Six Wonderful Skills I’m glad I picked after School, which you can too.

I’ve truly had fantastic teachers throughout my life. Right throughout school, through religious school, during my association with Toastmasters, at my first job at KPMG all in Dubai and right now in Bangalore I’m extremely fortunate to have got highly intelligent, most sincere and extremely dedicated personalities giving their best to me. Issac Newton had once written, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” How beautifully put. I feel just the same. If I’m anything today, it’s because of God, my family and my teachers.

Looking back, here are a few additional skills that I’m really glad I picked apart from formal education. Many of the below skills have had significant positive impacts, some have even been life-changing.

1. GTD
Regular readers would’ve noticed that we regularly write about GTD on this blog. That’s because GTD is a truly phenomenal system that would greatly improve the performance of anybody. Be it a school going child, an office-going executive or a house-wife.

GTD is the ultimate time-management and stress-management system. GTD does that by dealing with issues on focussing your work, procrastination, organising home/work space, identifying priorities and helping you find what’s your purpose on this planet. It’s the true swiss-army knife set of skills that will have you the most prepared no matter what situation you are in. What would have been the result if I had picked-up GTD during my School Days? My grades would certainly be higher and I would have been even more focussed and clear on my goals in life. Any school or college kids reading this, or for that matter even those who’ve completed college many years ago, if there’s just one thing that you want to pick from this list, try GTD. Yes, it does require discipline but it’s fun, quite easy to implement and will propel learning all the below items in the list too.

For resources on GTD, have a look at my earlier blog post here where I’ve listed some resources where you can pick up GTD at the end. Ali has listed his favourite resources towards the end of this blog post here.

2. Speed Reading Skills
As I began to practice more and more GTD, work started becoming more and more under control and hence I was able to create more time for myself. Once I did so, I could finally spend more time doing what I love the most…reading! But then there are just SO many books and there’s just SO little time *sigh*. Although, I still am not able to read at the speed that I’d like to, however the few skills that I picked up from Norman Lewis’s How to Read Faster and Better have helped me cover many more books that I otherwise would. If I had learnt this during my school days, not only would I get through my textbooks faster, I would get a lot more out of my textbooks too.

Here are just couple of tips from Norman’s book:

– Read with a sense of urgency. Don’t languidly stroll your eyes over to the cover of the title, then to the bottom of the article, then to the picture and then start all over again. But when you’re reading a book, an article, this blog post, make yourself want to get to the end of it as soon as possible. Just reading with that sense of urgency easily increases one’s reading speed every time by 30%.

– Before reading any article, book, ask yourself: Why am I reading this? What would I get out of it? And similarly after having completed what you read, asking yourself once again: “What have I read? Have I got what I had in mind when I began reading this piece?

– Read more. Want to read faster you’ve got to read more. Have reading targets. Make a list of 7 books that you feel you simply must complete before you die. Yes, that’s right before you die. Now imagine you’ve got 6 months to live. Go ahead challenge yourself and complete those books.

Finally, ever since I’ve picked up on Speed Reading, it’s just not books, but newspapers, reports, emails, whatever text my eyes would glaze over I would absorb at a much faster rate and retain it appropriately too. Over time, the same skills obtained can very effectively be applied to listening as well, afterall listening is simply reading with your ears.

3. Critical Thinking Skills
Too many meetings in the Corporate World today simply get carried away and move from tangent to tangent simply because, facts and assumptions are not separated. Thanks to a little practice in Critical Thinking, I am able to distinguish, fact, assumptions, bias, argument and conclusion, from each other more rapidly now. A skill that has saved many hours of avoidable discussions as well as arguments.

To learn more about Critical Thinking visit this link on wikipedia. There are many books on Critical Thinking listed here on Amazon. I can’t seem to find the book I’ve read there, however I’m sure many other would be quite good, probably even better.

4. Touch Typing
Gosh, what a propeller this one skill has been throughout my career. It’s because I was the only Audit-Assistant who could touch type during my stint at KPMG, my Managers and Seniors would all come to me to get their reports typed and corrected, as often the typists and Admin Assistants would always be over-loaded. It’s because of this single opportunity which I learnt at a much faster rate in my early years at KPMG.

I can’t stress how essential Touch Typing is these days. The amount time one spends on the computer these days and if one doesn’t know typing…it’s almost as if he doesn’t know how to write. I’m so every grateful to my father who insisted and pushed me to learn typing and to my brother for motivating to gain speed.

We Use this software for others in our office to practice Touch Typing and here are other free softwares that you can give a try too to sharpen your typing skills.

5. Public Speaking

Needless to say Public Speaking comes so much in handy in the Corporate World. Be it for large scale presentations or just to conduct effective meetings. I joined a Toastmasters club right after completing school. The training and feedback mechanism of Toastmasters is highly refined. If you’ve put in enough preparation before each speech, you can feel the results evident with each project that you advance in your Toastmasters career. If Public Speaking is a skill you want to sharpen Toastmasters is the best place in the world to do that. There are Toastmaster Clubs all over the world and you can find out if you have a club near you over here.

6. Harry Lorayne’s memory techniques
These are real handy to pick-up early in one’s life. I have used his peg system to remember Case dates for my Law paper for my ACCA exams. These days I sometimes use Harry Lorayne’s Association technique to recall all the key points in some really good speeches that I hear. Once you get the hang of it, it’s really easy. Of all his memory techniques it’s the Association system and the Peg System that I’ve picked up and found quite useful. The peg system is a bit too long to explain it in detail in this post, you can read about it here. However the Association system, is relatively simple and quite wonderful. Suppose you have a list of items to remember, say a shopping list. An example of such a list would be:
1. Bread
2. Eggs
3. Bananas
4. Toilet paper

Now if you wanted to remember the list how would you do it? Harry Lorayne’s Association Technique says that just associate the first item with the next and the association exaggerated. So to remember the above list I would picture the following in my mind: A HUGE slice of bread, as big as a house already toasted is lying on a Garden. The sky all of a sudden gets dark, I look up and I see an equally large Omelet dropping from the sky that land on the bread with a splat. Large Banana Trees sprout from the ground beside the bread, when two Bananas get riped, pop out from the tree and land just next to the now Omelet sandwhich. A Giant Waiter comes picks up the Omelet sandwhich, with the bananas, wraps it in Toilet Paper to take it as a meal for a Guest.

Once I’ve got that pictured in my head for the first time, it doesn’t take me long to recall the shopping list of Bread, Eggs, Bananas and toilet Paper. This technique works beautifully for a list of 10, 20 or even 100 items. Ofcourse the best way to remember something is not to remember it and just write it down. But at times when that is not possible, this is truly a great technique to keep handy. Harry Lorayne’s book are ubiquitous. You can find them in any medium-sized bookshop. They’re all really good, but look out for the one’s that teach his Association system and Peg System. One example of a book that does that is this one.

I’m quite pleased to say that we’re trying to inculcate some of the above skills into our work Culture at Vakil Housing. Infact we’re the first company in India that are officially trained in GTD by a David Allen Company Associate. Also, if you walk down our office halls you’ll often find right from our Vice President & Senior Managers, to our Receptionists and one of our Drivers practicing Touch Typing.


  1. I am interested in memory techniques. I had on my own developed some simple techniques. E.g. to remember a company(e.g. Delphi Motors, I used to remember Delhi and I used to get the name of this company if I forget it.etc.etc). Being a finance professional I am interested in remembering accounting data(e.g. profitability,expense figures,previous year figures.budget/actuals etc).Which would be the ideal method to
    achieve this objective. It would definitely improve my performance and facilitate useful discussions at meetings without having to refer to statements/reports.

  2. Dear Sir,
    In this 6 wonders skills the skill that you wrote about typing is very vital. I can say its an coordination. I will remember the one master workout to match up to the coordination that is rope jumping.

    Anyone who can experience the jump rope workout, you will feel the coordination between the jump & rope.. Typing is one skill will just coordinates the speed, memory, movements of finger tips and much more… Its well said that one who doesnt know the typing.. its almost as if he doesnt know how to write – means ( poor in coordination ) if Im right ?

    – Raju

  3. This is truly awesome to know that you have trained your employees on GTD.. Thanks for sharing. I learned about Critical thinking from your post. Can you recommend me a good one ?

  4. Hi Uma,

    Thanks for your post. Yes, it would indeed be handy to key Accounting Data. The best method to remember string of numbers, is using Harry Lorayne’s Peg system. I used this extensively to remember Case Dates when doing my Legal paper for my ACCA exams.

    First I would rote memorise the numbers from 0 to 9 and associate them with a phonetic. Harry Lorayne’s system is:

    1 – tie (phonetic = t or d).
    2 – Knee (phonetic = n)
    3 – Ma (phonetic = m)
    4 – Ray (phonetic = r)
    5 – Law ( phonetic = l)
    6 – Jaw (phonetic = j)
    7 – Key (phonetic – k)
    8- Fox ( phonetic – f)
    9 – Box (phonetic – b)
    0 – zoo (phonetic – s or z)
    10 – Toes (phonetic – T & Z)

    So for example if I needed to remember the case (a completely random example) Krell Vs. Henry 1903 Using the Phonetics, I would then picture Big ol fat King Henry, wearing a Tie (number 1), Sitting in a large Box (number 9), visiting the Zoo (number 0), with him mummy (number 3). Once I’ve got that pictured, boy it would be difficult to forget.

    Another way would to remember 1903, would be to group, 1+9 and 0+3. So 19 using the peg system would become a Tub (1+9=t+b) and 03 would become Zoom (0+3 = z+m). So all you need to picture is Big Ol Fat King Henry, bathing in his Tub, which is zooming all over town. Again very difficult to forget.

    If you would like to apply this to Financial figures. This is how I would go about it. if Net Profit was 20% for 2007, the way I would remember that is. Picture a large Net (for Net profit), capturing large running Nose (2+0=n+s) and a pair of running Toes (0+7 = t+s).

    It may seem a little complicated, but believe me, it’s real easy-peasy-japaneesee. And it doesn’t take long to get a hang of it.

    I hope I’ve been clear. Feel free to shoot questions for further details.

    Keep smiling :-)

  5. Hi Raju,

    I see what you are saying. Others may feel also that they lack the coordination to pickup typing. But as many have found that as you practice typing it’s a skill that anyone can learn. It’s just like learning to ride a bike. Sure you may fall a couple of times, but once you get the hang of it, you can’t forget.

  6. Hi Venkat,

    Are you still based in Bangalore? If so, Bangalore has some of the best bookstores in India. Just go up to Gangarams or Landmark and ask anyone books on Critical Thinking, they’ll be able to help you out. Otherwise all the books lister here are good. My guess is that the book, Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking by Neil Brown would be a good one to look out for. It’s got the maximum good reviews on Amazon.

  7. Hey Arif,

    1. Reading the GTD book is definitely the best thing I ever did. I feel more organized and actually “get things done”. But I still need to get over some mindblocks :)

    2. I have to work on the speed-reading skills. I still have the “10 Days to Faster Reading” by Princeton that I’m yet to read. The book was recommended by … have you read this book?

    3. This I gotta read up about.

    4. My parents enrolled me into typewriting classes during my vacation before college started, and this is paying off everyday for me :)

    5. Check. I used to be a timid teenager, but now I have enough confidence after speaking at more than ten different colleges in the past years.

    6. Ooh, remembering things is the weakest link for me :D

    Thanks for the list, I need to work on 2 and 6.


  8. Hey hey…Swaroop.

    Pleased to catch on :-)

    Having completed 4 out of 6 from the above list, man, I can tell you you’re way ahead than most people with whom you graduated in college. Good for you! All the best on completing the remaining two.

    Take care and keep smiling :-)

  9. Dear Sir,
    Its a very much true, for that matter, any skills we can master it by dedicating towards that. For example the skills/topics you have written about and experienced it, itll convince and motivate others who read this blog. All these skills that you written will sure takes lots of hardworking mindset. So I like to say there is no alternative to hardworking to get any sort of skills

    Few phases to master the skill.


    – Raju

  10. Hey Arif,

    I’ve been following your blog since quite a while, especially because of the reminders of basics of GTD and I’ve been procrastinating on re-reading the book – Ironic, eh? ;-)

    Thanks again,

  11. Dear Arif,

    Thanks for Sending me your Monthly dose as usual. I realyl love reading it.

    I had a question about GTD … since you seem to have really benefited from that. WHERE DO I START ?? :)

    I would appreciately if you could send me any link, material or any other advise to get started with practicing GTD…

    Thanking You again,



  12. Prashant,

    Thanks so much for your comments apologies for the late reply buddy.

    Although there’s a lot to learn in GTD, the good news is that it’s all really simple. However, the magic happens only when it’s put to practice regularly.

    You could follow this process to begin learning about GTD:

    1. First of all identify a pain area in your life. What is it thats not working for you at work and/or personal life. Well see if GTD has a remedy for that. For eg. I had a pain area of filing. I would get totally stressed when it came to filing. Your pain area could be that youre just not able to handle all the emails that you get. Or it could be that you may be super organised at Work, but stuff at home you may forget to pay the bills, or your personal health is not getting enough attention.

    2. Once you have identified what it is that you would like to improve, head to the following beginner resources on GTD and learn all you can:

    – The Official David Allen Book on GTD .
    Free Articles by David Allen on his official website .
    Getting Started on GTD with Merlin Mann. (warning these posts have a Mac angle to it, but are still good to read/learn.)

    3. Once you’ve learnt a bit about GTD, before you start the collect process in GTD, set up your GTD system. ie.
    – You could use a paper based system.
    – An online system like the popular Remember the Milk.
    – Or simply use Outlook, explained in this David Allen article (on sale for $10) or briefly in this free blog post.

    4. Then begin the 5 GTD steps of Gaining Control, by Collecting, Processing, Organising, Reviewing & Doing, more explained in the David Allen Article available here.

    This is really very brief guide, but enough to get you on your way. I’ll try and do a bit more detailed post on what i think would be the best way to Getting Started with GTD.

  13. Dear Arif,
    Congrats on this Wonderful Blog, I bumped upon this site when I was looking for “Norman Lewis” books, I am fortunate..
    Other than GTD and Toast master, every other stuff is new to me..
    Thank you very much

    G.Senthil Kumar

  14. Thanks of your kind words Senthil. Please do keep me posted if you’re able to progress on any of the skills mentioned above or if you need any further help on the same.


  15. Dear Arif Sir, this was posted by you in Jun, 2008.. I was then ‘just out of school’, I didn’t know even the ‘G’ of GTD! .. I came across GTD somewhere around 2011-12 I think when I had internet on my mobile.. As I read this today I was forced to think a few thoughts :
    “What would have been my story if I had known the things discussed here then (in 2008)?”
    “How productive could have been my college life?”
    But then I also thought :
    “why is that I didn’t find this blog a few years ago??? Did I not search properly, Google?! Or did you not give me the proper search results?!  “kuch to gadbad hai, Daya!”
    … I have to calm myself with this now :
    ‘waqt se pehle aur takdeer se zyada insaan ko kuch nahi milta’..
    What I wish to say is : your blogs and those of Ali sir are so nice that I felt I must have known them earlier..
    Happy I’ve found them now.
    Thumps up!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.