Warren Buffett is one of the most successful businessmen and investors in history. The secret to his success: ruthless prioritization. Here’s how he does it.
You are spreading yourself too thin. I probably don’t even know you but I’m confident that I’m right. It is the most common problem we all face today. Too many things to do, too many responsibilities, and too little time to meet them.
I am terrible about this. I love helping people and solving problems. Guess what: as soon as people know that, I get asked to help them solve their problems. And here’s the problem: I enjoy it!
I also enjoy taking on new projects, making existing projects run better, and generally learning and doing new things. I have no shortage of stuff to work on because I like doing it.
You’re probably a lot like me. We probably have different interests but the same problem. We are involved in too many of them and we’re not making the kind of progress we need to be making to be 100% fulfilled. This post aims to change that.
HOW TO BE A MASTER PRIORITIZER
I heard about this story a long time ago (probably here), and it came back to me after recording our podcast on the 80/20 rule, which you can also listen to below. We didn’t cover this story on that episode, but perhaps I will in the future. I love this prioritization strategy. It comes from billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
Warren Buffett wanted to encourage one of his employees to dream bigger and to pursue his personal goals. So he asked him to do the following exercise.
STEP 1: LIST YOUR TOP 25 CAREER GOALS
You can decide how big or small you want to make this exercise. You can focus on the top 25 things you want to get done this month or this year if it makes it more practical for you.
If 25 feels like a lot, that’s because it is. But with a little time and thought, you’ll get there. We all have more things we want to do than we realize.
STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE TOP 5 FROM WITHIN THOSE 25
This is going to be difficult. You are going to have to choose between lots of things you want to achieve. But be disciplined and pick the top 5 that you feel will truly give you the most benefit. That could mean money, opportunities, fulfillment, or whatever you value.
STEP 3: DEVELOP A PLAN FOR EACH OF THOSE TOP 5
Of the 25 most important items in your to do list, these are the five most essential. Sit down and seriously map out what you need to do to make these happen. When can you start? Who can you get to help you? What is a short-term goal you can pursue to hold you accountable?
Now, before you go on to Step 4 (seriously, no peeking), I want you to ask yourself: what about the remaining 20? What’s the best strategy for accomplishing those?
When you’ve given that a serious answer, continue reading.
STEP 4: DON’T WORK ON THE OTHER 20 AT ALL
The other 20 items have just become your “Do Not Do” list. Your “Avoid At All Cost” list. Your “Don’t Even Think About ‘Em” list. It is absolutely essential that you understand this point:
What holds us back in life is not doing all the little things we don’t care about. It’s doing all the not important enough medium things that we do care about.
There will be things within that remaining 20 items that you care deeply about. That you’ve always dreamed of doing. That you would get immense pleasure out of.
Tough. You’ve already identified that there are five more important things to you than each of those. It’s hard to work on five things at the same time! You will have to focus on your top five exclusively if you want to give yourself the best shot at achieving them.
PRIORITIZING MEANS SAYING “NO”
It’s not easy to say, “No.” I’ve gotten better at it, but it’s still difficult. I wan to help people. I want to solve interesting problems. I want to build cool things. I want to take on new challenges.
But if we constantly say, “Yes” to all these opportunities, we are practically guaranteeing we won’t invest the necessary time into our most important priorities.
Achieving our goals can be broken down into three simple steps:
Know what we want to achieve more than anything else
Develop the Skills Network we need to get there.
Be ruthless about pursuing our top priorities
Some opportunities will be stepping stones to what you want to achieve. Pursue those ones.
Others might align to things you enjoy or care about, but not your most important priorities. Have the courage and confidence to say, “No,” to those.
If things go well, you’ll accomplish the truly important things and there will still be time left over to revisit the other 20 and add a new one to the list.
Bryan Green is the co-founder, Editor, and COO of Go Be More. He finds this activity to be particularly painful, because he hates saying “No.” It’s also why this strategy is so valuable for him. You can give him feedback at bryan◎gobemore.co or on our Facebook page.