Return of the Keyboard Shortcut

Two Web sites boost your personal productivity by helping you enter computer commands more quickly.


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Twenty-five years ago, everyone who used a PC mastered a long list of keyboard shortcuts. But as the Mac, and later Windows 3.x and other GUI-based operating systems proliferated, only “power users” still clung to the use of keyboard shortcuts in situations where a point and a click of the mouse would do.

The reason “power users” liked keystrokes is that they were – and are – faster than pointing and clicking with a mouse. Speed is the upside. The requirement to learn the keystrokes is the downside.

The conventional wisdom is that icons are pretty and shiny and that keyboard shortcuts are ugly and scary. But for applications or Web sites used every day, keyboard shortcuts are far more appealing in actual practice. The reason is that keyboard shortcuts become habits that you can do without even thinking. Muscle memory takes over, and they become second nature. But icons always require mental processing and time-consuming, spastic lurching from mouse to keyboard and back. This is a nugget of geek wisdom lost to the sands of time.

Fast forward to 2008 and the era of online productivity applications, which are on balance even more icon-happy and less keystroke-friendly than the world of Windows, Mac and Linux desktop applications.

I have, however, been gravitating lately to two sites that I use all day, every day, which are by far the most powerful and fastest sites I’ve found. One is an online to-do list called Todoist, and the other is a search site called Quick.as.

Besides being super fast to use and ultra minimalist in design, these two sites have something else in common: their power comes from the use of keyboard shortcuts.

Note that many sites we all use every day can take advantage of keyboard shortcuts. The blog Mashable.com, for example, published a long list of keyboard shortcuts for popular sites from Google to Yahoo to Wikipedia Blogger.

But Todoist and Quick.as use keyboard shortcuts not as a peripheral option, but as the core usage model and the key to their power. Let’s take a closer look.


Todoist is a to-do list maker. For basic use, press the letter “A” to add a to-do item. After typing in the item, pressing “Enter” adds it. Even the most novice user and keystroke-averse can easily see the power of this keystroke when adding three or four items in a row.

You can use Todoist using just the “A” key and “Enter” key if you want to. But you won’t want to. Pressing “Shift+A” adds an item to the top, rather than the bottom of your list. “Ctrl+” left or right arrow keys indents, up or down arrow keys saves the current item and lets you edit the item above or below it.

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Tags: Linux, Windows, Google, search, Yahoo

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