10 Survival Skills for Knowledge Worker

Friday 24th, May 2013 / 15:19Written by
10 Survival Skills for Knowledge Worker

If you earn money by using your brain then there are some basic skills you have to master. Those skills fall into 4 areas. Getting input, processing the information, generating output and leading others.

Computer skills

This seems like something so blindingly obvious that it shouldn’t be included in this list. Something akin to saying you have to know the alphabet. But this is the foundation of most activities of today’s knowledge worker. Learn all the keyboard shortcuts, master the browser and Google search. Use the right click on your mouse. Even if you are using an Apple device. It’s really painful to see people stumbling through their computer’s user interface, wasting valuable time on mundane operations.


The faster you read the more information you can process. Of course, there’s a limit how much you can absorb, but reading is the fastest way to take in information. When you ask people most of them say that they would prefer video to get information. But when just have to get most information into your system in the shortest time possible nothing beats reading. Learn to read faster.


Listening involves truly concentrating on what your conversation partner has to say. Make a commitment to focus on the other person and fight the urge to think about what you are going to say next. Try to understand the content, feel the emotion and see the point of view of the other side. Read more about how to truly listen to someone.


Writing is the main form of output for some time to come. Writing on a basic level means that you know how to construct sentences and have general grasp of grammar. I still struggle with that. My English is self thought and I have never seen a single grammar rule for this language.

If you read a lot you will get better at writing, too. Reading great authors will influence your use of the language and make you a better writer.

If you can handle that you have to move on to writing material that makes sense and influences the reader. Think about the flow of the material you are writing. Is the structure making sense and lead the reader from one concept to another while making them see your point? Want to be a better writer? Write a lot. Every day.


Typing is a foundational skill for writing. Learn to touch type. Try to get your typing speed to at least 300 characters per minute. You will not be typing at that speed all the time but this is a good milestone to measure yourself against. When you are typing you also have to think about what you are writing and that brings the average down even if the bursts of writing exceed 300CPM. Typing is a skill that will fade away. At some point of the next 10 years or so voice recognition software will get good enough that you can use it to dictate and edit the content you are creating. Use this free software to learn touch typing.

Public speaking

Speaking in front of others is the basic skill of influencing people. If it’s a sales meeting with only a few people or a conference keynote with audience in the hundreds, speaking clearly and confidently is the key to master interpersonal communications. This is one of the most potent tools in your arsenal when you are leading people or want others to see your way. Fear of public speaking is up there with the fear of death. What to do to conquer that fear? Just do it. Every time an opportunity presents itself stand up and volunteer to speak. Seek out opportunities to speak in front of an audience. There is no other way.

Presentation skills

Presentation skills are to speaking a little as typing is to writing. This is the technique, the slide design, and other technical aspects of the presenting. What people see as supporting elements of your message may often influence them more than the words. Use big fonts, emotional images, lots of color, make it really stand out. You can check out my 30-day challenges presentation to get an idea how to create slides (keep in mind thath there’s too much text on the slides as they were specially made for reading not presenting). Here’s what Guy Kawasaki has to say about presenting:


Standing up and taking lead is really easy. When people see anything that slightly resembles leadership and direction they will usually follow. Just like public speaking leadership needs practice. Use every opportunity to take lead.

Another part of leadership is standing up for your team. If someone screws up and you have to take the heat, you will. You can later discuss what happened with the person responsible in private. You will get the reputation that you can be depended on and deal with the problem instead of looking for scapegoats.

The hard part is thinking and making decisions. As long as you continue to make sense people will follow. Whenever possible people try to avoid thinking and they are really happy if someone is going to do all the thinking for them. Step up. Act like you know what you are doing. Ta daa, leadership.

Time management

All your efforts are going to fall apart if you can’t meet the deadlines. If you don’t get things done when expected you will soon find that no one will trust you with anything. Always be on time. In the rare cases when your planning doesn’t work out communicate that early and frequently. Start finding solutions to the problems before they happen. Always plan buffers for your activities and add them at the end of the project not the each sub-task. This way you will gain the buffer time if sub-task is completed on time and will be able to use that on task that have serious problems.

Problem solving

Take these skills and solve interesting problems. Concentrate on reality and circumstances.Stay calm and driven in all situations. Build yourself a reputation of a person who gets things done and delivers what promised. And then… deliver more. This way you will ensure that you will never run out of interesting work and things to do.

In addition to the skills above be curious, ask all the questions, always try to find out more and expand your horizon. Caring about what you do helps you stay motivated. Develop a bias for action. Break the rules and disregard tradition as you can’t often solve new problems with old tools.

Be persistent keep going long after others would have given up. Finish what you started or as Seth Godin says real artists ship.


Image: Lighting Department stenographers, 1935 by Seattle Municipal Archives

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