Warren Buffet’s 25/5 Rule for Productivity

Besides being one of the wealthiest people alive and most prolific investors of our generation, Warren Buffet is revered for his intellect and manner in which he thinks, acts and behaves. This is illustrated perfectly below:

Mike Flint had been Warren Buffett’s private plane pilot for 10 years. Flint made his name for flying for past US presidents – he was good at his job. He had a fantastic relationship with Buffett and the pair often spoke about their ambitions.

“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 made Mike begin a little exercise…

What is Warren Buffet’s 25/5 Rule?

Step 1: He asked Flint to write down his 25 most important goals.

Step 2: Next, Buffett told Flint to circle the ideas that were most important to him, the ones he needed to achieve. Flint had a lot of ideas on the list that were important to him, however, he managed to whittle it down to just five.

Step 3: Flint’s goals were now split into two groups. He had 5 he thought were his most important, and another 20 that he deemed less so. Flint thought he should focus on these top 5 and work on the others when he could make time. He saw them as less urgent but was still keen to work on them. Buffett had other ideas.

“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.

“The successful warrior is the average man, with laser-like focus.”

Bruce Lee

Buffett told him to forget about every idea outside the top 5. Flint was told to solely focus on the ideas that were most important to him and drop everything else. Only once these goals were achieved was he allowed to even think about the other ideas on his list.

“Success isn’t always about greatness. It’s about consistency. Consistent hard work leads to success. Greatness will come.”

Dwayne Johnson

Eliminate That Which Doesn’t Serve You

The biggest threats to your time are not the obvious ones. Eliminating habits like watching TV is simple as we consciously know it has nothing to do will a goal.

The dangerous ones are the ones where you feel productive but aren’t actually moving closer to your goal. When you are still manually inputting numbers, instead of using a software to do it, you are wasting time. Downloading productivity apps and other gimmicks? Constantly planning rather than doing? Getting distracted by Shiny Object Syndrome in the hope that it will be a silver bullet? These are problematic as you feel like you are moving towards your goal but you are truly not.

Every behavior has a cost. Even neutral behaviors aren’t really neutral. They take up time, energy, and space that could be put toward better behaviors or more important tasks. We are often spinning in motion instead of taking action.

This is why Buffett’s strategy is particularly brilliant. Items 6 through 25 on your list are things you care about. They are important to you. It is very easy to justify spending your time on them. But when you compare them to your top 5 goals, these items are distractions.

Spending time on secondary priorities is the reason you have 20 half-finished projects instead of 5 completed ones.

“Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.”

Alexander Graham Bell

Eliminate ruthlessly. Force yourself to focus. Complete a task or kill it.

How to make the 25/5 rule work for you

The story illustrates how you can use elimination and focus to achieve your biggest career or life goals. But importantly you can also extend this rule to help you with daily, weekly, and monthly priorities as well.

For example, every morning, you might make a task list of five to 10 things you’d really like to accomplish for the day. 

You can then circle only the top task (or two, max). Don’t do any of the other tasks – no meetings, no calls, nothing – until you’ve completed that priority.

You can repeat this same process for any time period. Write down a list and get in the habit of asking yourself the following questions when faced with choices on how to spend your time:

  • Will this task help me reach my goal for the day? 
  • Will this project help me reach my top goals for the year?
  • Will this strategy help me reach my ultimate career goals?

Or, does it fall under the second category: interesting, but a distraction?

The 25/5 strategy is a reminder that it’s not what you do, it’s what’s you don’t do, that drives your productivity and performance.

Use the 25/5 rule and you won’t just achieve relentless focus, increased productivity and better achieve your goals – you’ll make your emotions work for you, rather than against you.

What are you choosing to say no to today?

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