So you want to be fast? Concert pianists don't use a mouse to pick one note at a time from a menu; their hands flow across the keys. Don't think of After Effects as a tool; think of it as a creative extension.
Mastering the interface will keep you from stumbling in the dark, hitting the wrong keys, and making a lot of noise. You have to know what all your tools do, where to find them, and how to access their power instantly.
Over time, you'll gain confidence with all the controls. You want to be able to make the interface "disappear," which will allow you to reach "inside" the computer and create. Great designers know that the more brainpower they can put toward their graphics (not graphic system), the better the results.
Although learning an interface may not be as "fun" or "sexy" as a good effect, it's infinitely more important. Don't skimp on learning AE's interface-after all, you paid good money for a Baby Grand, so learn to play it well.