How to boost your Vim productivity

I. Space is your Leader

Leader is an awesome idea. It allows for executing actions by key sequences instead of key combinations. Because I’m using it, I rarely need to press Ctrl-something combo to make things work.

For long time I used , as my Leader key. Then, I realized I can map it to the most prominent key on my keyboard. Space.

let mapleader = "\<Space>"

This turned my Vim life upside down. Now I can press Leader with both of my thumbs, and my fingers are always on home row. Leader became so easy to use I began to notoriously use it in various keybindings.

II. Map your most frequent actions to Leader

I identified the actions that consumed most of my time while working in Vim. I mapped them using Leader key. Among others I decided to:

Type <Space>o to open a new file:

nnoremap <Leader>o :CtrlP<CR>

Type <Space>w to save file (a lot faster than :w<Enter>):

nnoremap <Leader>w :w<CR>

Copy & paste to system clipboard with <Space>p and <Space>y:

vmap <Leader>y "+y
vmap <Leader>d "+d
nmap <Leader>p "+p
nmap <Leader>P "+P
vmap <Leader>p "+p
vmap <Leader>P "+P

Enter visual line mode with <Space><Space>:

nmap <Leader><Leader> V

I encourage you to identify your most frequent actions, and map them.

III. Use region expanding

I use terryma/vim-expand-region with following mapping:

vmap v <Plug>(expand_region_expand)
vmap <C-v> <Plug>(expand_region_shrink)

It allows me to:

  • Hit v to select one character
  • Hit vagain to expand selection to word
  • Hit v again to expand to paragraph
  • Hit <C-v> go back to previous selection if I went too far

It seems like vvv is slower than vp but in practice I don’t need to think beforehand what to select, and what key combination to use.

This way v replaces viw, vaw, vi", va", vi(, va(, vi[, va[, vi{, va{, vip, vap, vit, vat, … you get the idea.

IV. Discover text search object

I never really enjoyed search-and-replace in Vim until I found the following snippet on Vim wiki:

vnoremap <silent> s //e<C-r>=&selection=='exclusive'?'+1':''<CR><CR>
    \:<C-u>call histdel('search',-1)<Bar>let @/=histget('search',-1)<CR>gv
omap s :normal vs<CR>

It allows me to use the following search-and-replace flow:

  • I search things usual way using /something
  • I hit cs, replace first match, and hit <Esc>
  • I hit n.n.n.n.n. reviewing and replacing all matches

P.S. An altenative is to use cgn from Vim 7.4.

V. Invent more awesome key mappings

I use the following shortcuts on a daily basis. They’ve saved me months.

Automatically jump to end of text you pasted:

I can paste multiple lines multiple times with simple ppppp.

vnoremap <silent> y y`]
vnoremap <silent> p p`]
nnoremap <silent> p p`]

Prevent replacing paste buffer on paste:

I can select some text and paste over it without worrying if my paste buffer was replaced by the just removed text (place it close to end of ~/vimrc).

" vp doesn't replace paste buffer
function! RestoreRegister()
  let @" = s:restore_reg
  return ''
function! s:Repl()
  let s:restore_reg = @"
  return "p@=RestoreRegister()\<cr>"
vmap <silent> <expr> p <sid>Repl()
  • Type 12<Enter> to go to line 12 (12G breaks my wrist)
  • Hit Enter to go to end of file.
  • Hit Backspace to go to beginning of file.
nnoremap <CR> G
nnoremap <BS> gg

Quickly select text you just pasted:

noremap gV `[v`]

Stop that stupid window from popping up:

map q: :q

VI. Make your unit testing experience seamless

I use vim-vroom and properly configured tmux for my tests.

Because vim-room uses <Leader>r for executing the test suite, and I use <Space> as my Leader, I press <Space>r, and tests run next to me.

And because tests are run in a tmux split, I can always see my code and run my tests while already developing the next piece of it.

VII. Use Ctrl-Z to switch back to Vim

I frequently need to execute random command in my shell. To achieve it I pause Vim by pressing Ctrl-z, type command and press fg<Enter> to switch back to Vim.

The fg part really hurt sme. I just wanted to hit Ctrl-z once again to get back to Vim. I could not find a solution, so I developed one on my own that works wonderfully with ZSH:

fancy-ctrl-z () {
  if [[ $#BUFFER -eq 0 ]]; then
    zle accept-line
    zle push-input
    zle clear-screen
zle -N fancy-ctrl-z
bindkey '^Z' fancy-ctrl-z

If you paste it in your ~/.zshrc you’ll be able to switch back and forth between your shell and Vim extremely fast. Try it for yourself.

VIII. Setup Tmux the Right Way

The Tmux + OS X + Vim combination is pretty hard because of:

  • poor system clipboard handling
  • difficult navigation between Vim and Tmux windows
  • difficult execution of tmux commands (C-b)
  • hard to use copy mode in tmux

I spent quite a long time tuning it correctly and here are the results:

Bind <C-Space> as your new tmux prefix.

Some people use <C-a> mapping, but I use this shortcut to go to the beginning of the line, so it’s out of scope. Plus <C-Space> plays much better with bindings I describe later.

unbind C-b
set -g prefix C-Space
bind Space send-prefix

Bind <Space> to enter copy mode.

Think about it. <C-Space><Space> takes you directly to copy mode in tmux.

bind Space copy-mode
bind C-Space copy-mode

Use y and reattach-to-user-namespace (on OSX)

For copying to the system clipboard, you’ll need to brew install reattach-to-user-namespace beforehand.

bind-key -t vi-copy y \
  copy-pipe "reattach-to-user-namespace pbcopy"

Use vim-tmux-navigator

So you can seamlessly switch between any combination of vim and tmux windows using <C-h>, <C-j>, <C-k>, <C-l>.

I also recommend using the following key bindings to split tmux windows with <C-Space>l and <C-Space>j which is admittedly faster than pressing <C-Space>% and <C-Space>|.

bind j split-window -v
bind C-j split-window -v

bind l split-window -h
bind C-l split-window -h

See my tmux.conf for more good stuff.

IX. Make Ctrl-P plugin a lot faster for Git projects

Put following in your .vimrc (it configures CtrlP to use git or silver searcher for autocompletion):

let g:ctrlp_use_caching = 0
if executable('ag')
    set grepprg=ag\ --nogroup\ --nocolor

    let g:ctrlp_user_command = 'ag %s -l --nocolor -g ""'
  let g:ctrlp_user_command = ['.git', 'cd %s && git ls-files . -co --exclude-standard', 'find %s -type f']
  let g:ctrlp_prompt_mappings = {
    \ 'AcceptSelection("e")': ['<space>', '<cr>', '<2-LeftMouse>'],
    \ }

I recommend using vim-scripts/gitignore.

X. Use package manager

neobundle.vim is awesome for managing my Vim plugins:

  • You don’t need to manually manage git submodules (pathogen)
  • It installs & updates plugins in parallel
  • It can build plugins like YouCompleteMe:
NeoBundle 'Valloric/YouCompleteMe', {
      \ 'build' : {
      \     'mac' : './',
      \    },
      \ }
  • Or fetch from custom paths like for pry plugin:
NeoBundle 'rking/pry-de', {'rtp': 'vim/'}

XI. Take advantage of Vim plugins

Here are a few general plugins I use to boost my productivity:

NeoBundle 'bling/vim-airline'
let g:airline_theme='powerlineish'
let g:airline_left_sep=''
let g:airline_right_sep=''
let g:airline_section_z=''

I am a Ruby developer, so I use some Ruby plugins:

XII. Speed-up setup of Vim on your server

I often need to use Vim on servers to configure them. Unfortunately Vim doesn’t come out of the box with sensible defaults.

One can use vim-sensible to achieve it but it was not enough for me. I developed vimrc plugin with really good defaults (especially for Ruby developers) that makes ~/.vimrc a single source of Vim configuration. It also includes a better default scheme, package manger, and multi-language syntax support.

That means I don’t need to mangle ~/.vim directory to configure Vim on server-side. The installation of a Vim environment on my server is as simple as:

git clone --recursive ~/.vim

I also developed my dotfiles so my development environment can be set up in seconds.


The key to a good Vim setup is continuous recognition of issues you encounter during your development and responding to them.

The response can be a quick mapping in the .vimrc, a google for solution, asking a question on IRC, you name it.

What boosts your productivity in Vim?

Want to learn more?

Hire me as your Vim consultant and write me an e-mail.