Some time ago, I reviewed Dragon NaturallySpeaking on this blog. Though I liked it, I didn’t use it regularly until I was pretty much forced to do so by an increase in typing discomfort – that and an ever-growing volume of work email, which ironically has a lot to do with maintaining this ergonomic site. Something had to give, and preferably something other than my hand. So I dusted off Dragon, and with some help from tech support (and a nice complimentary upgrade to Version 13) began to really see what it was good for. In this post – drafted, appropriately, with Dragon – I want to share a few tips I’ve picked up so far.
Think transcription, not control
I covered this in my original review, but it bears repeating. If with Dragon you are expecting to sit back and order your computer about as if it were a servant, you will probably be disappointed. Using Dragon for complete computer control is possible, but beyond the capabilities (and needs) of the average user. Dragon is superb for writing – emails, novels, notes, instant messages, you name it. But for tasks on the Photoshop side of things, you’re way better off running the show with your hands than your tongue.
Think of Dragon as a way to reduce your keystrokes and mouse clicks, saving them for things that actually require tactile control. If you approach it this way, voice technology is manageable to implement. Writing even one email with the software saves you that much typing. But if you try to control your whole computer with Dragon right away, you will quickly get frustrated and probably never end up using it at all.
Start using Dragon right now
As with any software, there’s some effort involved in installing and training Dragon. I procrastinated on starting to use it for a long time, largely for that reason. Don’t do that. Dragon will enhance your productivity so much that the time spent on acquiring, installing, and learning the basics of the software will all come back to you almost immediately. So if you plan to try Dragon, get a copy already and start using it as fast as you can get the box open. (Well, you can finish this article first.)
Use a hotkey, or end up not using Dragon at all
Laziness is endemic to the human race – at least, to the part of the human race from which I descended. A little difficulty goes a long way toward stopping any worthwhile activity. It’s not that we consciously think, “It’s too much trouble to start the software; I’ll just keep beating on my keyboard until my hands ache into uselessness.” No, the lazy mentality is much more insidious than that. Without even consciously considering it, we shy away from anything that is any amount of trouble and use our old inefficient tools instead.
Since changing human nature is beyond the scope of this post, I recommend that you memorize (if necessary write down) the hotkey for Dragon as soon as you install it. Then, every time you want to use it, you will not have that unconscious obstacle of needing to find its icon and activate it. The default hotkey is the plus sign on the numeric keypad, but it can be customized using these instructions. (Convenient link, huh? Take that, laziness!)
Since my keyboard lacks an easily-accessible numeric plus, I use Ctrl-Shift-Spacebar – but you can assign anything you find convenient. Just make sure that it really is convenient, and that you can remember it.
Get a wireless headset so you can walk around
With ever-increasing fervor, the ergonomic talking heads scold us for sitting while working. Armed with charts and graphs and scary comparisons to smoking, they assure us that we will soon shrivel up and die if we don’t start standing – better yet walking on a treadmill – while using our computers.
The reality is that most people either can’t afford a treadmill desk, don’t have room for a standing desk, or just don’t want to bother with either one. These people will be glad to hear of a way you can stand and walk while working using a much less expensive tool: a wireless headset like my Jabra Pro 930. With this headset, I can type from any position I find comfortable. For example, as I write this article I am pacing back and forth in my room, burning calories and reducing the number of minutes and hours I log in a sedentary posture. No standing desk or treadmill needed, thank you. (Though it would be nice, if you are a vendor of such furniture and would like to send me a free one for evaluation.)
If you don’t use Dragon for anything else, at least use it for instant messaging
Instant messaging is an infamous time-snatcher, so I entertain it only when absolutely necessary. But when I do need to use IM – say, for the chat feature on All Things Ergo – I see no reason to let it steal my valuable physical keystrokes as well. Instant messaging is perhaps the best application I have found for Dragon’s capabilities. Using the software, you can crank out a whole lot of words near the speed of a normal conversation. You’ll save more of that wear and tear on your hands, and the person on the other end will think you are an awesomely fast typist!
Use that vocabulary trainer so you don’t end up talking around esoteric words or names
I have a business contact with the last name of “Eickelmann.” When writing notes and emails, I refer to this guy quite frequently. Now, Dragon knows an awful lot of words right out of the box, but it cannot possibly be expected to know all surnames (or, in this age of random-syllable christening, all first names either).
There are basically three ways to deal with this problem. 1) Type the name or unusual word manually each time it comes up; 2) avoid using it as much as possible; or 3) add it to Dragon’s vocabulary. You might be surprised at how tempting the first two options are when you are in the middle of working and don’t want to “be bothered” with building the vocabulary of your software.
Resist the temptation. Adding a word or phrase in Dragon is ridiculously simple. You simply say “add word” (an example of a handy Dragon voice command) then type the word and let the software listen to you pronounce it once. On a fast computer, this takes maybe 10 or 15 seconds.
Oh, and be sure to click Profile -> Save Profile occasionally. Otherwise all that valuable training will go caput the next time your computer kills off Dragon while restarting.
Leverage the speed, but don’t get careless
No matter how fast you type, Dragon can type faster yet – faster, indeed, than most people can think of what they want to say. The speed and comfort of typing on Dragon is almost intoxicating. It’s like having an undocumented superpower to create five emails in the time it would normally take you to hammer out one. This is great, and should be celebrated. However, you also need to be careful of the tendency to let spelling and even meaning slip. Dragon is quite capable of mishearing a word every couple of sentences. I will leave it to your imagination as to what effect such a typo, uncaught, could have on a business or personal relationship.
The moral? No matter how eager you are to use your power of speed typing with Dragon, force yourself to stop and reread everything you have typed with the software. Yes, it is nice that Dragon will spell difficult words for you. But don’t let that become a substitute for vigilance and thinking.
Ready to get started?
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I hope the information here helps your working life make ergonomic sense. Until next time!