Muscle Memory

Two years ago, I made the commitment to switch the Dvorak Layout and I think my wrists thank me. When I first started, I heard a lot of concern from others that learning Dvorak would harm their Qwerty typing. But I dismissed it as lazy FUD.

After two years, I’m admitting I was wrong.

Why do I still use Qwerty

I vastly prefer working in Dvorak, however there are plenty of scenarios when I need to work in Qwerty. Pair-programming and directly administering servers have been two recurring situations that force me to consistently finger-stutter.

What is it like?

I didn’t forget Qwerty, but after working in Dvorak so long I have to take pauses when I switch. Or I’ll rip through a word, only to realize I typed it in the other layout. Other annoyances pop out such as Copy/Paste, Mac Preferences (Dvorak uses the W for , which keeps closing windows), and Mac switching tabs (Dvorak uses - and + for [, and ] which keeps changing the font of Textmate/Terminal/Browsers).

A different way of explaining these finger-stutters: I like to joke around when someone asks me a VIM command. I tell them “I don’t know, but my fingers do”, and I typically will touch a keyboard, do the command they asked, then tell them the command.

What I’ve been doing to fix this

So instead of using Dvorak exclusively, then jumping into Qwerty when pairing I’ve resorted to picking a layout at the beginning of the day and working with it the entire day. This has helped keep my muscle memory in shape.

I still have problems when switching in and out of Dvorak and Qwerty (e.g. one hour in one layout, then the next hour in the other layout). Perhaps over time I’ll be able to easily switch between the two, but I’m not there yet.

If I notice I am hammering the DELETE key, I’ll open up text pad and rip though a few Panagrams. At first I used the common “The quick brown fox…”, but then I realized my fingers were committing that sentence to memory. So now I’ll open up a site with a list of panagrams and randomly select a few to type out.

Has learning Dvorak been worth it?

This is hard to answer, but I think so. Like I said I do vastly prefer the Dvorak layout, but I do think it’s important to stay realistic that you’ll have to occasionally use Qwerty. However maintaining muscle memory has been a lot more work than I originally guessed.