Do Vim Plugins Improve Productivity?

View on the long journey

Photo by Aneta Ivanova


I’m usually open to experimentation when it comes to productivity in my development work.  I recently stumbled upon an article advocating Vim bindings for Visual Studios and decided to take the plunge and give it a try for at least a week. I had a little Vim experience so I figured I wasn’t flying completely blind. The idea of being able to work while never moving my fingers away from the home keys was quite appealing to me. I figured that alone would be a workflow improvement, not to mention the other wealth of features.

Sensitive users may want to skip this next statement. I know some of you are thinking, isn’t Vim only for people who still call themselves AMIGA programmers. Why should we be moving backwards. My honest answer, I don’t know. But I have spoken with others and read quite a few post which have given me a good enough argument to at least find out for myself.

Deciding to go full immersion, I rebound all of my IDE’s and dug in. Boy, did I have a rude awaking as to how polished my Vim skills were.

First There was Despair

My first few days were polar opposite of productive. I found myself grasping for my cheat sheet of Vim modes and commands for what felt like every 30 seconds. Struggling and having to look up a command you literally just looked up is a good test of humility. More than a few times I had to turn off plugins to get important work done quickly. Cheating, I know.

But as I persisted I improved. Getting better at basic things leads to exploring the more difficult things. Knowing the light at the end of the tunnel was I would be gaining a useful skill regardless was helpful.

Its also worth briefly discussing why I decided to just use plugins for other IDE’s rather than Vim itself. The truth is I have Visual Studios and Sublime tuned in for the type of projects I’m currently working on. Does that mean I shouldn’t explore using it in my workflows, sure I should and will, but I didn’t want to bite of more than I could chew. This does come at the cost of losing some of the, some would argue, best features.

What was Gained?

So I know I’m going to leave out someone’s favorite feature here. But these just some of the features I found to be useful early on and is in no way meant to represent the full breadth of features these plugins have.

  • The base key bindings are all very close to the home keys. No reaching for the mouse required if you set things up right. Once the keybindings become second nature text just seems to flow like a river. No need to look down to jump to and end of a document or move the cursor with arrow keys.
  • Macros, they are a huge advantage when doing very repetitive tasks. The fact you can record a set of keystrokes quickly and then replay them is handy when working in HTML.
  • Similar to macros but rather than recording keystrokes you can command and execute a pattern of keystrokes such as jump 4 words or down 10 lines. What neat is even those can be stacked.

Final Thoughts

So the big question, was it worth the struggle? Yes, I think so. It was far from easy but I did in fact find that it improved my input speed. While far from being a matrix like neural plug, its kind of weird how it begins to feel like you can almost think it and it happens. Things require such little movement its almost hard to explain. But as its joking called, the Vim learning cliff is not easy to scale and may be worth easing in a bit more slowly than I did. I am still far from smooth and still find myself regularly looking things up. There is so much nuance available it could take years to master, which is kind of exciting for me. But if you interested in following suit here is a list of plugins. You can find one for pretty much any editor.

Other Useful Resources and Links

  • Sublime Six – Surprisingly broad support for Vim, worth checking out if you use sublime.
  • VsVim – Adds support to Visual Studios. A bit limited on features compared to others but has all the important ones.
  • vim-adventures – Learn Vim as a game if that is your learning style, it is paid but you do get the first three levels for free.
  • Cheat sheet – Don’t be surprised if you clutch it like a life preserver at first of course this is the one I used but there are plenty of other good ones that my be better formatted for you.
  • Learning Goodies – A wonderful list of helpful links to help you on your learning adventure.

It you decided to take the journey be sure to let me know @zen_code.

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