If you’ve seen the documentary Becoming Warren Buffett, you might have thought a day in the life of Warren Buffett seems pretty easy. After all, he spends most of his day reading, and delegates most of his work out to employees before it even finds its way into his office.
Yes, it seems pretty easy – it might even seem a little lazy – but there’s a strategy to it that has helped the world’s third-richest person become who he is today.
It’s all about focus. You see, just because Buffett can do something doesn’t mean he should.
In accepting that, he avoids the mistake most entrepreneurs make on a regular basis without a moment’s delay. Think about it: how often has a task landed on your desk that could have been handled by one of your subordinates? You could have passed it on to them, but you realised it would only take a few minutes, so you let yourself be distracted and take care of it.
Sure, it’s easy, but so what? In the end, it was a waste of time.
Of course, tasks do come along that Buffett should take on as a matter of priority. So what happens when they do? More importantly, how does he recognise what to prioritise, and what to avoid?
As it turns out, Buffett’s former personal pilot has the answer.
The Three Steps
Mike Flint had been flying for Buffett for 10 years when Buffett joked “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”.
Flint knew he was right. He’d been extremely successful as an employee – he’d flown Air Force One for four Presidents – but his goals had always extended well beyond being able to name the famous faces who’d been on his planes.
So he asked Buffett for help.
Buffett sat him down, and took him through this three-step process:
Flint was told to write down his 25 most important goals. It didn’t matter whether they were personal or professional; whatever Flint saw as important, he should add to the list.
Buffett then instructed him to highlight the five goals he considered most important. Naturally, this proved a challenge. Sure, one or two may have seemed obvious, but everything Flint had added to the list he’d added because he saw purpose to them.
Still, he eventually decided on five.
Flint separated these two new groups into lists – List A, with the five highlighted goals and List B, featuring the others.
Buffett asked when Flint was going to get to work on realising the goals on List A.
“Tonight”, Flint exclaimed excitedly.
And what about List B?
Flint said that he understood they weren’t as important, so he’d make sure to work on them less than those on List A.
“No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike”, explained Buffett.
“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 five.”
On Letting Go
Makes sense, right?
Think about it: how many projects have you left half-finished because you let something else you considered important get in the way?
Life moves fast, but you don’t have to. Try, and you’re likely to end up playing catch-up for the rest of your life.
“Really successful people say no to almost everything”, says Buffett. While that may seem contradictory to tradition, the simple fact is that if we do not dedicate ourselves to what matters most, it will inevitably fail to reach its full potential.
You know this. You’ve experienced it before, in one way or another.
Learning to let go, to shift your attention and hone your focus, is a remarkably simple strategy, and a sign of a true member of The 8 Percent. I hope you give it a try. And when you do, let us know how it turned out!