Warren Buffett is considered to be one of the most successful investors ever. He’s also one of the richest men in the world. He has achieved much of his success not by doing more, but by doing less! In fact, his strategy of doing less has become almost as famous as some of his investing strategies, to the point that it’s even been given the moniker “Warren Buffett’s not to do list”.
Let’s break down the history behind it and explain the steps involved so you can apply it in your own life. We can’t promise you’ll achieve the same success as Mr. Buffet himself, but you’ll certainly be off to a good start.
- Focus on what’s important. Success often comes from focusing on a few key priorities rather than spreading efforts too thinly.
- Exclude what’s not important. Warren Buffett’s ‘Not To Do’ list emphasizes the power of strategic exclusion in goal setting.
- Make your own list. Creating your own ‘Not To Do’ list can be a transformative step towards achieving focused success.
Buffett works incredibly hard. But he works incredibly hard on things that matter and that are most important to him.
This is called focus.
As Alice Schroeder writes in The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life:
Buffett ruled out paying attention to almost anything but business—art, literature, science, travel, architecture—so that he could focus on his passion.
Buffett himself has identified his focus as one of the major keys to his success. By the way, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg have all said the same thing. Another major key for success was having a good understanding of how to start their own businesses at such young ages. Here’s a few examples from Nowloan.co.uk.
So, how can YOU achieve Warren’s laser like focus too? The same way his pilot, Mike Flint, did.
Warren Buffett and his Pilot
Mike Flint was Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for 10 years. Flint had flown for 4 different U.S. Presidents before, so he was pretty good at flying. Yet he still felt as though he hadn’t achieved all of the career and life goals that he wanted to.
So one day Buffett jokingly says to Flint: “The fact that you’re still working for me tells me I’m not doing my job. You should be out going after more of your goals and dreams.”
So Flint asks Buffett for his help, and Buffett tells him to go through this 3-step exercise.
Here’s how it works (you can play along at home, too)…
Buffett started by asking Flint to write down his top 25 goals – the things that came to mind when he thought of success in his career and life. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down.
Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals – the things that were most important to him and that he wanted more than anything else in the world.
This was a lot harder for Flint, since everything on his list was important to him (after all, that’s why he wrote them down). But Warren insisted that he could only pick five, so after some time and thought, he made five circles.
“Are you sure these are the absolute highest priority for you?” Warren asked. Steve confidently replied that they were.
At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A and the 20 items he hadn’t circled were List B.
Waren now asked Flint when he planned to get to work on these top 5 goals and what his approach would be.
Flint explained, “Warren, these are the most important things in my life right now. I’m going to get to work on them right away. I’ll start tomorrow. Actually, no I’ll start tonight.”
Flint went on to explain his plan, who he would enlist to help him, when he expected to complete each item…
And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “And what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle? What is your plan for completing those?”
Flint replied, “Well the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in at a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top 5. They aren’t as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”
To which Buffett replied:
“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.”
Learning to Say “No”
I think the story of Warren Buffett and his pilot is brilliant and yet so unconventional.
We have so many things in our life that we want to do. Who wouldn’t want to succeed at 25 different things? But when we chase after 25 things at once, that’s when we run the risk of becoming a jack-of-all trades, but a master of none.
Who wouldn’t want to succeed at 25 different things? But when we chase after 25 things at once, that’s when we run the risk of becoming a jack-of-all trades, but a master of none.
And this is why Warren Buffett’s Not To Do List is so helpful.
Items 6-25 on your list are probably all very important things, and things that you care about and that matter to you. But when it comes to Items 1-5, Items 6-25 are a distraction.
As James Clear writes, “Spending time on secondary priorities is the reason you have 20 half-finished projects instead of 5 completed ones.”
The ‘Not To Do’ List Concept
The Not To Do List concept is very similar in theory to the idea behind Gary Keller’s and Jay Papasan’s book The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results. The book debunks the theory that multitasking is the path toward success. Instead, ask yourself what is the most important thing you can do today? The ONE thing that would make everything else in your life either easier or unnecessary?
Create Your Own “Not To Do” List
So put away your scheduler, your planner, your to do list apps, and your timers. Instead, take out a sheet of paper and make your own Not To Do List.
The steps are easy:
- Write down your top 25 goals
- Circle your top 5 goals
- Avoid working on any goal that is NOT circled at all costs
Once you have your two lists, focus all your efforts on dominating your top 5 goals and ruthlessly eliminate the 20 less important goals.
It couldn’t be simpler than that.
The Ultimate Guide to Value Investing
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This is why I love Warren Buffett. His wisdom goes well beyond just investing and business, and really touches all aspects of life.
The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life
BY ALICE SCHROEDER
Here is THE book recounting the life and times of one of the most respected men in the world, Warren Buffett. The legendary Omaha investor has never written a memoir, but now he has allowed one writer, Alice Schroeder, unprecedented access to explore directly with him and with those closest to him his work, opinions, struggles, triumphs, follies, and wisdom. The result is the personally revealing and complete biography of the man known everywhere as “The Oracle of Omaha.”
The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
BY GARY KELLER AND JAY PAPASAN
The ONE Thing has made more than 275 appearances on national bestseller lists, including #1 Wall Street Journal, NewYork Times, and USA Today. It won 12 book awards, has been translated into 26 languages, chosen as one of the Top 5 Business Books of 2013 by Hudson’s Booksellers and one of Top 30 Business Books of 2013 by Executive Book Summaries. Voted one of Top 100 Business Books of All Time on Goodreads.