With more than $70 billion to his name and majority ownership of 70+ companies through his holding company Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett has proved he knows a thing or two about prioritizing important work.
But this level of focus doesn’t come naturally. For most of us, we fall into choice paralysis when more than a few options are laid out in front of us. Luckily, Buffett has an answer.
According to a story told by Buffett’s personal pilot, Mike Flint, the billionaire has a simple strategy for highlighting what work deserves his attention. While Flint was asking about what career goals to prioritize, this method works equally well for short-term goals or big choices.
Step 1: Write down your top 25 career goals on a single piece of paper.
Step 2: Circle only your top five options.
Step 3: Put the top five on one list and the remaining 20 on a second list.
Seems simple. But here’s where the strategy becomes interesting.
When Flint was working through this exercise with Buffett, he agreed to focus on the top five goals he’d circled. But as the remaining 20 were still important to him, he said that he’d work on them intermittently when he had time.
Which makes sense. These weren’t bad choices, simply ones that didn’t make the top five. Buffett’s response?
“No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list. No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”
Why we need to eliminate ‘good’ options from our lives
Despite there being “good” options or goals to pursue, Buffett recognized that anything on our second list is nothing but a distraction in our day-to-day lives.
It’s akin to packing a bag for a weekend away on a sunny island with your winter jacket, boots, and gloves. It might be a good idea to be prepared, but you’re carrying around unnecessary baggage that’s simply weighing you down.
Every behavior and choice we make has a cost. And constantly having to decide to work on your first list versus your second saps your willpower and motivation.
While items 6 to 25 on your list are important to you, they’re the worst things you could possibly have for completing your most important goals.
The question comes down to, Would you rather be carrying around 20 half-finished projects? Or have five completed ones to show off?