Warren

“Decide what you want, decide what you are willing to exchange for it. Establish your priorities and go to work.”

~H. L. Hunt

Editor’s note: Check out the end of this post for a free Prioritize Success like Warren Buffett Workbook.

How many projects are you working on right now?

Be honest. Jot them down if you have to.

If your answer is anything like mine once was, it’s likely too many – way too many.

The process goes a bit like this: Something motivates us to make a change. We’re excited. We set all kinds of big goals. We create a plan to make it happen. We’re still excited. Then we look at the list. It’s twenty pages long. We don’t know where to start. We get overwhelmed.

We don’t do a damn thing.

We need a system that puts our focus only on the most important. That’s how results happen. Thankfully Warren Buffett just taught me such a process.

Enter Warren…

I recently met a guy who was close with one of Warren Buffett’s pilots. Given the Buffett fanatic I am, I was all ears for any juice on the man that I had yet to uncover (which isn’t easy given that I think I’ve read everything written or said about the man, know a couple of his friends and get out to Omaha at least once a year to get a priceless education in investing and life).

Dreams become reality as a result of three components:

  1. Knowing what you want.
  2. Learning the tools to get you there.
  3. Having the insane focus to combine the two.

Having clear priorities (that you stick to) might be the best ingredient to success. This means you figured out your goal setting, know what’s most important and you have the focused tools to make it reality.

Warren’s approach to prioritizing caught me off guard. Then the brilliance and simplicity hit me. I’ll explain the process in story form just as I heard it told to me.

Warren Buffett’s 5-Step Process for Prioritizing True Success

1. Know what you want – List your top 25. One day a few years back Warren went up to his pilot (we’ll call him Steve) and jokingly said “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.” Warren then asked Steve to list the top 25 things he wanted to do in the next few years or even his lifetime. Just jot down anything that comes to mind as being important to you that isn’t currently a part of your life. Readers, that’s your queue to start writing.

2. Pick your Top 5. Once Steve completed his list, Warren then asked him to review each item and circle the top five that were most important to him. The ones he wanted more than anything. Steve was hesitant because to him they were all massively important. After all, that’s why he wrote them down.

But Warren insisted that he could only pick five. So Steve spent some time with his list and after some deliberation, made five circles. “Are you sure these are the absolute highest priority for you” Warren asked. Steve confidently replied the affirmative.

*Note: Picking your top 5 from your top 25 can be super difficult since they’re all so important. Never fear, for I have a simple process which is covered in the free Prioritize Success like Warren Buffett Workbook below. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Finish reading this, then use the workbook.

3. Make your Top 5 Plan. Warren now asked Steve when he planned to get to work on these top 5 and what his approach would be. They spent the next while discussing Steve’s plan (for those of you who missed it, this is where my free Goal Setting and Action Workbook comes in). Steve 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.”

Steve went on the explain his plan, who he would enlist to help him and by when all these items would get done. Warren was starting to get excited. With any luck he would be out of a pilot within weeks…

4. Marry your priorities. Once the Top 5 planning session was over, Warren then asked “but what about these other 20 things on your list that you didn’t circle? What is your plan for completing those?” Steve replied confidently “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty 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 are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”

To Steve’s surprise, Warren responded sternly, “No. You’ve got it wrong Steve. 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.”

5. Know your ‘Avoid at all Cost List‘ and stick to it. Did #4 surprise anyone? It certainly did me. Warren makes a powerful and somewhat unconventional point here. Most people would suggest ranking their second most important items just below their first. Makes sense at first, but as it turns out, this is the type of behavior that creates some of the most detrimental distractions in making big things happen.

You cannot be a Superstar if you focus on everything.

We are in a world where there’s more competition for your focus than ever before. We have to guard it with our life – because in fact it is. Without focus, without staying true to our priorities, not only will we not get done the extra things we try to fit in, but we won’t get done what’s most important to our core. The things that create fulfillment, excitement and happiness. Without these emotions, nothing’s really worth it anyway.

It’s no surprise that Warren has done as well as he has. His dedication to his top 5 (or in his case his top 1 – Running Berkshire Hathaway) is almost inhuman. And he has more distractions than anyone.

People are constantly asking him to run companies, write books, be Secretary of the Treasury, do interviews, speak to students and even run for President. He no doubt has fun and thankfully indulges us in some of these distractions but only to the extent that it does not affect the way he runs his business, his Top Priority.

It is this focus that allows what many refer to as The Superstar Effect.

Creating Clear Priorities Only Gets More Important with Time.

The distractions never end.

In fact, they are likely to get more abundant (and more tempting) as you grow and further venture the world. I used to stick to two clear business priorities: writing on this site and running our investment fund. Recently that’s changed. In the past years I’ve been asked to consult for businesses, coach individuals, write for other sites, speak at universities and events and so on.

This is a natural result of becoming more seasoned in one’s field. If it hasn’t happened to you, I assure you it will.

I never thought these opportunities would come my way. But I have to remember – The only reason they have is because I have kept a diehard focus on my core. On my Top 5.

By no means am I suggesting you don’t go after the right opportunities as they come up. I am just reminding you of the importance of being conscious of what these new opportunities and goals mean to your current projects and focus. The internal battle never ends.

I am notorious for spreading myself too thin. I love starting new things and get mesmerized by the possibilities. I constantly have to remember my Top 5.

If Warren can stay true to his core with the laundry list of attractive distractions that come his way, we certainly can too.

Without priorities, nothing gets done.

So what’s your answer?

How many of you have 2 projects you’re working on right now? What about 5? How about 7 or 10? 20 or more?

If most of us sat down and did an inventory of where we spend our time, I bet you’d notice you have a lot more things going than you thought.

The more you have to choose, the more time you spend deliberating over what you’ll do at this moment, which is more time spent not doing one of the things most important to you.

You are confronted with The Paradox of Choice: The more options you have, the less likely you are to choose any of them.

With priorities, you can truly begin.

The topic of priorities is a crucial part of the goal setting process. It’s something I felt I could have better touched on in the Goal Setting and Action Workbook. Now I know why I didn’t. I was waiting for this story from Warren – I just didn’t know it.

Take it seriously. Know what you care most about and avoid everything else like the plague.

What important things are you going to decide not to do right now?

Do this and make room for the real game changers.

Know what you want. Then go get it.

Download a free copy of the Prioritize Success like Warren Buffett Workbook.

This can stand alone or serve as a supplement to the Goal Setting and Action Workbook. Either way it’s a requirement to creating new realities. Have fun with it.

This workbook is free for people who subscribe for email updates from Live Your Legend. To get the workbook, just enter your email address below (don’t worry if you’re already a subscriber you won’t be double-subscribed, you’ll just get access to the workbook).

Sign up for free updates and get instant access to the free in-depth Prioritize Like Warren Workbook:

Image courtesy of Reuters.

Leave a Reply

59 Responses to “Warren Buffett’s 5-Step Process for Prioritizing True Success (and Why Most People Never Do It)”

  1. Anna says:

    This is such a great post Scott! I just did my list and I’m amazed at how simple it is to do it yet a lot of people don’t do it (I didn’t until I read this). The workbook is also an insanely useful guide to goal setting. Working on it now! Thank you for sharing! :)

    • Scott says:

      Awesome Anna. This is music to my ears! If even one other person is putting this stuff to work, it’s music to my ears :)

      Hopefully you realized a few things that are going to get the attention the deserve!

  2. Jackie Lee says:

    Awesome post Scott! It really puts a lot of things in perspective. I was sitting here thinking I only have a couple things going on, then added all the things that are so part of the day they’re habit and realized I have a LOT more going on than I thought. I’m looking forward to working through this new workbook.

    • Scott says:

      I love it Jackie! It does bring things front and center and force you to make some decisions. I hope it proves powerful. Let us know how you get on with the workbook.

  3. Wow, Scott… thank you so much! First time I’ve been to your blog and reading exactly what I need to hear! Too many things to do and nothing getting done has become a chronic problem. Resistance to selecting the top 5 is weirdly paralyzing too. At least now I know why! :-)
    Eager to dive into the workbook. Thanks!

    • Scott says:

      So glad you stopped by Mary and I do hope you’ll stick around. I love digging into this stuff with motivated folks. I assure you, you’re in good company.

      Good luck with your Top 5 and welcome to the adventure!

      Scott

  4. AWESOME! This is so very hlepful. Just wanted I needed at this place in my life.

  5. AB says:

    I have been lately working with my 3×3 system. It is even more focused in a way than the Top5, but allows certain freedom. Basically you can think of it as a 3 tiered tree or a 3×3 square with the central goal/project in the middle square and other 9 supporting it.

    The tree view allows you to set 3 top projects/areas/goals and then branch out into 3 specific activities or subprojects that support it. For example for me the three top areas/priorities are fitness, paying down debt and career advancement. I would then create 3 supporting subprojects for each that all SUPPORT and LEAD to the parent goal.

    This way I can keep the system super simple and concentrate on only 3 areas.

    Finally, if you want to, you can add time twist to it and make it a 3x3x3 system, where you concentrate on your individual area/project/goal for 3 months and then re-evaluate.

    • Scott says:

      Sounds like a powerful system for sure. I love your Top Areas too. Those are huge. Glad you’ve found something that get’s results. That’s all that matters.

      Thanks for filling us in on the new process!

  6. Nichelle Rae says:

    Me again Scott. I was so excited when I read this article the 1st time that I made typos. Really, this article was right on time for me.

    So much so, I’ve referenced you on my website – http://www.careersuccesslifestyle.com . Thanks again!

  7. Jared Fredrickson says:

    Thanks Scott. Please keep up the good work. Your refreshing to read and this is a “Great article”.

    I am working on myself this year and this article will really help. One question.

    Do you have any idea what Warren’s top 5 was? I would be very interested to know

    Keep ‘em coming

  8. Avadhut says:

    Scott,
    Very true. Prioritizing is first thing. Daily I get many mails from the readers and I dont understand whether to read and reply the mails first or do the research for my blogs first.

    • Scott says:

      Write first, do everything second. When it comes to a blog, nothing is more important than creating the best content in the world that you’re capable of creating for your readers. Everything else is secondary. It’s easy to forget this since creating is often the most difficult thing. Keep it close in mind and the sky is the limit. And your readers will love you!

  9. Thanks Scott, for this post and for the workbook (which is downloading as I type). They both come at a good time for me. It’s time to get organized (is it ever any other time!?!) and now I have a method to follow.

    I’m approaching a birthday, not a significant number, but all birthdays are significant to me! Just yesterday I decided I would sit on that day and map out the rest of my life. Maybe your workbook will help!
    Lori

    • Scott Dinsmore says:

      That sounds like an amazing birthday activity. Celebrate big time and get excited about what’s ahead! Please come back and tell us all what you dig into. We love the inspiration!

      Happy birthday Lori!
      Scott

  10. Mick says:

    Hi Scott,

    I really enjoyed your post. Like you, I can be guilty of chasing too many ideas and spreading myself too thinly. However, I’m learning …

    My passion is investing and teaching others the benefits of being a diy-investor. This has led me to write my first book “Picking Winning Shares”. My focus is almost an obsession at present (ask my wife!) but if I’m successful and stay focussed, you’ll see my book published next month (March 2011).

    Keep posting – you help to keep me on track!

    Best wishes, Mick (Author of “Picking Winning Shares” – ISBN: 978-0-9564899-0-6)

    • Scott Dinsmore says:

      Awesome to hear Mick. Completing a book is an accomplishment I can only begin to understand! I hope to know more about that in the years to come ;). I will keep an eye out for your book too. We read like crazy on the subject, especially on value investing. If you’re curious, my funds website is http://www.cumbrecapital.com. Email
      Me if you’d like login instructions.

      Good luck with the publishing!

      Scott

  11. Jon Giganti says:

    Scott,

    Kudos – another fantastic read. I wrote down my 25 right away. Even narrowed it down to five! I’m one of those guys that probably has too many projects and goals – this was pretty enlightening for me.

    My five:

    - NY Times Bestseller
    - TED presentation
    - Successful coaching/consulting business
    - Debt Free (including mortgage)
    - Pay cash for kid’s college

    • Scott says:

      These are huge priorities Jon and I love them. Given what Ive learned about you in the past months, I am more than confident these will become reality. Just apply hard work and dedication. Two things I know you know how to do! Big things ahead my friend! Can’t wait.

      Scott

  12. Jonathan says:

    Hey Scott,

    I’ve been reading your blog now for over a year. I truly believe this was your greatest post to date. It was concise, had a clear objective and carried a great message! My fiance and I have just created our list of 25 today (separately) and are going to discuss our objectives tonight.
    Thanks
    Jonathan

  13. Scott says:

    This is music to my ears Jonathan! If my most recent post was the best one then I’d like to think we’re heading in a good direction ;). Awesome it resonated so well and that you took action! Not to mention your fiancée. Thats huge. Id love for you to come back and share your top five with us if you’re keen. The readers (and I) love this stuff.

    Nicely done and most importantly Congrats on finding the right match!

    Scott

  14. Chad Doty says:

    Scott,

    Great post. We call this Shiny Object Syndrome….like a cat with a toy.

    Overcoming distractions is the unspoken requirement of goal achievement. Without that focus nothing is possible.

    It’s the extension of the Chinese Proverb “He he chases to rabbits, catches none…”

    Nice work.

  15. Wow, great post. I’ve actually been working on this, thanks to a coach who insists I prioritize and focus on 3 or 4 items at a time. And, she has to keep pulling me back because being a typical right-brainer, I’m always thinking up new things I want to work on. This is a great reminder.

  16. Stephanie says:

    Thanks so much for this awesome article. Very timely for me as I was just figuring out budget, life, goals, aspirations. New Twitter user and found you there.
    Thanks! I’m sharing this with everyone I know.

  17. Holly says:

    Great post! I was looking forward to reading the supplement, but the link to the PDF seems to be broken.

  18. Gerard says:

    Hmm, my previous post seems to have gone AWOL.

    Great post. It does leave me with a question. What do you after you have completed one of your goals? Do you add another, or accomplish all 5 before ever adding another goal?

  19. steve says:

    Thanks for this and all the great posts you have here at Live Your Legend. I hope it’s alright I posted a link in my site to you.

  20. a z says:

    Can you tell us more about the sourcing of this great story? I, like you, have read a lot about Buffett and had not heard this story before.

  21. Joe says:

    Thanks for this Scott! I am always overextending myself – looking for the thing that I will enjoy while I “do” everything else that has backed up on my task list.

    I know in my heart that this goes away with focus, but my brain keeps getting in the way. I intend on using this workbook as the very next thing I do before even looking at my daunting task list!

    Thank you.

  22. OK Scott need help on this. I am working on my 25 then narrowed it down to 5. BUT there is a problem with that. The top 5 are all either a financial goal like buy a house or focused on what I want to be doing for a career. All good right? Except none of them are focused on what i am doing right now which I do not enjoy which is why I am trying to get out. Great then career change is needed except it is going to take some time to get there because I have 5 kids and a wife and a dog and I need to feed them while I work on getting there. I feel like I need to cheat the list and put something in there about what I am doing now for a career so that I can have something in my top 5 just so I can work and get paid while I work on the others. Make sense?

  23. Insightful lessons, Scott especially the number 4 one. Thinking about it makes one feel unnerved about how easily the distractions can creep upon us. But eventually that’s the cost we pay to succeed. Thanks for sharing!

  24. R. Silver says:

    Wow, Scott! Your posts always seem to amaze me! Honestly, I have 8 things (6 classes for school and 2 writing projects). Honestly, since I started working on these writing projects, my productivity in school has pared down — a lot. Butt that’s what I need to focus on, and your post reminded me of that. Keep being awesome!

    R. Silver

  25. Jeff says:

    Thank you! I typed a question in my Google browser this morning, “Why does it matter?” I am turning 44 next month, have climbed the ladder to nowhere, got knocked off the ladder and find myself exactly not where I want to be. Don’t know where I want to be, but searching. Thanks for the video and tools. My favorite quote right now is, “We need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed.” Thanks for the reminder…

  26. deniz says:

    Thanks man right time right speech.

  27. Patty says:

    Some of my ‘What to avoid at all costs’ items are related to my top 5. For example ‘have a passionate marriage’ (avoid) is related to my priority of ‘put family first.’ Doesn’t seem right to say I want to avoid having a passionate marriage at all costs. Am I not focusing enough?

  28. Lee says:

    Scott,

    Maybe I am a little bit late to this party but I just wanted to say thank you!
    I’ve been on a bit of a journey and things are starting to make sense now. Then I found this! (Not simply this post but the entire website!)
    So much great, useful, actionable information.
    Best of luck with whatever you are doing now and I hope you don’t mind being an (un-official) mentor.

    Cheers,

    Lee

  29. Ed Cooper says:

    Thanks for a great article. Unlike many I find that understanding and finding my purpose is easier said than done. Looking forward to using your workbook to focus in and identify it.

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