The Hidden Side of Keyboard Shortcuts & Productivity

In another community about note-taking apps, this requirement was recently mentioned.

Ability to do everything with simple keyboard shortcuts for maximum productivity.

This is a common request, and the common reaction by software product teams is to cave to our desire to bake into a single tool that we want to be applied consistently across all tools.

I get it — app-dependent keyboard shortcuts are really wonderful if personal productivity is the goal. However, there’s a hidden side of shortcuts that reduces productivity - it happens when tool (a) assumes Cmd / should do (x). In contrast, tool (b) assumes Cmd / should behave in an entirely different fashion.

We can all agree that we need more than one tool, so with that, we must consider the idea that to reach a pinnacle of personal productivity using keyboard shortcuts, also known as “muscle memory”, we best consider two additional requirements.

  1. App-bound keyboard shortcuts must be modifiable.
  2. Keyboard shortcuts should be bound to the OS, not the apps.

One might assume that option one is preferable, but it has a hidden counter-productivity aspect; you need to take the time to remap default shortcuts to your consistent preference if you hope to reap the benefits of muscle memory. This is time-consuming and must be considered a sunk cost in the overall productivity matrix.

Option two is preferable, but it also has some investment effort and possibly financial impact if the product (like Text Blaze) requires an ongoing SaaS payment. Text Blaze is also dependent on a Chrome extension, which is clearly not ideal unless all your apps are web-based. Espanso is an open-source system that is app-agnostic and privacy-first in its architecture. This is a very powerful alternative that operates in every app context. It allows you to normalize shortcuts across all apps with far greater capacity for productivity. The catch? It’s a bit technical to set up and configure; yet another sunk cost.

Dumb vs Smart Shortcuts

The world of keyboard shortcuts is as vast as the apps and access to features we want to automate. Another reason to steer clear of app-defined shortcuts is the near certainty that app designers will never make them as intelligent as you’d like. Dumb shortcuts get you to the feature. Smart ones also have the capacity to control the process, possibly injecting content or data directly into the target feature based on your context. Perhaps there’s something in your copy buffer, and you want to go to a feature and paste the buffer’s contents. Text Blaze and Espanso do this really well. App-bound shortcuts almost always don’t.