Everyone likes shiny objects. That’s human nature. We pay attention to the most obvious things we see, and often assume they are the primary reason for what happens.
In the corporate world, this manifests as the standard advice. What do you need to get ahead? “Communication.” “Executive Presence.” “Delivery.”
Those are indeed valuable skills, but they are also the most obvious. What about the skills you can’t see? What gets ignored because it’s not shiny? These skills exist and often are more important than high-visibility skills.
Here are my top 5 “invisible” skills that can give you an out-sized return:
1. Learn to type fast (>60 words per minute)
Why it’s important: If you are a modern professional, you will spend a large part of your day on a computer typing. From a pure time management perspective, typing twice as fast means either doubling your output for the same amount of time spent, or freeing up half your time for other activities.
How to do it: There are plenty of online typing tutors and they all work the same way. Spend a few minutes a day practicing until you get above 60 words per minute.
2. Learn to read for purpose
Why it’s important: There is a deluge of information that you may need to process regularly, whether it’s company information, industry trends, or self-development. “Reading” from first word to last word as we were taught in school not only takes a long time, but often leads to lower comprehension. There is a better way.
How to do it: First, ask yourself why you are reading a specific piece of information. If you can’t come up with a good reason, skip it. Assuming you have a good reason, read it in passes. Here’s how it works with a (non-fiction) book:
- Pass 1: Read the front and back covers and the table of contents.
- Pass 2: Read the first few pages of the introduction and a few pages of the conclusion or last chapter.
- Pass 3: Skim through the whole book, 5 seconds per page, looking for interesting headings, highlights, or figures. If the book has chapter summaries, just focus on those.
- Pass 4: Skim the whole book a second time, 30 seconds per page.
- Pass 5: Pick any interesting parts and read in more detail (whatever is needed to get the information you need).
If you do this, you will have a better sense of the whole story and specifics that will help you, all in a fraction of the time it would take you to traditionally read it cover to cover.
Note that if you enjoy the topic and want to read it cover to cover, please do. Just know that you don’t have to do that in order to get the information you need.
3. Learn to memorize lots of information quickly
Why it’s important: While you can look things up on Google, having them in your head gives you instant access and lets you make connections that you otherwise wouldn’t. It is particularly useful to be able to memorize names and faces so you never forget a contact.
How to do it: There are many techniques to help improve memory. I wrote up a few of them here.
4. Learn the basic psychology of motivation
Why it’s important: Most of life involves other people, and understanding why they do what they do will give you a lot of insight into what may happen in a given situation.
5. Learn to manage your own habits
Why it’s important: Self development is, at it’s root, the ability to understand your current habits and replace them with more effective habits. If you understand how it works, you can do it faster and more effectively.
How to do it: Charles Duhigg wrote a whole book on the subject, and I summarize his approach here. This would be a good example of a book you can try to “read with purpose”.
Each of these skills will make a difference in your life, and if you work on multiple, they will compound for even greater benefits.
And these aren’t the only overlooked skills out there. Keep your eyes open and create your own list!