keyboard layout in front of me was a real pain while learning. I did constantly display an image with the Dvorak layout on a secondary screen, and it helped a bit, but it was still a pretty tedious and painful process. I had some external keyboards laying around in my home, so I tried to relabel the letters, though I didn’t want to do write on them with a marker, so I used some paper tape on which I wrote the new layout with a marker. (LOL, sounds silly, I know). Next step was just to take out the keys and re-arrange them according to the new layout. Did that as well, though I was so accustomed to touch typing (QWERTY) and to having the little nudge on the F and J to know where my hands are resting, that I had to find a solution for that as well. On Dvorak the nudge should be on the U and H and I found that any kind of tape was a bit disturbing to my touch senses, so that didn’t work. What did work wonderfully in this case was to pour a drop of superglue on those key caps and let it dry. It was just enough to feel a little nudge with the tip of my fingers, sturdy, without feeling like you’re gonna break something.

I have to say I struggled, for a few weeks it was a real struggle, but I was feeling I was making progress day after day. I was able to increase my speed steadily up to about 60wpm in 1.5 – 2 months. It was nice, rewarding, I was making constant progress and it was noticeable, so that kept me going. However after that point the progress slowed down a bit, it became harder and harder to keep a speed faster than 60wpm. I was making a lot of mistakes and that was keeping me back. I kept pushing and now, 3.5 months into this journey I’m able to type at 75 wpm with a pretty good accuracy. I found it takes some adjustment every time I switch keyboards, as the keys and space between them are slightly different on each keyboard and things are not yet as automatic as they used to be on QWERTY. I did type on QWERTY for almost 20 years.
However now that I made the switch I am happy with the result, my wrists feel better and I feel I’m moving my fingers less and faster. I’m sure that over time I will be well adjusted and I will regain the full speed that I had on QWERTY, maybe even increase it a bit. I feel this is very rewarding, it just takes time, patience and discipline and whether you’re a programmer or a writer, I think this will surely increase your life in front of a keyboard, and your wrists will thank you.

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