Mike Flint was Warren Buffet’s private pilot for over 10 years. Being a pilot is usually a dream job. It’s not something you end up doing out of convenience, because it’s the easiest path to follow, or because it’s the only option that’s left. So it’s safe to say that pilots, private pilots, should be pretty happy that they reached their career goal.
Yet one day on the plane, Flint was talking to Buffet about his career priorities, what he still wanted to achieve. Buffet did concede that it was understandable to have higher dreams than flying your boss around wherever and whenever he needed to go. When you think about it, that’s all the job comes down to. Then, Mike got something most of us can only dream of: he got personal advice from Warren Buffet.
The 3-step approach
Easy as 1, 2, 3.
Buffet asked Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. It didn’t have to be 25 different jobs, or 25 different promotions. The 25 goals simply had to be related to his career altogether, as a pilot or as something else. What did he want to achieve most, professionally?
Then Buffet explained Flint had to review his list, and circle his 5 “favourite” items: his Top 5 Goals. Not more and not less than 5.
“Take a good look at the twenty goals you didn’t circle”, Buffet said. “These are your avoid-at-all-cost items. They’re what has the most potential to distract you. They eat away your time and energy and prevent you from focusing on what matters. They make you take your eye off the ball and lose track of the game. They prevent you from scoring.”
Applying this strategy to your life
You can use this organisational concept for any part of life, as long as you can break everything down in a list. When you think about it, it’s almost pure logic. You can’t focus your energy on 25 things at the same time, in any domain. Our brain is not built for it.
- You can’t do 25 meaningful things this week
- You can’t work 25 jobs
- You can’t go to 25 places at the same time
- You can’t develop deep, strong relationships with 25 people
- You can’t chase 25 rabbits at the same time
So list down what you think are your priorities in each area of your life. It’s actually a good thing to go all the way up to 25 items. This way, you make sure you think deeply about all your options, and nothing gets left out. If you’re having trouble getting up to 25, write down the craziest ones, the obvious ones. It will help you get to the bottom of it all.
The “areas of your life” can be a pretty vague term. To help you out, here are the most common ones. They’re not presented in any particular order.
- Family and friends
- Physical environment
- Personal growth
- Fun and recreation
Once you have your 25 items, apply the Buffet filter.
Taking things further
The Buffet technique is no rocket science. Prioritising things with one or many lists is a very common strategy, and it has been for centuries. It just works. The theory is child’s play, but the very hard part lies in the practice: successfully removing items and ignoring them the whole time.
“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say ‘No’ to almost everything.” — Warren Buffet
There is another guy who is into lists and has a more radical approach to them. His name is Gary Keller, and he wrote the bestseller The ONE Thing. His technique is the same as Buffet’s, except instead of keeping 5 items on your list, you keep one, and only one.
This approach is very adequate for some parts of our lives, specifically when it comes to career/work and finance goals. A lot of us had no idea what we wanted to do when we left high school and had to pick a curriculum in university, college or whatnot. But as we grow older, we usually get a clearer mental picture of where we would like to be in our career versus where we are right now.
That’s where The ONE Thing strategy can be really powerful. By removing all the noise, all the unimportant things, and only focusing on The One Thing we strive to achieve, we can highly increase our chances of reaching our goal.
But for the rest of course, it’s important to keep your options open. Not too open though, otherwise you’ll never take a decision and move forward. For that, Buffet’s advice is on point.
- Write down your top 25 goals in one specific area of your life
- Circle your Top 5 favourite items
- Take a good look at the 20 remaining: they are your avoid-at-all-cost items. The other 5 ones are your ultimate priority.