How The Warren Buffett 2-List Strategy Subverted My To-Do’s
Welcome! To me. I’m new here at enough. and interested in exploring and dissecting and destroying and welcoming and rolling my eyes at and being slayed by all things “enough.” in my life.
Recently I wrote The World’s Longest To-Do List. And I was proud of it. What? Proud?! I know, sad, right? I had written down my list of tasks to complete in 15-minute increments, because, you know, I have all sorts of chill time between having a teenager and a preschooler, running my own writing agency, working out every. single. day., writing a novel, editing a national women’s magazine, loving to cook, being on every committee known to humankind and having a senior citizen pooch who requires things like walking and being fed and stuff like that. Oh and sleeping–I do that, too.
So, yeah, I wrote this to-do list which even included things like “eat lunch” and “meditate” which feels utterly self-serving. Who out there doesn’t add things to a to-do list which you know you will actually do simply for the satisfaction of checking it off your list?
Go to Frog’s House
Okay, I confess, this is the beginning of Toad’s list from “A List”–a story from Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad Together (which I recommend you read immediately, if not sooner). It isn’t as if I wouldn’t clothe if it didn’t appear on my day’s to-do list BUT if “get dressed” did make it on my to-do list, you’d better believe I’d happily strike through that before moving on to “brush teeth.”
But seriously: blah blah blah. Who cares? My little soliloquy of “poor me and my busy life” list above is just like yours–full. Filled. Abundant! And this is all well and good until life pushes you over the proverbial edge and strikes a throat punch to your life that has you falling to your knees–from exhaustion and disbelief more than for some kind of reverence for the god of to-dos.
Life’s throat punch to me took the form of a wracking 7-week illness unattended by my good senses and therefore completely blitzing. I had this brilliant idea that because I couldn’t get “enough” completed in a normal, human day, how about I wake up at 6:00am and start working? Great idea! And then I can work through breakfast and eat my lunch over my keyboard and then keep working all day, break for dinner and then charge through until 1:00am so I can collapse into bed and lay awake with anxiety about the next day arriving in 5 short hours? Brilliant!
SUCH a good idea. Weird that it backfired.
The backfiring manifested like this: incessant ringing in my ears. Incessant means all the time. Nonstop. Forever. Unending. Always. I could not run away from the ringing. It was loudest during silence. I invested a week curled in the corner of my darkened bedroom hoping my life would end so I could hear silence again. Sufferers of this condition have the highest rates of suicide because there is no cure. No cure. Reminder: the ringing was incessant.
Enter: Warren Buffett.
During what I like to call the Eternal Cry of the Crazy Cicada looping in my ears everyday, I learned about Warren Buffett’s “2 List” strategy. And having an incredible affinity for list-making, I jumped right in. This strategy aims to help you maximize your focus and intent and completely master what is a real priority in your day, week, month, year, life.
And it transformed my life. So that’s what I want for you.
Warren has something like 50 billion dollars. That’s a B, billion. Hello. He’s been doing something strategic, right? His success is undeniable and I’d imagine his to-do list is pretty incredible. But I learned about his productivity strategy and it has changed my approach to, like, everything.
Listen to this story and actually follow the guide and you, too, can eradicate your superfluous to-do lists.
The Story of Mike Flint
Mike Flint was Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for 10 years. (Flint has also flown four US Presidents, so clearly he’s good at his job–a stellar pilot). According to Flint, he was talking about his career priorities with Buffett when his boss asked the pilot to go through a 3-step exercise.
STEP 1 // TOP 25 GOALS: Buffett started by asking Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. So, Flint took some time and wrote them down. (Note: you could also complete this exercise with goals for a shorter timeline. For example, write down the top 25 things you want to accomplish this week or even this very day.)
STEP 2 // TOP 5 OF 25: Then, Buffett asked Flint to review his list and circle his top 5 goals. Again, Flint took some time, made his way through the list, and eventually decided on his 5 most important goals.
NOTE: If you’re awesome and following along at home, pause right now and actually do these first two steps before moving on to Step 3.
No, seriously. Stop reading and just write your 25 list and then circle your 5. Just do it. You will be SO GLAD you did.
I had cicadas jammed in my brain screaming in my head for a month and this saved me. Do yourself a favor and make a quick and dirty list…then you can move on.
…..yay! You did it. I knew you were one of the good ones. Okay, keep reading…
STEP 3 // LIST A + LIST B: At this point, Flint had two lists. The 5 items he had circled were List A and the 20 items he had not circled were List B.
Flint confirmed that he would start working on his List A—his Top 5 Goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about List B, the second list, the items not circled. “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.”
To which Buffett replied, “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.”
Whoa. Mind blown.
Warren Buffett–the most successful investor in the world just gave you and me permission to avoid the non-essentials and be the most productive today, tomorrow and for a lifetime.