The shortcut to efficiency

By Ben | 4th March 2020

Growing up in the age of technology, there are many things in life that we take for granted. Simple, little things that we just do automatically and don’t think about. In computing, the most common of these is keyboard shortcuts.

Most people know Ctrl + C and Ctrl + V (or Cmd + C and Cmd + V if, like me, you’re a Mac user) allows you to copy and paste, but someone must have thought of the idea of using a couple of keys to complete commands quickly and more efficiently.

That someone was Larry Tesler, an American computer scientist who sadly died this week. While working for Apple, Tesler developed the idea of ‘copy and paste’ functionality and implemented it on the Lisa desktop computer.

These shortcuts were part of Tesler’s idea of modeless software - not having to change to a different ‘mode’ to produce different results from similar processes, such as turning Caps Lock on to change the keyboard to capital letters.

It’s a shame that it takes death to make us truly acknowledge the difference that people like Tesler make to our lives, as his revolutionary ideas have no doubt saved businesses hours of time over the years, just by creating a simple shortcut.

As a graphic designer, I use keyboard shortcuts all the time, especially when copying text from one of our copywriters. And whenever I learn a new software, I always make a point of learning any new shortcuts. Not only do they speed up my working, they also allow me to work more efficiently. As a touch typist, I know where the keys are and can press them without even having to think.

For example, without Ctrl + C, I would have to take my hands off the keyboard, use the trackpad to carefully navigate to Edit on the menu, then down to copy, then move the cursor back to the document, then back up to Edit, down to Paste, then move the cursor back to where I was and then return to the keyboard to continue typing. It seems ridiculous when you write it out like that, but it shows how simple the shortcut makes it.

I tried timing this process and on average it took 8.7 seconds to manually copy and paste something from one window to another,  but only  2.6 seconds with the shortcut. That's roughly 6 seconds saved. Now imagine I do this at least 30 times a day, that's 3 minutes of time wasted unnecessarily every day. So that's roughly 15 minutes a working week, or about 12.5 hours a year. Even working it out roughly, it's still a staggering amount of time that Larry Tesler's idea has saved.

While you may not need to know all of these, there are a few common shortcuts that you ought to know, and they’re helpfully placed in a row near the bottom left of your keyboard:

  • Ctrl + Z = Undo
  • Ctrl + X = Cut
  • Ctrl + C = Copy
  • Ctrl + V = Paste

The last of these shortcuts may seem like an odd choice, but Ctrl + P was already taken for print, so V was chosen as it was the next one along.

So next time you’re writing a letter, email or blog and you find yourself copying and pasting a bit of text from another source, maybe give a little nod to Larry Tesler, one of the unsung heroes of modern computing.

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