Left-Handed

I’m not actually left-handed, but a few years ago, I decided that it might be a good idea for me to learn to use a mouse with my left hand, to give my right hand a much-needed break during the work day. I figured I wasn’t the first person to try this, and a quick Google search confirmed this with a couple of related results for “learning to use the mouse left-handed.”

This article by one of the cofounders of Blogger.com echoes my experience with learning to mouse left-handed. I believe I started shortly after starting work on Secret Weapons Over Normandy in 2003 — a fairly low-stress period during which I could afford to spend more time becoming familiar with the ins-and-outs of the process. It probably took me a couple of weeks before I was as productive doing day-to-day stuff as I was when I was using the mouse right-handed — I was actually surprised at how little time it took before I felt reasonably comfortable. I didn’t need much encouragement to keep going through the process — I almost immediately noticed improvement in the condition of my right hand and wrist after starting, so I was definitely very receptive to the benefits.

I also tried to utilize keyboard shortcuts more frequently — even more so than I already did. I found this Coding Horror article about printing a list of Visual Studio keyboard commands to be useful, although I found through the use of the free Command Spy SlickEdit gadget that I was already using the most common ones out there.

Interestingly, I also find that my keyboard’s alignment with my body “feels” better when I mouse left-handed. This article titled “Keyboards Are Backwards” makes this point clearly with photographs — the numeric pad is a waste of space for righties, and forces your hand to kick out much further than it should in order to use the mouse. With the mouse on the left-hand side of the keyboard, the overall range through which your hands need to move is reduced.

I still need to use the mouse right-handed for any sort of precise activity. For example, I still play most games right-handed (with turn-based games being a possible exception, due to the slower pace). Any activity that involves a lot of precise clicking, or especially dragging, can be difficult for me to do left-handed. Additionally, I feel that my keyboard usage is still “unbalanced” and biased towards my left hand, since I use my left pinky for holding down the Shift and Control keys. I also depress the Alt key with my left thumb — both of these motions require slight movements of the entire hand, and I believe that this may place more stress on it as a result.

I made an attempt awhile back to try and correct this by using my right hand for pressing Shift/Alt/Control in certain situations, but slacked off. (The heuristic I used was to hold down the modifier key with the opposite hand as the letter/number key being pressed. I didn’t consult any research or anything when I came up with this — it just seemed like a fairly sensible way of doing things.) Perhaps I’ll give that a whirl again, to try and ensure that my hands remain healthy and usable for years to come. I’ve used a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro (which is no longer made, but similar to this) for years now, and between that and my Habu mouseI feel my setup is ergonomic enough such that if my usage habits are sound, I shouldn’t develop any RSIs.

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