Creating a Personal Code: Shorthand for Programmers and Writers

By on January 12, 2015

super fast typing‘Shorthand’ is essentially a type of code that you use in order to sketch down notes. When used correctly this can be used by interviewers and those taking minutes in meetings to jot down what people are saying in real time as they talk. Get good enough at this and you can eventually write as fast as people can talk. The most popular forms are: Pitman, Gregg, Teeline and Keyscript Shorthand.

There even exist special ‘stenography’ machines that are used for writing subtitles or taking down dictations in real-time. This is pretty impressive when you consider that the average works per minute when speaking are around 350-500 (for professionals) as compared with about 50-80 for professional typists. On a very good day I can manage 50-60 which is pretty handy seeing as I’m paid by the word. I’m in severe need of a cool mechanical keyboard.

I kick ass at ‘The Typing of the Dead’.

Shorthand for Productivity

But shorthand and personal code also has another use that I find more interesting – which is to enable you to write yourself notes, reminders and annotations which you can then use to improve your workflow. This is something I will use regularly as a writer and as a programmer and which I highly recommend for anyone looking to increase their workflow.

And shorthand is even more powerful now that we have useful functions like ‘find and replace’. Let’s look at some examples of how developing your own personal code can help you to increase your output considerably…

Increasing WPM

Even if you’re not a professional stenographer, you can still increase your words-per-minute with a little shorthand. For instance, if you’re writing an article about a long and hard to spell work like ‘cryptozoology’ then simply using a symbol like ‘£’ each time that word comes up will then allow you to ‘search and replace’ at the end to save yourself time. For those search engine optimizers out there you can also use this for quickly inserting key phrases.

Likewise you can also come up with your own abbreviations while typing. For instance, you might just use & instead of ‘and’ or you might use ‘it’s’ instead of ‘it is’ and then do a search and replace at the end. In fact you can go as far as to write in text-speak if you’re really ambitious but in order to be effective you need to make sure that your short hand is consistent (you can’t write bcause one time and bcos the next time) and you need to avoid using phrases that will force you to stop and think while typing.


For writers and coders alike, sometimes it’s handy to leave yourself a note when you want to come back to something.

For instance, when I’m writing and I need to check facts but don’t want to interrupt my writing ‘flow’, I will use the word CABLANGA. Why CABLANGA? I literally don’t know but that’s what I’ve done for the last 10 years and it’s a bit late to change anything now.

The important thing here is consistency. At the end of writing any article I know to do a quick ‘ctrl + F’ to search for ‘CABLANGA’ and that way I can make sure I haven’t left any half-finished paragraphs. This is also just useful for moving randomly around within an article instead of writing it linearly in order.

When I used to write for Writers’ News, I would occasionally forget to clean up all my ‘CABLANGAs’ much to my editor’s amusement/chagrin. The good thing about CALANGA is that it jumps off the page nicely when you’re canning over the content.


In coding I use a very similar strategy when I’m working on two separate subs at once. Say I want to update one sub but need to refer back to another one in order to remember the variable I want, or say I want to copy code from somewhere else and then come back to the point I’m at, I will then write the comment ‘Will Smith’. This allows me to then go and find the code/information I need and then jump straight back to the point in the code I was at previously.

Again, I don’t know where this particular phrase came from, I mean Will Smith is okay I guess but I have no particular affiliation with the guy…


In programming it’s very important to have a good system for your variables that allows you to know what the variable would be called without having to look for it. If you’re an independent developer like me, then you can use a system for creating variables across all your separate programs.

For instance, I will name each element of my apps. So if I have a menu it will be called something like ‘SettingsMenu’ which I abbreviate to SM. From there, I will then use letters to denote the ‘feature’ that the variable represents such as ‘C’ for color or ‘S’ for Size.

This then means that I automatically know that the variable for the color of my settings menu is SMC. As long as I can remember the ‘SM’ for the settings menu, I’m golden. This then saves me time searching for the name of the variable whenever I need to refer to it and it allows me to type more quickly.

‘But what about readability’? Well, just use that old search and replace function at the end to change all your shorthand back into full phrases. Boom.

The same goes for subs which should also be quick to type and easy to reference without searching around your code. The awesome thing about building a massive program is that eventually it becomes almost like a language of its own.

Quick Reference

As a writer who writes up to 10,000 words a day, I will often refer back to my own huge back catalog of notes in order to find things I’ve researched before to jog my memory or to check facts/grab quotes.

Things like quotes I will often keep in text documents while I write and I can then dip into these as I write future articles. For quick reference, after sending an article to a client or uploading it, I can write a notation like ‘FA CARS’ (facts about cars) or ‘SA SOCIAL MEDIA’ (stats about social media). Then, I can use the search function in windows to look for ‘stats about social media’ whenever I want to bring those up quickly. I know that other people like Tim Ferriss and Maria Popova (of Brain Pickings) use a similar system to annotate texts they read for referring to in future.

Other Tools

You can combine your own shorthand with other tools too. For instance shorthand can work in conjunction with things like mind-maps or mood boards, or even in conjunction with apps like IFTTT and Pinterest.

Perhaps the best tool to combine your writing with would be another language. If you’re writing notes just for yourself, then you could switch between languages to use the one that would be most efficient or to find different ways of looking at an idea or phrasing it. Did you know that Asian children can perform mental arithmetic better and remember numbers better because the sounds of their letters are shorter? Thus they can fit more digits into the roughly two second human memory span and ‘talk themselves through’ the maths more quickly.

Secret Code

Finally, you might occasionally want to write things that you don’t want nosey parkers to be able to read. This is why everyone should have their own secret code.

Conclusion: Shorthand is Cool

As a wordsmith and programmer I have a love of any hand written notes or typed code that looks complicated and detailed and conveys lots of information in a cool way. I’m obsessed with ergodic text for instance and love hand-written notebooks of ideas.

ergodic text

I love the idea therefore that someone could find my notes and have no idea what they say until they’ve cracked the code.

Create your own shorthand and code for your scrawls and ideas and not only will you work faster and more productively, you’ll also have this awesome secret language and set of mental tools that work better with the specific way that you think. And use these tools regularly enough and eventually you might find that they become second nature – that they become ‘internalised’. Write in short hand and eventually you may be able to think in shorthand… thus making your thinking actually quicker and more efficient.

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

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