Adventures in left-handed mousing


— 9:15 AM on November 1, 2013

I'm right-handed. I use my dominant hand for everything from scrawling my name to hurling tennis balls for my dog to brushing my teeth. My right hand also spends an awful lot of time clutching my mouse. That wasn't a problem years ago, when I had the stamina to put in a full day working for TR and then spend hours in the evenings dealing out headshots in first-person shooters. But perhaps due to those marathon sessions, I've developed a bit of an RSI issue in my right shoulder. Recently, it's become difficult to make it through the day without some mousing-related discomfort, especially if I spend a lot of time in Excel. The twinge that manifests in my shoulder toward the end of my shift is painful enough that my freshly downloaded copy of Battlefield 4 remains unplayed.

Working less isn't really an option; there are news posts to write, articles to edit, and reviews to crank out. I could revamp my workstation, but my better half is an occupational therapist, and she tells me that my current setup is pretty close to ideal. The desk could be a bit lower—or the chair a little higher—but that's about it. Even if I got the height just right, I'd still be reaching to the right of the keyboard to use the mouse. That's the problem, she says.

My solution, at least for now, is switching hands.

Having done a fair amount of left-handed mousing after breaking my right ring finger last year, I'm no stranger to the off-hand approach. That initial foray involved moving my usual mouse, a Cyborg Gaming Rat 7, over the left side of the keyboard. The Rat worked in a pinch, but its asymmetrical body is a poor fit for lefties. The shape is all wrong, and the thumb buttons are on the opposite side. Pressing side buttons with one's pinkie is more than a little awkward.

My lefty stint with the Rat 7 taught me another important lesson: I'm pretty lousy with my non-dominant hand. I can move the pointer more or less where I want it within a reasonable amount of time, but forget about hitting a precise target with any semblance of speed. This dynamic was particularly frustrating when transitioning between simple desktop tasks and more detailed work like photo editing, which often requires pixel-perfect positioning. The Rat 7's on-the-fly sensitivity switch proved to be invaluable, allowing me to dial down the DPI to compensate for my lack of coordination.

With those memories fresh in my mind, I started looking for a suitable mouse—something with a thumb button on the right side and an easily accessible sensitivity switch. The selection of left-handed and ambidextrous mice is pretty limited, and most are uber-cheap models that lack premium features like DPI control. In the end, I settled on the SteelSeries Sensei Raw, which has an ambidextrous shell, buttons on both sides, and a high/low DPI switch just behind the scroll wheel. The Sensei is pretty affordable, too. Newegg sells it for only $48, which is less than the ambidextrous Razer alternative.

After a few days of using the Sensei, I'm already in love with its soft-touch exterior. The body is a little small for my tastes, but it's a big improvement over the Rat, at least for my left hand. The wheel and buttons feel solid, the braided cord is incredibly long, and the feet slide smoothly on my desk. Admittedly, the pulsing internal LEDs are a bit much for me, but there are options to tone down the brightness, swap the pulsing for a steady glow, and turn off the lights completely.

Configuring the Sensei for left-handed use is easy. The drivers switch the left and right buttons automatically, but the thumb buttons must be bound manually. That's easy enough, and thanks to built-in macro functionality, side-scrolling and other combos can be tied to any button. SteelSeries software also includes sliders for each of the dual sensitivity modes. The DPI can be set between 90 and 5760 DPI, which is plenty of range for my needs. There's more than enough granularity, too.

After a simple initial setup, integrating the Sensei into my daily routine has proven to be somewhat difficult. The problem isn't mousing with my left hand. Instead, it's simultaneously executing key combinations with my right.

Despite its dominant nature, my right hand is comically inept at hitting vital keyboard shortcuts for copy, cut, paste, and undo. Not only are those shortcuts on the wrong side of the keyboard, but they also feel backward when executed with my right hand. The same functions can be performed with mouse input alone, of course. I can also lift my hand off the mouse and punch Ctrl+whatever with my left hand. But both of those solutions are slower and less efficient than a tag-team approach, especially with my mousing hand already at a disadvantage.

On the flip side, I'm used to moving my right hand back and forth between the numpad and mouse when entering data into Excel. Using the numpad with my left had never felt natural, probably because it involved twisting my body or relocating the keyboard. With the mouse in my left hand, my right rests comfortably on the numpad, avoiding the side-to-side movement that aggravates my shoulder.

Speaking of which, mousing with my left hand has definitely dampened the RSI symptoms on my right side. I'm still using my right-handed mouse from time to time, usually when something needs to be done as quickly as possible, but balancing the load definitely helps. Just days after adding a lefty to my arsenal, my right shoulder already feels fresher.

Mousing with my left hand feels less awkward, too. My speed and accuracy seem to be improving with each day, and I'm finding that I have to concentrate less to get the cursor just where I want it. Movement that was once thoughtful is becoming more automatic. You won't find me gaming with a lefty stance anytime soon, though. I may become sufficiently productive on the desktop, but I doubt I'll ever be as deadly with my non-dominant hand.

The thing is, I don't have to be as good with my left hand. The more time I spend dual-wielding, the more I like the approach. I'm getting used to shifting high-priority tasks to my right hand and more casual mousing to my left. So far, I've been able to lighten the load on my shoulder without completely compromising my productivity. With some custom keyboard macros, I might even be able to get around my shortcut woes. Even if I don't, my days of one-handed mousing are definitely over.

   
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