Prioritizing like Warren Buffett

In a post on Live Your Legend, Scott Dinsmore talks about one tip on prioritization that Warren Buffett gave his pilot. The system goes like this:

  1. List the top 25 goals you want to achieve, either in the next few years or in your lifetime.
  2. From that list of 25 goals, pick your top five most important. Put those on their own list of current goals.
  3. Put the other 20 goals on another list.
  4. Avoid those 20 goals at all costs until you achieve the first five.

Sounds a little terrifying, doesn’t it? Committing to five goals so much that you’re willing to sacrifice all of the others to achieve them? But, according to Warren Buffett, that’s how you become successful: focus on your highest-priority goals to the exclusion of all else. There are a lot of good articles out there about why taking advice from those in extraordinary circumstances can be less than helpful, but I think this one might be the exception to the rule.

Prioritization and goal setting are the keys to getting where you want to go. The journey may be more important than the destination, but priorities give direction to your journey.

This is a tip that has always intrigued me, but it’s something I’ve never gone through all the steps for. I want to show you my own process with this, because I’d love to see yours! Here are the 25 goals I came up with:

  1. Publish Collision Course.
  2. Start a side business (freelancing and blog).
  3. Graduate grad school.
  4. Get in good enough shape to do a pull-up.
  5. Publish a book of poetry.
  6. Publish “The Day My Imagination Ran Away With me” as a children’s book.
  7. Get good enough at swing dancing to compete (with aerials).
  8. Spend at least a month abroad.
  9. Learn another language.
  10. Have a serious cross-cultural experience.
  11. Make a difference in government.
  12. Publish a non-fiction book.
  13. Get paid to act.
  14. Find my own version of minimalism/essentialism.
  15. Create a home that I love.
  16. Become a morning person.
  17. Create emergency and longterm savings.
  18. Make a difference in my community.
  19. Go paleo.
  20. Join a choir.
  21. Publish Go.
  22. Become a good cook.
  23. Run the Disney Half Marathon.
  24. Write a novel in verse.
  25. Find a fulfilling, challenging career, ideally in DC or abroad.

Obviously, plenty of these goals overlap, but now comes the even harder part: narrowing it down to the top 5. Here they are, in order, for my current season of life:

  1. Graduate grad school.
  2. Start a side business.
  3. Find my own version of minimalism/essentialism.
  4. Publish Collision Course.
  5. Go paleo.

This list includes an education/professional goal, a financial goal, a personal goal, a creative goal, and a health goal. The other 20 just became my “avoid at all costs” list. Now, I don’t subscribe to the idea that I have to finish all five before I pursue any others — it seems to me that I can add something else once I finish one of the five.

This whole exercise has been much harder than I expected it to be — letting go of the pursuit of some of those other goals, at least until I finish some of my top goals, feels incredibly uncomfortable. How hard is it for you to let go of trying to do EVERYTHING RIGHT NOW and instead focusing on seeing a few things through to completion?

But I can see how a list like this can be really powerful. To really follow through here, I shouldn’t start any new projects that don’t directly contribute to my top five goals. Obviously, I’ll still spend time on taking care of myself (health, relationships, rest, etc.) and others, but I’ll limit my goal-oriented, achievement energy toward these five things.

It’s an illuminating exercise. If you’re feeling brave, post your list (or a partial list) in the comments and let us cheer you on! What do you think about Buffett’s advice?

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