One new skill

It’s remarkable how much your life can change when you add one new skill to your arsenal.

Many years ago, I was working on a project at my day job and I needed to deal with a number of tables of data. Messy data that needed a fair bit of cleaning up to be useful. Too much to deal with on paper.

I took one day and taught myself the basics of Microsoft Excel. Pretty quickly, I got the data beaten into submission. I got the project done. And I’ve been using Excel (well, Numbers now) ever since.

One skill, learned in one day, made a difference in my life.

The lesson here is not that you should go out and learn Excel. The lesson is that there are certain skills that make you massively more productive and sometimes the investment in learning them is very low.

Learning those high-value low-cost skills may be among the best things you ever do for yourself.

Not all skills can be learned in one day, of course. In my world of Artificial Intelligence, it can take weeks or months to learn a new programming language with moderate competence. Learning a new human language can takes months or years.

But it’s amazing how quickly you can learn the basics of some new skill when you put your mind to it. It’s amazing how fast you can become an expert when you volunteer to teach a beginner’s course in it.

I can’t tell you which skills would be most useful for you. You know your own situation better than me. I’ve known writers who could only type with two fingers. Imagine how much more productive they’d be if they could type at 50 or 100 words per minute.

Here are some skills that many writers find useful. It’s not a complete list, but it should get your neurons firing:

Using a spreadsheet
Using a filing cabinet
Web development
Writing sales copy
Graphic design

The above skills are intentionally vague. For example, “Web development” can mean a lot of different things, so this one topic covers easily a dozen different skills. Very few people ever learn all those skills. Very few people need them all.

The important point for you is to ask yourself what one skill you could learn this year that would make a big impact on you as a writer. (Or if you have a day job, what one skill would make a big impact on you as a wage-earner. The better your day job pays, the better your life as a writer will be.)

If you only learn one new skill every year, you’ll become massively more productive as the years go by, and the effect on your writing life will be amazing.

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