The two operating modes of your keyboard

Your keyboard, as an input device, has two main functions called modes: one is the text entry mode to allow operators to input text in a document. The other is a command mode used to instruct the software or operating system to do things a certain way, e.g., alt-tab to cycle through open windows. The mouse also has these two functions: a command mode, such as double clicking on a file to open it, or clicking on a button to restart the computer, and an entry mode, like drawing a line when using drawing software.

Many people use the keyboard mainly for text entry and use the mouse for the command mode. Unfortunately moving a hand from the keyboard to the mouse takes travel time and forces your eyes and brain to switch focus. This decreases efficiency.

Consider the following experiment:

Comparing the efficiency of the two modes

Let’s do a test to see how much more efficient you can be when using your keyboard to drive your software.

On a Microsoft Windows-based computer, open a browser like Safari, Chrome or Firefox. Go to or any other website. Move your two hands back to the keyboard on the home row.

Test 1: use the mouse and keyboard to go to

  1. Use the mouse to open a new tab.
  2. Move the cursor to point on the navigation bar. Click in the URL field.
  3. Type and then press Enter.
  4. Move your hand back to the keyboard.

Test 1 takes around four seconds in most cases.

Test 2: Same test but using only the keyboard in content and command mode:

Once you are setup as in test 1 type the following:

  1. Control-T
  2. Control-L
  3. yahoo
  4. Control-Enter

Test 2 achieve the same result in less than a second.

So you can see from this example, operating your computer software with the keyboard command mode by taking advantages of keyboard shortcuts can bring some great productivity gains. Some software makers design their products with this in mind while others do not.

In another post we will compare Mac OS X Snow Leopard with Microsoft Windows 7 to see which one make their users more efficient.

What keyboard shortcuts do you use the most? What actions do you wish had keyboard shortcuts?