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10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything

10 Skills You Need to Succeed at Almost Anything

What does it take to succeed? A positive attitude? Well, sure, but that’s hardly enough. The Law of Attraction? The Secret? These ideas might act as spurs to action, but without the action itself, they don’t do much.

Success, however it’s defined, takes action, and taking good and appropriate action takes skills. Some of these skills (not enough, though) are taught in school (not well enough, either), others are taught on the job, and still others we learn from general life experience.

Below is a list of general skills that will help anyone get ahead in practically any field, from running a company to running a gardening club. Of course, there are skills specific to each field as well – but my concern here is with the skills that translate across disciplines, the ones that can be learned by anyone in any position.

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1. Public Speaking

The ability to speak clearly, persuasively, and forcefully in front of an audience – whether an audience of 1 or of thousands – is one of the most important skills anyone can develop. People who are effective speakers come across as more comfortable with themselves, more confident, and more attractive to be around. Being able to speak effectively means you can sell anything – products, of course, but also ideas, ideologies, worldviews. And yourself – which means more opportunities for career advancement, bigger clients, or business funding.

2. Writing

Writing well offers many of the same advantages that speaking well offers: good writers are better at selling products, ideas, and themselves than poor writers. Learning to write well involves not just mastery of grammar but the development of the ability to organize one’s thoughts into a coherent form and target it to an audience in the most effective way possible. Given the huge amount of text generated by almost every transaction – from court briefs and legislation running into the thousands of pages to those foot-long receipts you get when you buy gum these days – a person who is a master of the written word can expect doors to open in just about every field.

3. Self-Management

If success depends on effective action, effective action depends on the ability to focus your attention where it is needed most, when it is needed most. Strong organizational skills, effective productivity habits, and a strong sense of discipline are needed to keep yourself on track.

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4. Networking

Networking is not only for finding jobs or clients. In an economy dominated by ideas and innovation, networking creates the channel through which ideas flow and in which new ideas are created. A large network, carefully cultivated, ties one into not just a body of people but a body of relationships, and those relationships are more than just the sum of their parts. The interactions those relationships make possible give rise to innovation and creativity – and provide the support to nurture new ideas until they can be realized.

5. Critical Thinking

We are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of times more information on a daily basis than our great-grandparents were. Being able to evaluate that information, sort the potentially valuable from the trivial, analyze its relevance and meaning, and relate it to other information is crucial – and woefully under-taught. Good critical thinking skills immediately distinguish you from the mass of people these days.

6. Decision-Making

The bridge that leads from analysis to action is effective decision-making – knowing what to do based on the information available. While not being critical can be dangerous, so too can over-analyzing, or waiting for more information before making a decision. Being able to take in the scene and respond quickly and effectively is what separates the doers from the wannabes.

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7. Math

You don’t have to be able to integrate polynomials to be successful. However, the ability to quickly work with figures in your head, to make rough but fairly accurate estimates, and to understand things like compound interest and basic statistics gives you a big lead on most people. All of these skills will help you to analyze data more effectively – and more quickly – and to make better decisions based on it.

8. Research

Nobody can be expected to know everything, or even a tiny fraction of everything. Even within your field, chances are there’s far more that you don’t know than you do know. You don’t have to know everything – but you should be able to quickly and painlessly find out what you need to know. That means learning to use the Internet effectively, learning to use a library, learning to read productively, and learning how to leverage your network of contacts – and what kinds of research are going to work best in any given situation.

9. Relaxation

Stress will not only kill you, it leads to poor decision-making, poor thinking, and poor socialization. So be failing to relax, you knock out at least three of the skills in this list – and really more. Plus, working yourself to death in order to keep up, and not having any time to enjoy the fruits of your work, isn’t really “success”. It’s obsession. Being able to face even the most pressing crises with your wits about you and in the most productive way is possibly the most important thing on this list.

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10. Basic Accounting

It is a simple fact in our society that money is necessary. Even the simple pleasures in life, like hugging your child, ultimately need money – or you’re not going to survive to hug for very long. Knowing how to track and record your expenses and income is important just to survive, let alone to thrive. But more than that, the principles of accounting apply more widely to things like tracking the time you spend on a project or determining whether the value of an action outweighs the costs in money, time, and effort. It’s a shame that basic accounting isn’t a required part of the core K-12 curriculum.

What Else?

Surely there are more important skills I’m not thinking of (which is probably why I’m not telling Bill Gates what to do!) – what are they? What have I missed? What lessons have you learned that were key to your successes – and what have you ignored to your peril?

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Last Updated on August 16, 2018

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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The power of habit

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to make a reminder works for you

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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