10 Survival Skills for Knowledge Worker

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Do you want to get better results faster?

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.

When you improve your skills, then you will get the same results in less time than your competitors. Then you have the luxury to choose what you do with that time. You can get even better or spend that time with your friends and family.

For example, if you improve your writing speed, then you can cut hours form your work day.

Learn to Be Really Fast on the Computer

typingTech skills seem 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.

Next step: Learn and use all the shortcuts. Shortcuts like Control+C, Control+V will save you a huge amount of time. Work on your computer, not on the phone. The computer is a much faster tool.

Pro tip: Connect your phone screen to your computer so you can use a mouse and keyboard when working with your phone on Instagram or other mobile apps.

Reading More and Faster

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 the most information into your system in the shortest time possible nothing beats reading. Learn to read faster.

Next step: learn speed reading. You may not need to read 1000 words per minute! Even if you improve your reading speed by 50%, you will cut another hour or so from your daily activities.

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Take a look at how to improve your willpower

Listening Without Criticizing

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. One tool that helps you to shut off the chatter in your head is meditation.

Next step: Meditate daily. Start from 5 minutes and add a minute every week. By the end of the third month, you will meditate 10 to 20 minutes every day. Meditation will make you calmer and more attentive and helps to listen to what others have to say. The speakers will notice that and consider you more likable.

Writing Every Day

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 a 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.

Survival Skills for Knowledge Worker

Typing Speed

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 in 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.

Speed is the reason I suggest that you do most of your writing on a physical keyboard. On-screen keyboards are just so much slower.

Next step: Even if you travel a lot and use your phone or tablet that doesn’t have a keyboard, buy a portable keyboard. Until then use your computer as much as possible.

portable keyboard

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 the 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.

Public Speaking is the Key

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 colors, 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 that 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:

The frightening part in public speaking is the fear of rejection. People are afraid that nobody will like them. Of course! Even if you are the best performer in the world, there will be some who don’t like you!

Put yourself out there. Raise your hand every time the opportunity presents itself.

Pro tip: If your work involves slide presentations. Learn presentation design and make your slides yourself. Creating your slide deck will take at least 10 times the time you present your material. All this time is learning time. You will know your material inside out. Presentation checklist:

  • Large images
  • Large type
  • No tables
  • No pasting your Word doc onto Powerpoint and calling it a presentation
  • Put your slides on the screen and go to the back of the room. What do you see? Fix that!

Leadership

Whatever the challenge. Stand up or raise your hand. Volunteer for everything. 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 the 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. When your group is making decisions take the lead, come up with ideas, and go first. 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.

When you put yourself in these situations, you will get more visibility. Visibility will lead to more responsibility. This may seem like a risky thing, but it’s the only way to grow as a leader.

Action: Step up. Act like you know what you are doing. Ta daa, leadership.

Improve Your Life #29: Fake It Till You Make It

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 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 a task that has serious problems.

When you are working on larger projects, always keep in mind that the task will take twice as much time as you originally planned. The reason is usually friction, misunderstandings, and red tape.

However, also keep in mind that deadlines are arbitrary. When you miss a deadline, the sky will not fall. Trust and expectations get damaged, but this is something you can work out beforehand. Only on very rare occasions are there any real problems related to missing deadlines.

Give yourself flexible deadlines to deliver the best result you can.

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.

Next step in building you problem-solving skills is to train yourself to come up with ideas. Take 15 minutes at the beginning of the day and write down 10 ideas. The ideas can be about anything:

  • a problem you need to solve at work
  • list of gift ideas for your partner
  • how to spend time on the weekend

Whatever you like! The ideas don’t even have to be good. The exercise will build your idea muscle, and in a few months, you will be able to come up with tons of ideas on cue.

The idea-exercise also has an added benefit of building your willpower reserves. 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
Cover image by kaboompics

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2 Responses

  1. Jüri says:

    Act like you know what you are doing. Ta daa, leadership. :D Kergelt itsitasin, aga tõsi ta on.

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