Learn Warren Buffett's secret to success.
It's not about what you do, it's about what you should not do.
We all have a long list of big things we want to accomplish. Get fit, write a book, start a family, travel the world, organize our house, learn a language, start a business…
And the list goes on and on…
How can we get these things done? Warren Buffett has a very interesting (and useful) answer to this question.
He gave this secret to his personal pilot Mike Flint.
As the story goes…
One day Flint was talking with Buffet about his career priorities, and Buffett gave him some advice - a system for success.(1)
The system had just 3 simple steps.
1.Write down your Top 25 Goals
2.Circle your top 5
3.Take the top 5 and put them on a new list called “A,” and then put the other 20 on the “B” list
The magic happens at step 3, but first we need to start with step 1.
Write down your Top 25 goals
This step is much harder than it sounds, as 25 is a big number.
Write down everything you want to accomplish in your life. Some of these will be things that you can do in the next few months or years, others may take a lifetime.
Focus on the things that you don’t have in your life right now, or drastically want to change. Include anything that is important to you.
Take your time and get it all out. If you come up with more than 25 that's fine, and if you are a few short that is fine as well. What is important is that you get everything on the list.
Don’t worry about the fact that this list may change a little over time. Focus on who you are now, who you want to be, and the life you want to have.
Once it’s done you are ready for the next step.
Circle your top 5
Doing this can be hard, since everything on the list is important to you and you want to achieve it.
So take your time on this step.
There are some strategies that can help you make those tough decisions. I suggest that you focus on finding the ones that align most with your values, as well as remembering the different areas of your life and choosing the ones that make others easier (or irrelevant).
Stay true to your values
Find goals that match up with your deeper values. If you don’t know your deeper values, now is the time to figure them out. If you haven't done this yet, you should check out my article about defining your core values and my example list of 180 Core Values.
Look over your list and start finding the goals that actually line up with these values. Goals that do not align with your core values are almost never achieved. The reason being that working towards goals involves work, and when that work gets tough you need something to keep you going. If the connection to your values is not there, you will likely fail to achieve your goal when the going gets tough.
Remember the different areas of your life
Your list should include all the things you want to achieve. Some will be professionally related, some will be personal.
Do not pick 5 work goals and forget about the other areas of your life.
But don’t be afraid to lean heavily towards one area if it is best for your life right now. For example, if you are 19 and ambitious picking 4 work related goals is reasonable. If you are 63 and about to retire finding 4 personal goals may be more relevant.
As you achieve your goals you will have room for new ones. At that time, see what you’ve accomplished and think about what you want to strive for next.
Choose the ones that make others easier (or irrelevant)
This tip comes from Gary Keller in his book “The ONE Thing,” which is an excellent read.
The concept is very simple: find the ONE thing that makes everything else easier or irrelevant.
To illustrate, let’s say some of the things you want to do are travel, buy a house, and build an online business. If you build a successful online business, traveling and buying a house are both significantly easier.
For an in-depth look at this method of prioritizing, read Gary’s book “The ONE Thing”.
Your Two Lists
Now that you have picked your top 5 make two lists.
List A has the 5 you picked.
List B has the 20 that you didn’t.
List A is your to do list
List B is your NOT to do list
Not doing these things on List B is the most difficult (and most critical) part of this system.
You need to avoid the items on List B at all costs. They get zero attention from you until you can complete the things on your to do list.
The Power of Focus
Every action you do has a cost. There is no such thing as neutral.
Often this cost is time, energy, and space that you could be committing to other things. If you have ended up with 20 projects that are half done (or less) and none that are done your problem is focus.
The beauty of Buffett’s system is that it forces you to make the hard decisions about what you want to focus on. It is easy not to focus on things that don’t matter to you, but it’s those things that you care about but aren’t helping you move forward in life that are the dangerous distractions.
When you are working on these “distractions” it seems like you are making progress, but you are actually slowing yourself down. Switching focus has a high cost. So focus first on your top 5, and when they are done, then you can start working on other things until you complete those too.
The Number 5
There is nothing magic about the number 5.
If you want to pick an even lower number go for it.
But I would recommend that you do not pick a higher number.
The larger the number of “active projects,” the less effective you will be at completing them.
5 is a great number because it leaves space for multiple areas of life. For example, if one of your goals is “raising kids,” I wouldn't recommend putting all other aspects of your life on hold until this is done. We have space for advancement in multiple areas of our life, just not too many.
When is something “done”
For some goals “done” is clear and well defined. For instance, if one of your goals is to earn a PhD, the moment you get your piece of paper from the university it is objectively done.
But for many “done” is subjective at best. When are you “fluent” in a language? When are you “in” shape? When have you “raised” your children?
For goals like these consider how much time you are willing to dedicate, how much of a priority it is in your life, and how hard it is to stick to.
For example, I personally wouldn’t pick getting in shape as a major goal, since staying in shape has become second nature to me and is already part of my identity. On the other hand, if I am training for a specific event or goal (such as running marathon or an intense certification) that takes substantial time and effort, I would consider it a goal since I am working towards it.
Determine what your finished goal looks like so you know when you have accomplished what you have set out to do. Then revisit your B List and see if there is anything you want to move to the A List. Or perhaps add more things to an overall list and start this exercise fresh.
It is easy to get stuck in life. Often being stuck is symptom of not knowing what to do. By taking some time to define what you are working on, and more importantly what you are NOT working on, you gain clarity. Gaining clarity will help you gain the focus you need to work on your goal and then accomplish it.
Focus is one of the two ingredients to success. The second is consistency, but that is a topic for another article!
Once you have done you list I would like to hear what you have chosen not to do. Send me an email at David@MagenFitness.com and let me know