Saturday, May 29, 2010

Touch Typing: The Benefits of Typing Fast in the Workplace

rapid typing logoI am always amazed at the fact that almost no job interviews, except for ones for secretarial and other administrative positions, include questions about typing speed. Together with those secretarial jobs, countless office jobs still involve sitting at a computer and typing all day, and require a person to work relatively fast.

Yet amazingly, none of the people conducting job interviews for those non-secretarial office jobs deign to ask about how fast you can type, let alone if you can touch type (i.e., use both hands without looking at the keyboard).

This is incredibly strange. It's as if it is somehow crass to ask about such a thing. Yet, if you had two equally skilled candidates with similar experience and education, if one of them was an exceptionally fast typer, and the other wasn't, surely that would be one of those "all other things being equal" factors that could give an advantage to the person who was a fast typer. But it just doesn't happen.

In fact, it would probably be considered odd for someone applying for certain types of jobs to include their typing speed on their résumé, and it would be equally as strange for the organization doing the hiring to ask about it. Which only confirms my belief that people who do the hiring often follow a basic formula and never question how they could make the process better.

The Benefits of Touch Typing

If you don't touch type but have worked in an office environment for years, you have probably convinced yourself that it is a skill you can do just fine without. After all, you are a shining example of someone who gets things done and meets deadlines. You probably type at an impressive speed, having developed your own hybrid of mashing away at the keys with your thick peasant fingers.

Yet, having never touch typed, you cannot fathom what a disservice you are doing yourself by not learning. After making the effort to learn how to touch type, within six months you will type faster than you ever have before. But that is not the biggest benefit! The most important benefit for you is that you will not feel nearly as wiped out after a long day in front of the computer as you did before. The reason is that the act of looking down and up all day is extremely wearing.

While some hybrid mashers have developed an impressive technique, and can occasionally out-speed a slow touch typer, they have to exert an incredible effort to do it. And even those mashers cannot out-speed the slow touch typers in every circumstance. For example, when having to copy something from a hard copy document into a new Word document.

Keyboard mashing chumps who use some kind of hybrid method have convinced themselves that touch typing is some long lost hope they gave up when they didn't take a typing class in high school. By maintaining this mindset, you are depriving yourself of an easily learnable skill that will make you more efficient for how ever many working years you have left.

Learning How To Touch Type

I know, because in one year I went from a keyboard masher to someone who can hit over 60 words a minute (a better measurement is actually characters per minute, of which I usually range from 330 to 400 per minute).

I made the transition after one month: one long grueling month where I devoted every waking free moment to practicing. It was tough, but well worth the benefits that have flowed my way since. Aside from increased speed, and the improved ergonomic and comfort level/sense of well-being after a day in front of the keyboard, there are other benefits as well.

For example, it is simply more professional—you will now be able to blaze away with the best of them. This was one reason that spurred me on to learn in the first place. And, while I mentioned that, except for secretarial and other menial, administrative office jobs, few other office jobs recognize the importance of typing skills, you can mention your speed in interviews as an "all other things being equal" skill that could give you an edge over other candidates.

And how shall you teach yourself to type? Numerous good software programs exist that will help you to get better. I learned using this simple yet effective little free program. Don't get me wrong, you must make the commitment, and it does take a lot of hours, but if you persist, you will get it.

The most difficult part is actually making the transition—moving from the stage where you can type just as fast using the no-look, "touch typing" that you have been practicing, as opposed to the less efficient but more familiar hybrid method that you have been using for countless years. Anyone who has ever learned to play an instrument will know that the muscle memory comes with practice, and when you get it, it's a great feeling!

Good luck!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Writing, Editing, and Don't Take it Personally

red pen correctionsAmong the numerous lies and clichés that people are fed on a daily basis is this classic nugget, usually offered up in advance of some criticism:

"Don't take it personally."

To which I always respond, "Everything in life is personal." Of course criticism is personal. How could it be otherwise?

"Don't take it personally," is especially prominent in the world of writing and editing.

Learning to Deal with Criticism

Recognizing this line for what it is does not mean that criticism is not important. On the contrary. Accepting criticism with professionalism and using it to improve anything that you have written is absolutely necessary.

Learning to work together with editors and others who have to criticize your work is one of the most crucial intangible skills that can help you in your writing career. But this strange platitude that everyone and his dog sign onto without ever questioning its logic, should be forever banished as a qualifier in the world of professional writers and editors.

Many, if not most, editors are exceptionally skilled and provide the kind of changes and suggestions that help to produce tight, effective writing that has first-reading clarity. A good editor is a true advocate for the reader and only has the goal of working together with the writer to create the best result possible.

As the person who wrote the words that are rightly being slashed and restructured, you need those fresh eyes of the editor. The paragraph, document, or book that you have created has become your baby. You may not see skewed syntax or sentences that can lead the reader "down the garden path."

However, not all editors are created equal. Some people like to engage in a bit of nastiness under the guise of "telling it like it is," and having "no time for niceties." It would be interesting to learn how often those same individuals also invoke the absurd "don't take it personally" line.

This oft-used statement implies that anything you create becomes an entity unto itself and you are only its disconnected, emotionless advocate. But isn't what I am saying really at the heart of the "don't take it personally" line? Isn't it good to distance yourself from what you have written and not let any criticism divert you from the goal of getting the job done? Yes, this notion has some truth to it for sure, but it is so patently obvious that the annoyance factor outstrips its usefulness.

And more than that, "don' take it personally" is not helpful because it intends, either consciously or otherwise, to soften the recipient up and encourage him not to engage in any push-back on the criticism. It's insidious because it instantly frames any resistance from the writer as petty, petulant, and childish.

Simple Standard

The logic behind grammar and consistency changes should be easily demonstrable—though amazingly, not every editor possesses a strong grasp on those concepts—and you won't usually object to such alterations. Style and phrasing are the types of changes that can lead to disputes in the editing process.

A simple standard is that the editor must be able to articulate exactly why any particular change should be made. Simply stating that "I just like it better that way," does not cut it and highlights someone as an amateur.

So just as overuse of clichés in writing is an indication of lack of imagination and weak writing skills, so too the line "don't take it personally," is often a red flag for a lazy or substandard editor. It would be hard to claim that the utterance of that most cringe-worthy of lines is always a sign of laziness, since it is used so widely.

But keep an ear out for it and see how often it comes from someone whose editing abilities are somewhat lacking. And most importantly, don't take the "don't take it personally" line too seriously!