On April 30, I committed to learning the Colemak keyboard layout. I’m still entirely unsure of the value of this decision, so I’m writing it up here in order to reflect upon it a little more, and to share my experiences with others who might decide to attempt the same thing. ✨

Cole-who?

Colemak! It’s pronounced Coal-mack, and is a keyboard layout, exactly like how QWERTY is a keyboard layout. The theory is:

The Colemak Keyboard Layout. Compare it to QWERTY one key at a time – it starts with the same QW, and all the bottom-left letters are in the same spots.

The Colemak Keyboard Layout. Compare it to QWERTY one key at a time – it starts with the same QW, and all the bottom-left letters are in the same spots. Colemak.com

Ok, but why?

In June 2019, I had an RSI scare, and took two weeks off work because my left wrist had started hurting intensely when I was typing. I solved this problem by trading in my small, cramped Magic Keyboard for an Ergodox EZ, which was ludicrously expensive at around €3503, but also, if it prevents me from having to take a week off work, then it’s definitely paid for itself4.

Previously – small, slim, wireless, beautiful; but also, SO CRAMPED

Previously – small, slim, wireless, beautiful; but also, SO CRAMPED

Now – this chonky boi. The lights are totally over the top but I kinda love it.

Now – this chonky boi. The lights are totally over the top but I kinda love it.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing, though. The Ergodox EZ uses an ortholinear layout – all the keys are laid out in a grid, instead of offset from row to row, and adjusting to that tanked my typing speed for a few weeks. That, plus I’m left-hand dominant, and so my left hand had taken to reaching over to the right side of the keyboard to type ‘y’ characters. Now that the ‘y’ was on the right half of the keyboard, it was well and truly out of reach, and so I had to train myself for that, too.

After tuning the keyboard layout a bit and practicing for 3 weeks, I was back up to typing around 65 words per minute (WPM). My wrists held out for the rest of the year and everything was great, but sometimes I still noticed that my left hand was putting in a disproportionately large amount of work.

Then, last month, I read this tweet from a friend from the Recurse Center:

Indeed, in the words of the Colemak website:

Learning Colemak is a one-time investment that will allow you to enjoy faster and pain-free typing for the rest of your life.

I thought:

How long does it take to get back up to speed?

Go read that thread from Chloe, it’s great! She put more energy into tracking her speed over time, but my journey was similar:

A Collection of Small Observations

Should you Switch?

Honestly, I’m not sure. I would 100% recommend buying an ergonomic keyboard before recommending Colemak (it doesn’t need to be a crazy expensive one, and the Wirecutter has good recommendations). I’m convinced that Colemak is better than QWERTY, but I’m less convinced as to whether the switch is worthwhile. Maybe I’ll have stronger, more favourable opinions in a month or two, and I’ll update this post when I’m more sure, either way.

I am convinced, however, that it’s worth investing in the ergonomics of your setup, especially when you spend a large portion of your time getting your thoughts and ideas into a computer. There are other ways of doing that outside of typing, but while I’m able to use my hands / wrists, I may as well take good care of them.


  1. There’s 3000 English-language words that are typed purely using the left hand in a QWERTY layout, and only 300 that are typed using purely the right hand, according to this amazing article from 1997 which also states, “mechanical typewriters are disappearing [from the office] anyway”. ↩︎

  2. This was probably especially the case on typewriters, where the keyboard is effectively coupled to the output device, so you have to reengineer lots of components to make it work with a different keyboard layout. ↩︎

  3. Plus, you’ve accidentally initiated yourself into the Mechanical Keyboard community when you do that, and it’s a slippery, slippery slope. Though it’s been a year and I’ve only spent €58 on keyboard parts, so I guess I’m doing better than average. ↩︎

  4. This was the argument I made to my work at the time, too, when I asked my boss if I could expense it. They were on board, but I would have happily worn the cost otherwise. ↩︎

  5. In the last 5 years, I have needed this exactly once. ↩︎

  6. Update: It’s done! You can see it here: What is a digital photo, really? ↩︎