What Else is Like Touch Typing?

In sixth grade, I took a two-week, after-school typing class.

For some reason, it was held in our middle school computer room. We were surrounded by some old DOS terminals, seated a few feet away from a dot matrix printer with green and white lined paper.

Each of us was given a manual typewriter, the kind where you had to push the keys down three or four inches to get them to hit the ribbon. I sometimes wonder if the physical force we had to generate, and the ‘clack’ of the letter hitting the ink and the page, grooved the keyboard layout in our neuromuscular system more than a computer keyboard ever would.

Amazingly, that class alone (coupled, perhaps, with the fact that I played the piano) was enough for me to learn how to type. After the two weeks, I had my ‘ASDF JKL;” grooved, and soon after that I was typing without looking down and gradually increasing my speed and decreasing my error rate.

I can think of few things I’ve learned that have yielded more for my professional life: learning to type 80 words a minute, and not 20, saves me hundreds of hours each year.

Typing, unlike most skills, has a distinct before-and-after and an obvious path to mastery: before, I looked for each of 26 letters (plus punctuation) one at a time; after, my hands stay in the right place, the letters’ location have entered my muscle memory, and I’m 4x as fast.

But nearly everything we do has a slow/manual version and a fast/grooved version, even things that don’t look, at first glance, like concrete skills.

There’s the little stuff: how we get through our Inbox, create a chart, proofread.

But there’s also bigger stuff, which has similar multiplicative properties: the time it takes us to write a good email, to prepare for a 1-on-1 meeting, to think through and deliver feedback.

And there are things that don’t even look like skills, but are. Think, for example, about something that happens in most demanding jobs, having a surge in work and pushing for a deadline. This experience of pushing ourselves (or being pushed) requires us to develop the skills of: focused endurance; staying grounded while managing the stress of (self-imposed/external) deadlines; maintaining quality with constrained time; prioritization; overcoming procrastination; shipping.

Managing through, and eventually thriving amidst, things that are “hard” is just as much a skill as touch-typing, and it has just as much yield.

What it requires of us is the recognition that there’s something here for us to learn, and not just endure, and the patience to allow ourselves to grow, in time, from amateur to novice to expert.


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