How to learn all those crucial skills

How to learn those crucial skills in real life

A couple of weeks ago, a friend shared an inspirational video with me: “10 SKILLS That Are HARD to Learn, BUT Will Pay Off FOREVER!” Never mind the use of all caps in the title, I invested 20 minutes to find out which crucial skills I might be missing. This is the 20-second summary:


  1. Speak up (as in “Speak up and have an opinion” and “public speaking”)
  2. Be honest with yourself
  3. Be confident
  4. Listen
  5. Manage your time
  6. Stop whining
  7. Stay present
  8. Be consistent
  9. Sleep hygiene
  10. Empathy


Unfortunately, the video fails to explain HOW to actually learn these crucial skills in real life – preferably in a way that can be integrated into your busy schedule. So I took some time out of MY busy schedule sharing some ACTION ITEMS that you can EXPERIMENT with THIS WEEK (see, what I did there with those all caps?). Or next week. Or every week.

Speak up

Speaking up can be outright scary, especially if you are not used to hearing your own voice / reading your own words in situations where you don’t know everybody really well. What if they laugh at you? What if you are wrong? What if… [fill in horror scenario your brain readily provides you with]? Telling yourself to “just do it”, won’t help. Otherwise, you would have done it already.

To coax your brain into accepting that speaking up will most likely not kill yourself, start small and build it up:

  1. Get used to your voice: instead of nodding or shaking your head when asked a yes/no question, put it into words: “Yes, that sounds good.” “Works for me.” “No, that won’t be a problem.”
  2. Volunteer to be the MC for calls outside your usual comfort zone. Just follow the agenda.
  3. Start summarizing opinions of others just to make sure you understood them correctly. You might even end up askind clarifying questions.
  4. Have a list with “breathing questions” next to your computer screen: “What do you think?” “How would you do this?” – questions that center the attention on someone else so that your brain can relax a bit.

Oh, and this does not happen in a week… patience is your friend.

Be honest with yourself

Being honest with yourself might hurt. That’s why we gently lie to ourselves, and why we do our best to not call ourselves out on this. Which makes the being honest part quite tricky. There are three main strategies to pinpoint what you are avoiding (and what might be your biggest growth opportunity:

  1. Data.
  2. Feedback.
  3. Language.

Use data to understand yourself

Your Fitbit can tell you how much you are really moving during your day. Your time tracker can tell you how long you spend in meetings this week. Your meal tracking app can tell you how much chocolate cake you really had. Putting everything into your agenda shows that you are hopelessly overcommitting. The result is not always pretty (so… how can I be at the dance recital, the TownHall and the running meetup at 5pm?), but it helps you to optimize your day with clear goals in mind.

The hardest part is probably to commit to the tracking, because, well, the first round of results is usually not what you’d want it to be.


Other people probably see your shortcomings much better than you do yourself. The magic resides in finding people who know your weaknesses, who are brave enough to tell you, and who are detailed enough to actually give you clear examples. The challenge is accepting this feedback as feedback and deciding what (and if) you want to do about it.

Want feedback to be more powerful? Ask for advice instead!


I am too busy. I am not a morning person. I can’t do this. I have to do that… language is a powerful tool, both to maintain the status quo as well as to avoid change. Be attentive to how you speak and use those “all-or-nothing” statements as gateways into getting to know yourself better.

  • I am … statements. These all-or-nothing statements tell a story that you’ve made up for yourself. Be honest with yourself to see if these stories still serve you or whether they are hurting you.
  • I can’t… / I have to… statements. Actually, it’s a choice, or a matter of priorities. Do you really HAVE to have lunch with your mother in law? Or are you just not ready for yet another discussion with your spouse?

Be confident

Google “how to be more confidence” and loose yourself in the knowledge that you’ll never make it (though it doesn’t hurt to work on your body language for some body-brain feedback). Instead, reframe the question: where do you think do you lack confidence? What would it do for you to be more confidence? In which situations are you confident, and when do you feel absolutely not confident? And who can tell?

Confidence is situational, so it makes sense to first find out if and where you need more or less of it.


Listening is more than just “not speaking”. It actually means to actively follow the thought process of the person talking to you, without already forming a reply in your head or interrupting them. I like to pretend I am an investigator in a mystery novel (which incidentally is also a great place to find clarifying questions). Here is a great (and practical) resource to get into active listening. My personal biggest challenge is the “do not interrupt” in there. So yeah, don’t interrupt.

Manage your time

Your day has 24 hours. Your workday should not have more than 8 hours (and yes, breaks are recommended). How much you get done in that amount of time depends greatly on your organisation skills. Being German helps, too.

Here are three things you can implement right away, while you read up on GTD and the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People)

  1. Track your time. If you know where your time goes, you can make smart decisions about whether that’s a good use of your time.
  2. Schedule (recurring tasks) into your calendar. If you run out of space in your calendar – time to outsource/delegate/simplify or stop.
  3. Every evening, define your Most Important Task(s) for the next day. Those should be between 1 and 3 tasks that move your prprojects/goalsorward. Inbox cero is NOT an MIT.

Stop whining

I haven’t seen many whiners at A8C (apart from some voices on anonymattic), so let me keep this short: If you can’t do anything about it – whining is a waste of energy. If you can do something about it – where’s your P2 post with a plan for change! For “I don’t have time / I can’t…” see the chapter about “be honest with yourself”.

Sounds too easy? Try the 21 Days No Complaint Challenge. It took me almost 6 months…

Stay present

Multitasking is a myth. Yes, it’s a myth for both men and women. Here is a quick test that shows that you can’t multitask. Instead, you are really really good at mono-tasking! So take advantage of that. Here are your action items:

  • Before starting on your next task, write that task on a piece of paper and put it in front of you.
  • Stop the time you need to fulfil the task.

If you want to take it a step further, download Headspace or Calm do your phone and start your day with a quick 5 min meditation.

Be consistent

Consistency sounds kind of boring. It smells of predictability. How unsexy. On the flip side, consistency also breeds trust and reliability. The foundation of being consistent are habits, that help you get closer to your goal. So, let’s focus on some things you can do to help you sticking to those habits (aka, being more consistent):

  • Use reminders. Really, use them. Don’t just keep it in the back of your mind. Put a reminder on your phone, put a sticky note on your bathroom mirror, stack the vitamin packages in a way that they wall out when you open the cupboard in the morning. Make it impossible to forget what you wanted to do.
  • Prepare the stage in advance. Prepare your healthy breakfast the night before, pay a personal trainer (guilt is a huge motivator), leave the list with your MITs on your desk, put the alarm clock next to your baby’s crib (you’ll be surprised how quickly you are up).
  • Use your environment. Your environment is far more powerful than an entire week of willpower combined. A walking desk boosts your movement, the absence of chocolate muffins reduces your calorie intake, and 15 min of meeting prep booked into your calendar does wonders for your 1:1s.
  • Tell others your habit, as if it existed already. Don’t tell them you are “trying” to be on time. Tell them that you have a German grandmother and that you are genetically incapable of ever being late. And then live up to it 😉

Oh, and this is my specialty, so should you get stuck on a habit, let me know! I’d love to help.

In the meantime, here is a handy flowchart.

Sleep hygiene

This one is easy to understand and OH SO DIFFICULT to do. You might have to ask your significant other(s) to help you enforce your own rules.

  • Get really comfortable silk bed linen.
  • Get a new mattress and pillows.
  • And now, that you have procrastinated enough: ban all screens from your sleeping quarters. Television, phone, everything. Kindle’s are allowed if they don’t use back lightning.

And, this is the hardest part: Stop looking at screens at least 1 hour before your bed time. You can read a book, talk on the phone (no video, no text, just pressing the phone to your ear), talk to someone in real life etc. No quick Twitter or email check before nodding off.

Oh, and if you want a reminder on your computer that it’s time to log off, try f.lux.

And this is a great 15-step plan from the Australian government.


Empathy is actually “Active Listening”‘s little sister. If you take the time and energy to listen to what other’s have to say, it will be easy for you to put yourself in their shoes, and hence your empathy will increase. When in doubt, remember: everybody is doing the best they can! Who knows what is going on in their lives’ elsewhere.

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