Entrepreneurship & InnovationMind & Body

How you can use Warren Buffett’s “2 List Strategy” to become more focused and productive

By September 8, 2017 No Comments

What is it that separates super successful people from the rest of us? Are they smarter or more talented? Do they have access to opportunities that we don’t?

When you ask successful people about how they’ve managed to be so successful, one of the most common reasons they give is that they are able to maximize their focus and master their priorities.

One of Warren Buffett’s employees recently shared a story revealing Buffett’s “2 List Strategy” that he uses to mazimize his own productivity and also his employees. As the most successful investor alive today, it makes sense that Buffett knows the most effective strategies to improve focus and productivity.

The best bit?

The “2 List Strategy” is incredibly simple to carry out and will have an immediate impact on improving your focus.

The story of Buffett’s personal airplane pilot

Mike Flint was Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for ten years. Before working for Buffett, Flint was the pilot for four previous US presidents.

Flint and Buffett were talking about Flint’s career priorities when Buffett decided to take Flint through his “2 List Strategy” to improve his focus.

Here’s how it works:

STEP 1: Buffett began by asking Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. Flint went away and put some thought into his goals, writing them down in a list.

(Note: you can also carry out this exercise with shorter-term goals, such as your top 25 priorities for the week.)

STEP 2: Flint showed his list to Buffett. Then, Buffett asked Flint to review the list and circle his 5 most important goals. Flint took his time doing this, eventually selecting his 5 most important career goals.

(At this point, I suggest doing the exercise yourself before moving to the next step. Go away and put together your 25 most important career goals and then circle the 5 most important.)

STEP 3: Flint now had two lists: the 5 goals he circled were in List A, and the remaining 20 goals were in List B.

Buffett asked Flint to start working on his top 5 goals in List A right away, which Flint confirmed he would do.

Buffett then asked him about his goals from List B:

“And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”

Flint replied:

“Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

Buffett responded as follows:

“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 power of focus

I believe one of the easiest mistakes we can make is to focus on too many things at the same time.

Eliminating the inessential and adopting a “less is more” approach is one of the most powerful ways to become more productive. It gives you the time to focus on what really matters and create a culture of continuous improvement in your life.

This is easier said than done. I know this from experience, and it’s something I’m always working on.

The biggest challenge comes when you feel emotionally attached to your goals in List B. It’s really hard to rationalize avoiding these items at all costs. Yet these are the goals that are taking up your cognitive and emotional focus and preventing you from performing at your best in achieving the goals that matter the most: the goals in List A.

There’s another benefit from limiting your focus to the goals in List A. When you create more time and space in what you’re focusing on, you end up making productive habits more automatic and become more grateful for what you are already achieving in your life.

Think of it this way.

If you are always focusing even intermittently on the 25 most important goals in your life, you are unlikely dedicating all that much time on each of them. You are probably getting used to living a life where your goals aren’t being realized.

You will get used to a life of always having goals but rarely achieving them.

But by consciously telling yourself to avoid the goals in List B at all costs, you’re now only focused on a limited number of goals. Every day you will make tangible progress in achieving them and you will become used to living a life of always achieving your goals.

This is why Buffett’s strategy is so brilliant. It helps to identify the goals that matter the most, and identify the other goals as distractions.

Spending time on your secondary goals is the reason you have 20 unfinished projects in your life, rather than 5 completed ones.

Eliminate ruthlessly. Create focus in your life. Start achieving your goals and live a more productive life.

Justin Brown

Justin Brown

I'm the CEO and co-founder of Ideapod, a platform for people to connect around ideas. I'm passionate about people thinking for themselves, especially in an age of information overload.