post written by: Marc Chernoff

12 Universal Skills You Need to Succeed at Anything

12 Universal Skills

There are a lot of skills you don’t need.  You can be happy and successful without knowing how to rebuild a car’s engine, program a web application, or replace drywall.  Sure, these are useful skills to have, but they aren’t absolutely necessary.

There are other skills, however, that can’t be avoided – skills that tie into various aspects of everyday life, that are not only useful, but totally indispensable.  For instance, you can’t get far in today’s world without being able to read or write.  And today the ability use a computer proficiently is simply assumed.

In this article we’re going to skip the super basic skills like reading, driving, and using a computer, and discuss twelve slightly more advanced skills that are woefully under-taught, and universally applicable.  Let’s take a look…

1.  Prioritizing and time 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.  This is the ability to separate the important from the unimportant, which is a much needed skill in all walks of life, especially where there are ever increasing opportunities and distractions.

2.  Keeping a clean, organized space. – Successful people have systems in place to help them find what they need when they need it – they can quickly locate the information required to support their activities.  When you’re disorganized, that extra time spent looking for a phone number, email address or a certain file forces you to drop your focus.  Once it’s gone, it takes a while to get it back – and that’s where the real time is wasted.  Keeping both your living and working spaces organized is crucial.

3.  Critical thinking and information analysis. – We are living in the information age where, on a daily basis, we are constantly exposed to an ever growing and rapidly changing pool of information.  Being able to evaluate this information, sort the valuable from the trivial, analyze its relevance and meaning, and relate it to other information is a priceless skill with universal applicability.

4.  Logical, informed decision making. – Decision making is simply knowing what to do based on the information available.  Being able to respond quickly and effectively with the information you have in your head is essential to accomplishing anything.

5.  Using Google proficiently for online research. – You don’t have to know everything, but you should be able to quickly and painlessly find out what you need to know.  Google is a gateway to nearly infinite knowledge; it has indexed websites containing information on just about everything and everyone.  If you’re having trouble finding something using Google, it’s time to learn a few new tricks.

6. Basic accounting and money management. – It’s a simple fact that our modern society is governed by the constant exchange of money.  Money allows you to maintain a roof over your head and put food on the table each night.  Knowing how to properly manage your money – tracking and recording your expenses and income, saving and investing – is not only an important skill for thriving, it’s an important skill that helps you survive.

7. Effective communication and negotiating. – Give the people in your life the information they need rather than expecting them to know the unknowable.  Don’t try to read other people’s minds, and don’t make other people try to read yours.  Most problems, big and small, within a family, friendship, or business relationship, start with bad communication.  Speak honestly, and then give others a voice and show them that their words matter.  And remember that compromise and effective negotiating are vital parts of effective communication.

8. Relaxation. – Stress leads to poor health, poor decision-making, poor thinking, and poor socialization.  So be attentive to your stress level and take short breaks when you need to.  Slow down.  Breathe.  Give yourself permission to pause, regroup and move forward with clarity and purpose.  When you’re at your busiest, a brief recess can rejuvenate your mind and increase your productivity.  These short breaks will help you regain your sanity, and allow you to reflect on your recent actions so you can be sure they’re in line with your goals.

9.  Proficient writing and note-taking. – The written word isn’t going away; it is used in every walk of life.  Learning to write proficiently so that others can understand you is critical.  Also, using your writing skills to take useful notes is one of the most productive things you can do, regardless of the task at hand.  Writing things down – taking notes – helps us remember what we hear, see, or read when we’re learning something new, or trying to remember something specific.

10. Relationship networking. – In a world dominated by constant innovation and information exchange, relationship networking creates the channel through which ideas and information flow, and in which new ideas are shared, discussed and perfected.  A large relationship network, carefully cultivated, can be leveraged to meet the right people, find jobs, build businesses, learn about new trends, spread ideas, etc.

11. Positivity. – Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act.  A great attitude always leads to great experiences.  People who think optimistically see the world as a place packed with endless opportunities, especially in trying times.  Be positive, smile, and make it count.  Pretend today is going to be great.  Do so, and it will be.

12. Self-discipline. – Self-discipline is a skill.  It is the ability to focus and overcome distractions.  It involves acting according to what you think instead of how you feel in the moment.  It often requires sacrificing the pleasure and thrill for what matters most in life.  Therefore it is self-discipline that drives you to succeed in the long-term.

What did we miss?  What are some other useful life skills that are universally applicable?  Leave a comment below and let everyone know.

Photo by: Zack Schnepf

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  • Once again, you guys are awesome!!

  • Thanks for sharing these insightful bullet points and the educational links. This article is a real keeper. Bookmarked and shared.

  • GREAT article with many resources! Spot on advice! I think you knocked it out of the park this time.

  • Great list!

    Although it does fall under your category of ‘effective communication and negotiating,’ I would add that ‘active listening’ almost deserves its own mention… learning how to listen to someone effectively can revolutionize relationships of all kinds. From friends and lovers to employers and clients, hearing what people are actually saying (and learning how to draw out the details that aren’t explicitly described) is a skill well worth developing!

  • As always, a great article with good points. Thank you for putting this together.

  • Johann van Rooyen
    April 30th, 2012 at 1:44 am

    Guys… Perfect!

    A set of jewels in the hands and minds of the modern successfull hungry person!

    Keep on with the good motivators… My fuel cells for every day.

  • Just when I decide to start over & rejuvenate my experience for living, you guys come up with this amazing post. Such useful tips! :)

  • So many of these I was just thinking this morning that I need to work on. I will be checking out those links after I have my dinner and will be de-cluttering and organizing my life - very important especially since I will soon be going from working a 25 hour week to 60+! Thanks for your constant inspiration, motivation and relevance to my life.

  • Great article once again!
    I find number two specially useful. I really need to clean up more. :)

  • You guys are awesome! Such a useful article!
    Love you guys!!

  • Agree with everything on the list. At 71 there is one more I wish I had in my tool pack decades ago, health literacy. Like financial literacy, it is critical to long term effectiveness.

  • Good pointers. But how do we combat carelessness? I think that topic could be added to this list.

  • Research using Google??? I think effective research in general, by using all means available is also a universal skill worth having.

  • I need to work on many of these. I’m going to start today with these mantras…

    You are enough, just because you’re YOU.

    You have nothing to prove.

    You don’t need to win anyone’s affection.

    You don’t need a standing ovation or a bestseller or a promotion or a million bucks.

    You. That’s it. You’re the miracle. Own it.

  • Love it!! Inspiring and useful.

  • Great article! Above anything we cannot live a positive life if we have a negative mind.
    Thanks for your post!

  • This is an excellent list and I appreciate many of your articles and tips. I would add that all these traits or skills should be glued together with and / or revolve around a spiritual discipline.

  • Good list. And I agree with Buffet on this one. Effective research would be the universal skill. Google skills could be considered a sub-set of this.

  • Thank you, thank you for sharing such wisdom and inspiration. Always amazing to start my day with you!
    Now to put these to work!

  • Truly a very useful article. Great pointers and thank you for sharing.

  • Good self-esteem is another one. Without we doubt ourselves. I to go along with being a good listener.

    Thanks for the reminders.

  • I agree with Jonathan about including a mention of a spiritual focus. Research on marriage and families supports the notion that the recognition of a higher power and having a spiritual practice increases the likelihood of marital satisfaction and family harmony. It doesn’t have to be organized religion.

  • Thank you! This article is jam-packed with useful information. Please know that your thoughts, hard work and research have not gone unnoticed. I also really appreciate all the additional ideas and thoughts left as comments. Very valuable. Thanks so much!

  • Love this resourceful post! Thanks for compiling all this useful info and advice.

  • Great list! I’ll add emotional intelligence and managing our minds.

  • You guys rock! I always look forward to reading your posts. Also, I adore the pictures you use in your posts. They just perk me up!

  • The most successful seem to be able to read people really well and gravitate to positive, enriching people while avoiding relationships with emotional vampires, manipulators and users.

  • Ah you missed one, which makes all the others easier, awareness!

  • Awesome! I need to work on self discipline!!

  • I’m glad many of you found this article to be useful.

    In hindsight, I agree with those who said that the Google research bullet could have been expanded to include ‘research in general’ by any means possible. But I still think Google is the most important research tool of our time.

    Also, thanks for the other suggestions and additions to the list. Keep them coming.

  • Thanks a million! This article is super useful. Bookmarked.

  • Great article to use as a reminder every day! Relaxtion and self discipline are tied into it but how about good health? Regular exercise, eating right, vitamins, limiting alcohol consumption, etc. These are all things we struggle with so it is imperative we put it at the top of this list. After all, none of these other things matter if you don’t have your health.

  • Thanks Marc and Angel for another inspiring post. You nailed it on the head.

    When you combine your passion with these universal skills, anything is possible.

    Thanks again for the inspiration!

  • Great points and resources!! Thank you <3

  • Great post Marc. Some good tips and the resources are excellent. Thanks.

  • Love this! Thanks for another great article.

  • Fantastic Advice that can be applied to any personal, professional, or life goal.

  • Timely life-enhancing article for me. Enjoyed the reading and resources. Thanks.

  • Agree with other commenters that it should be research and learning skills in general (although Google is wonderful for that!)

    These are the skills that we should be teaching in schools. While I do think that kids need to have a basic cultural literacy, in general, information is very easy to find these days - but you need these skills to find it, harness it, and make something of it!

  • Very well chosen and communicated set of tips. I’ve found that focusing on building a system for one tip at a time works great! It helps focus on incorporating each valuable lesson into our lives - without getting overwhelmed.


  • I largely agree and aim for these myself. But I know some very successful people with horrendously messy desks, for example. An interesting book that defends, even promotes disorder is “A Perfect Mess - the Hidden Benefits of Disorder”. Anyway, it’s an interesting read that compliments and challenges common beliefs.

  • I love this.
    So much great and useful info. Thanks guys!

  • so illuminating, so selfless, Thanks!!!

  • Guys… You are awesome! This is really wonderful.!!!

    I love it.

  • Relaxation was one of the list. I would like to add “energy management” which encompasses; mental health as well as physical health.

    Think about it; Time management is very important. Scheduling and organizing doesn’t do you any good if you are unable to execute it. You’ve made action plans and the time and date to do them, but you on the day you didn’t enough sleep, you missed a meal, you didn’t have enough mental and physical energy to exert to get the job done.

    Time management is more of like “theories”. Getting it done and executing it is where the real action, focus and attention it deserves. Getting it done requires to manage your energy; both mental and physical.

  • In addition to using Google for research, also try the public library… seriously excellent databases, with information and research can be found there.

  • Absolutely Inspiring. I also agree that in doing all these we should align ourselves to the spiritual realm for a sense of purpose and balance.

  • A really great collection of articles, books, and resources. A very well done article. Bookmarked. Thanks Marc! :)

  • Thank you, Marc, for the fantastic reminders.

    Long before feng shui was a fad, I learned clarity does indeed arise from completions and clutter-free spaces. My father, bless his heart, also emphasized the importance of priorities, relaxation and relationships.

  • Superb list. The time management one will definitely be tough but well worth the hard work.

  • Muhammad Auwal Abdussalam
    October 20th, 2012 at 4:14 am

    Great list of useful skills for keeping an idle mind working happily.

  • Bravo! After spending hours avoiding the task at hand tripping through one of my new favorite sites, I just happened to StumbleUpon yours.

    I was lured in by your article ‘12 Things You Should Be Able to Say About Yourself”, then ‘25 Inspiring Stories to Make You Smile’, and well, as you can see, here I still am, and I’m not ready to leave just yet.

    This is, in my opinion, one of, if not ‘the’ best sites I’ve ever visited. And I’ve been surfing long before there was an internet. The two of you are a brilliant (and good looking) team, obviously wise beyond your years. I will most definitely will be recommending this site to everyone I know and love, just as soon as I can tear myself away.

    Who knows, I might become so inspired that I’ll get back to my ‘task’ (fixing a problem with my site). Then again, yours is a hard act to follow. Maybe I’ll work on the 25% of the skills above that I’m sorely lacking in, instead.

    Thank you both so very much!

  • This is the best article i’ve read in the past weeks. I agree on every point and have nothing to add. The ressources are a great addition to go more in-deeph. To read through all the linked articles will take some time, but it surely will pay off.

  • This post is great. Keep up the good work.

  • Md. Tabaruk Hossain
    April 6th, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Indeed this is a great article. It’s all about discipline and self-control. Keep it up. Thanks.

  • Fantastic information and resources! I would definitely add to your list The Ability to Be Teachable and Coachable by someone who has acheived what you hope and work to acheive.This is HUGE because it can really accelerate your progress and prevent many errors and pitfalls that may deter you from striving to reach your intended goal.Teachable means you have the desire and skill set to humble yourself enough to learn. Coachable means you accept the information you are given and have the personal power to adjust and change in conformity with the information you learn.

  • Don’t have enough words to say how helpful these points are. Keep up good work. For the part on self discipline I recommend - the miracle of self discipline by Brian Tracy. This is a book which will help you to control your self automatically. A life changing one….

  • This of course, all depends on how success is defined, and where in the world you live.

    But it is a wonderful list indeed :)

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