Keyboard Shortcuts Are Your Friend

I have a piece of advice for beginning animators.  Heck, this really applies to anyone who uses any kind of computer program to do their work:

Customize the keyboard shortcuts.

I bring this up because when I was starting out I was hesitant to customize the keyboard shortcuts to my liking.  My theory was that someone made them the way they were for a reason, and I shouldn’t go messing with them before I even learn how to use them.  The theory doesn’t really end up panning out, though.

There are a couple things about keyboard shortcuts:

  1. They’re massively useful and they’ll make you faster at whatever it is you do.
  2. They’re useless if you don’t use them.

The first, I think, is obvious to anyone who’s ever memorized a keyboard shortcut in a program they use a lot.  It’s just faster to hit two or three keys on the keyboard than it is to find the thing you want to do in the menu system.  When you have the shortcut memorized and you consistently use it there comes a point when you don’t even have to think about it.  It’s like muscle memory – your fingers will do it automatically.

The second point is perhaps also self-evident.  If you don’t learn the keyboard shortcuts and/or you stubbornly refuse to use them, you’ll never build up that proficient speed that a pro needs when plying their trade.

There’s actually a third thing as well, which is that people are stubborn.  Sometimes it’s hard to motivate yourself to learn existing shortcuts.  I’ve met many people who, when I show them a different, more efficient way of doing a thing (such as using a keyboard shortcut), will shrug and say “eh, I like doing it my way.”  And that’s fine, but you just have to understand the consequences of that decision.

The solution?  As I said at the beginning, customize your keyboard shortcuts.  If you find yourself doing something often, assign a shortcut to it.  Choose something that’s logical to you.  Is that key combo already taken by some other function?  As long as it isn’t one you already use, who cares?  Steal it away.  Use it toward your own nefarious ends.  As I mentioned before, a shortcut is no good to you if you don’t use it.

The only downside to this strategy is that it can kind of mess up your environment for anyone who’s used to the default settings.  If you’re working on your own computer, though, it isn’t really a problem because other people will rarely (if ever) use your computer. Even if they do, it’s probably possible (as it is in Flash) to set up multiple sets of shortcuts so you can temporarily switch back to the defaults.

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