Scott Hanselman

Do they deserve the gift of your keystrokes?

June 23, 2010 Comment on this post [18] Posted in

There are a finite number of keystrokes left in your hands before you die. - Me

One of the most influential (to me personally) posts Jon Udell has written was his classic "count your keystrokes." I've mentioned this post in a number of my talks, including my talk on "Tips to make your blog suck less" at Blogging While Brown this last weekend. This point, in particular always seems to resonate with people, so here's my own take, before you read the original.

Let break it down. I'm 36 and change. I'll live to be 80, let's say, and I can type 100 words a minute (but 50 of that is errors and the backspace key) so let's say 50WPM. If I type for 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, for the next 44 years, that means there are 198M keystrokes left in my hands. Max. Period. And that's generous; it's likely 10% of that.

5.1CPW * 50WPM * 60m/hr * 6hr/s a day * 5 days/wk * 50 wks/year * 44yrs = 1,009,800,000 keystrokes left in your hands.

Let's assume the average length of an English word is 5, plus a space, so six. That's a ceiling of 168M more words I can type in my lifetime. Nothing I can do, short of dictation, or some new brain invention is going to create more keystrokes. I am I/O bound by my hands. The keystrokes they contain are finite. And this assuming my hands don't give out.

Drink that in. OK. So now, next time someone emails you ask yourself "is emailing this person back the best use of my remaining keystrokes?" That includes both 1:1 and 1:many emails. You could even add a little hubris to it and say: "Does this person deserve the gift of my keystrokes?"

Instead, consider writing a blog post or adding to a wiki with your keystrokes, then emailing the link to the original emailer. (Like this email, er, blog post, for this example.) Send them to http://www.letmegooglethatforyou.com or http://www.letmebingthatforyou.com and teach them to fish.

UPDATE: This is about reach and effectiveness vs. efficiency. If you email someone one on one, you're reaching that one person. If you blog about it (or update a wiki, or whatever) you get the message out on the web itself and your keystrokes travel farther and reach more people. Assuming you want your message to reach as many people as possible, blog it. You only have so many hours in the day.

The best way to get more email is to reply to it. The best way to get less email is to stop answering it.

Conserve what remaining keystrokes you have left, Dear Reader. Or, use them in the comments area here and give me the special gift that is your keystrokes.. ;)

P.S. This blog post is 435 words or 2362 keystrokes. Hope it was helpful. I've only got 1,009,797,638 left!

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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June 23, 2010 2:18
First! There, I just said something super valuable and only used six keystrokes. Oh wait, it's more now huh? Oh no, even more now... oh gosh, even more... no wait... argh.
June 23, 2010 2:24
this is invaluable advice, especially when you have co-workers (or managers) who don't read their email and say stupid things like "I get too much to read it all" and "if it's important then come to my office and tell me to read it."
June 23, 2010 2:31
Nice, but your theory doesn't take into account that in, let's say 20 years from now, keyboards are obsolete. You may not be I/O bound by your hands by then.
June 23, 2010 2:43
In your equation you are using words per minute multiplied by the number of remaining minutes typing in your life. Wouldn't that give you the number of remaining words instead of keystrokes? And if that is the case, then the remaining number of keystrokes would be six times that or about 1,188M keystrokes... Or am I missing something here?
June 23, 2010 2:51
I am using my keystrokes sparingly. There is a flaw in your logic:

50WPM * 60m/hr * 6hr/s a day * 5 days/wk * 50 wks/year * 44yrs = 198,000,000 keystrokes left in my hands.

Your flaw? You are counting words, not keystrokes. Considering the average word lenght is 5.1 characters, your equation should be:

5.1CPW * 50WPM * 60m/hr * 6hr/s a day * 5 days/wk * 50 wks/year * 44yrs = 1,009,800,000 keystrokes left in your hands.
June 23, 2010 3:07
Ah, and I checked it twice. Poop. Thanks guys for the math lesson! ;)
June 23, 2010 4:24
Scott, I've heard this from you a few times and on some level agree with the statements about blogging instead of sending an email. But do you think maybe there is some way that you would answer an email that lends itself to being a blog entry anyway? My emails very rarely contain anything to blog about or update a wiki with.

What amount of email do you think is actually appropriate to becoming a blog entry in your life or in a less technical person's life?

Maybe a chance to do some more math?
June 23, 2010 6:10
This logic doesn't make any sense to me.

Can we calculate how many more footsteps we have left in our life? (assuming you are not a current victim of the five point palm exploding heart technique.) Not really.

The question of "how many keystrokes you have left" seems to be an intractably multivariable equation - where one of the variables is how much you choose to type each day. To put it differently - consider swimming: how many swim strokes do I have left in life (and thus what should I use them for?) Well the answer will vary depending on whether I spend a lot of time in the pool or not.

To me at least this argument is more appealing if we focus on the more definitively limited quantity - time. You have a certain number of minutes, and you do not control how many minutes you use up per minute. (whereas you do control how many keystrokes you use up per minute).

If you were to say, your time on the earth is limited, how much of it do you want to spend emailing - that would make sense to me. The keystroke argument doesn't make since since individuals have so much control over how many keystrokes they "use" in a given time.

June 23, 2010 14:56
It's http://letmegooglethatforyou. (You had an extra 'r' at the end of the URI.)
June 23, 2010 16:03
So what you're saying is - we really need single sign on.
June 23, 2010 16:13
This reminded of the episode of Seinfeld in which Elaine discovers her favorite contraceptive has been discontinued and must now decide if her gentlemen callers are sponge-worthy ...
June 23, 2010 18:24
With so few words left
Should they all be used in song
..or maybe haiku?
June 23, 2010 22:04
right on! i've been using the "lifetime keystrokes" argument forever to defend my situational lack of punctuation and other "niceties" in oneoff email correspondence and anykind of chat client. of course, i also use the "lifetime breath" argument to defend my lack of phonecalls!
June 24, 2010 23:28
I don't need to think about how many keystrokes are left because I am pretty busy designing voice recognization software so our computer will be smart enough to do what we tell him to do. Pretty soon Keyboard and mouse will be the history.
June 26, 2010 3:02
It would be neat to here Msr Hanselman's insites on voice recognition software. I will never be able to type as fast as Scott Hanselman or Jeff Atwood. But I can speak as fast. I am really looking into Dragon software on a Voice Corder. My understanding is you need to spend some serious money (400+) to get a VoiceCorder that has the latest algorithyms whatever. I could drive along babbling and I would have text when I get home!

Right now I start typing fast and my ADHD starts listening to the sound and I'm playing Tabla in India and the wordsstarttojustbecomebeautiful sdasdfasdf as;dfj a;sdfq34oi[0 aqod;fij a;sdfoij a;sdofj a;sdfj ;asdfj
June 29, 2010 8:57
Thanks for the reminder that time is precious. Use it wisely!
July 12, 2010 18:11
Maybe Microsoft could improve Outlook and SharePoint to make blogging (public email) as easy as (private) email.
September 06, 2010 23:03
My problem was with weight, something that also strikes a lot of computer related professionals.
I once reached 108Kg on a body that measures 1.79m... that's too much.
The thing is that I never really had problems with that weight, I had no elevators to my apartment so I had to climb a 6 sets of 9 step to get home and got there ok, no problem, so I never really had the need to get "smaller" based on healthy issues, I just knew that they would appear anytime sooner or later and I sure didn't want them.

So I've just set my mind to it (I never smoked but I believe it's just like leaving the habit) and wen to a gym.
Nothing new to me, I once was a sport addict, practicing a lot of sports.
So I just went back, payed for a personal trainer to help me get back to shape but mostly to help keeping my motivation up high. You need to see the change happening when you're effort is high because if you don't you loose motivation and end up quitting. So if you really want to work, make sure you're effort is on the right pipe and you're not wasting time and energy doing exercises that wont do you any good.

I went to the gym 3 time a week for the first month and then stated going every day except weekends.
The Personal Trainer was with me 2 times a week and gave me instructions for what to do on the other days.
With this pace you'll loose a lot of fat, no doubt about that, just put your mind to it and it just go out.
I didn't take any kind of pills, those are just needed later (like after one year of hard work) if you really want to get slim :)

Now for food...
I didn't quit eating as most do, this is wrong!
You need to eat to get strength to get back to the gym, so EAT!!!!
Please talk to the gym personnel, they will give you all the advises you need.
What it really suck to burn is fat, and eating fat won't do you any good on the gym so try not to eat fat.
Avoid all kinds of McDonalds like food but eat meat and fish, rice, potatoes... everything... just eat!
How often you eat is also very important, eat every 2 hours, eat something, some toasts, fruit, yogurt, and eat well on the main meals. Eating every 2 hours will help you not eating too much on the main meals just because you're not that hungry.

Ok, I'm no expert in this, this was just what made me loose 25kg in 1 year in an healthy and steady way, reducing fat at the same time I was gaining muscle.
The most important of all this is that you MUST PUT YOUR MIND TO IT!
Without that you can take all the pills you want, quit eating, or beat yourself to death, sooner or later you'll be fat again and if it was based on pill my friend... you'll be fatter!