Mouse Habits

I’ve been complaining privately about my mouse lately. I think I could be more efficient if I didn’t have to ever use my mouse, but there seems to be some tasks that are just impossible with keyboard-only. And others that are very cumbersome. I looked at some alternatives, but was unimpressed.

The foot activated mouse seems like the way to go. I can steer my car and operate the petals at the same time, so a mouse on the floor would be as natural as driving a car. I found exactly two foot mice and both were US$300. No thanks. Other mice I found were camera activated, bio activated and all kinds of crap that was too expensive and more hassle than it’s worth. I was looking for the simple, elegant solution. The solution where I don’t have to wear a headband to move my hands-free mouse.

I got some really good suggestions and I thought I would share them:

  • Put the mouse on the left side of the keyboard – this is a good idea, but will definitely take some practice. The idea is that you cut down keyboard-to-mouse travel time by not having to go over the numeric keypad. I’m planning on trying this, but I’m not sure which day to do it. My productivity will be at an all time low that day. I liken it to throwing a football with the opposite hand – you get there eventually, but it’s neither quick nor pretty.
  • MouseKeys – it’s under Accessibility in the Control Panel. You can use your numeric keypad to control the mouse. I tried this for a couple of days and I’m not sure that I could do it even with practice.
  • Built-in Trackpads – I thought this would be a winner, but it didn’t get good reviews from people who’ve tried it. They say the pad is too small and you don’t get the precision you expect. It seems, however, that at least one person who’s tried this uses a regular size, non-built-in trackpad and highly recommends them for ease of use and precision.

A couple of people suggested that I use keyboard shortcuts. Of course, I already use keyboard shortcuts, but I’ll admit that their may be some of which I’m not aware. I think I use them rather extensively.

If I had to guess, I would say that I use my mouse 40 times in a typical 9 hour work day. Fortunately, I don’t have to guess, I can just count. Here’s a list of every time I used my mouse from 4:00PM to 4:00PM and why I felt I had to leave the keyboard. This is only work computing, not home computing. Also, once I’m at the mouse I don’t count multiple tasks that I do there. My only goal is minimizing the times I have to reach over to use the mouse. If I could do everything with a mouse, that would be fine too. After this experiment, I realized that I need to get a laptop with either the trackpad below the keyboard or the eraser head in the middle of it. That pretty much solves my problem, although it introduces another problem – I’m too cheap to buy a laptop.

My contribution to the wealth of useless information on the web: The 26 times I used my mouse in 24 hours.

  1. 16:01 – SpamBayes – an Outlook add-in to manage spam. No menus, just custom toolbars.
  2. 16:02 – Moderate comment spam – Everything to do with this blog takes mouse clicks.
  3. 17:12 – Logon to bank website – I could have hit tab 57 times until I got to the control for username, but it’s just not worth it.
  4. 17:45 – Scroll in Outlook Express window – I can’t read the subjects in a newsgroup with just the keyboard because as I select each message it marks it as read.
  5. 07:36 – Click on link in email message
  6. 07:41 – Click on link on web page
  7. 07:52 – Scroll in Outlook Express window
  8. 08:29 – Scroll in Outlook Express window
  9. 08:34 – Online calculator
  10. 09:33 – Type in Firefox’s Google Search Bar
  11. 09:55 – Type in Firefox’s Google Search Bar
  12. 09:56 – Copy text from website to paste in Excel
  13. 10:23 – Click on link in Outlook Express post
  14. 10:48 – MS Access commandbutton – I programmed the form, so the fact that there’s no accelerator is my own fault
  15. 13:41 – Click on link on web page
  16. 13:42 – PageDown in PDF – reading a pdf in FireFox, I couldn’t page down without using the Acrobat Reader toolbar to change the cursor to Select Text. Then the arrow keys and PgUp and PgDn worked fine.
  17. 13:50 – PageDown in PDF – same problem different pdf.
  18. 13:58 – Click on link on web page
  19. 14:00 – Click on link on web page
  20. 14:14 – Scroll in Outlook Express window
  21. 14:46 – Enter a URL in FF’s address bar – I’m sure there’s a shortcut for this – I’d better learn it.
  22. 15:32 – SpamBayes (see 1)
  23. 15:39 – Check the Intellisense on a VBA variable
  24. 15:43 – Click on link on web page
  25. 15:51 – Click on link on web page
  26. 15:56 – Click on link on web page
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13 thoughts on “Mouse Habits

  1. I share your pain, but can help alleviate at least some of the context switchings (almost a third, if the above list is typical).

    For Firefox:

    * Ctrl-K – puts the focus in the search input box

    * Enable Type-Ahead-Find, (Tools > Options > Accessibility > Begin finding…) then you can just start typing for the link text you are looking for. Press F3 to find next occurence. Unfortunately it doesn’t work for stupid websites which only use graphics for their links.

    If you don’t want this enabled by default, pressing fore-slash (/) activates the in-page search function (as does F3).

  2. I’ve been hungry for a mouse solution for a while too.

    What I want is a device which sits on top of my screen and watches my eyes and fingers.

    If I hold down a specialkey (with my left hand – I’m a righty), the mouse cursor becomes visible at the location where I’m looking.
    If I tap my index finger against my thumb, it’s a click.
    if I tap my middle finger against my thumb, it’s a right-click.

    They’ve got the technology – they use it for monitoring fatigued truck drivers.

    Hoping that someone, somewhere, will read this and develop it. I’ll happily beta test. :)


  3. I have used a wacom pen for severl years now and as a mouse replacement I find it very easy to use. I still have a cordless mouse just in case but only use it when I need the actions that i have progeamed some of its extra buttons to do.

  4. You may find the mouse on the left hand side not as bad as you expect. A few years ago I was searching around for a solution to neck pains I was constantly getting. One of the things I tried was putting the mouse on the left hand side – I actually found it very easy, one thing I didn’t do was switch the buttons around – so the “primary” button is still the left hand one.
    I consider myself to normally have afairly strongly right hand bias, just didn’t seem too bad.

    Didn’t fix the next problems unfortunately …

  5. Matt: Brilliant! I never thought of using the find box to navigate to a link, but I love it. If I can cut this list to 15, I’ll be happy.

  6. #21 – Alt-D will make the address bar active so you can type a URL (works in IE, too), then you can auto-complete (adds “www.” and “.com” to either side) with Ctrl-Enter. I think FF has other shortcuts to auto-complete for .net domains, etc.

    Another vote for switching the mouse to the left side (more for comfort than for speed): after getting neck pains myself, I started alternating sides & found it helps. I don’t switch the buttons, either – just learned to click “opposite” with my left hand. I was slow for a day or two, but I don’t even notice now.

  7. I use the computer all day long at work and oftentimes well into the night at home in activiities including number crunching with Excel, a fair amount of word processing and a bit of programming and has been that way for more than ten years, five to seven days a week.

    I doubt the time I would save by NOT using the mouse (and it is well used) would amount to anything worth TAKING the time to change my habits – seriously.

  8. I have been reading this blog since the first week it started. I have been keeping an open mind. But this post…. I mean… logging your mouse usage? Thats pretty darn geeky. I can only imagine the geeky stuff that you do that you are too embaressed to tell us.

    I’m just kidding.

    Great blog, great content.

  9. vkd: I couldn’t agree more. What would have really been geeky is if I had written a program to log my mouse usage instead of just writing it down. Hmmm, that gives me an idea.

  10. Mouse on the left balances the numeric keypad on the right. Don’t switch the buttons, so you can use any computer this way in a pinch without screwing up anyone’s settings.

    An ergo keyboard is more comfortable, and I type faster on it, because my fingers don’t have to stretch so far.

    Laptop mouse surrogates all suck. The eraser heads are worse, because a light brush may send the cursor to the arctic circle. The touchpads are tolerable. Best I ever used was on an early-90s Compaq: it was a trackball for your thumb on the inside of the lid, to the bottom right of the screen, and the two buttons for your two fingers were on the top of the lid. When you rested your hand beside the keyboard, it naturally just fit.

  11. Ugh, those point sticks are the ‘eraser heads’ I cited in my comment about laptop keyboards. I was never able to get closer than about ten pixels to where I wanted it.

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