What Warren Buffett Taught Me About Setting Goals

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Scott Tousley
Scott Tousley



To no surprise, Warren Buffett has a personal pilot. One cloudy afternoon, Mr. Buffett handed his pilot an exercise.


He asked him to write down 25 goals he wants to accomplish in his career. 

After brainstorming, his pilot came back with the list. Warren Buffett looked at the list, smiled, and said, "Great. Now I want you to circle the five things that matter to you most.”

Despite the challenging task, his pilot obliged. He struggled prioritizing ONLY five career goals. But low and behold, he narrowed the list. He now had two lists - his five most important goals and the 20 other secondary goals. 

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Finally, he brought both lists back to Warren Buffett. Warren asked the pilot what he believes he should do with the two lists. His pilot said, "Well, I'd primarily do the five goals on my first list, then the 20 other goals would be secondary. I'd get to them if I had time."

Warren Buffett said, "No. You've got it all wrong." 

He told the pilot his answer. 

Since hearing his answer, my process of setting goals has forever changed.

What was it? 

Well first, here’s the thing. We all have goals. Usually, more goals than we can handle. As we strive to accomplish more and more, our to-do list continues to grow.  

Eventually, it hits a breaking point where we feel stuck. Our list is so large; our goals are so plentiful. We don't know where to start. 

One strategy to handling the to-do list is prioritizing tasks into a template. Another way is outsourcing tasks which aren’t important.

Warren Buffett disagrees with this.

To him, prioritization is not the answer for managing goals. His pilot should not have a primary list of 5 goals, then a secondary list of 20 goals. He told his pilot something completely different.

Warren Buffett said to avoid the secondary list at all costs.

Throw it away. Hide it. Burn it. Do whatever you have to do to never do those 20 goals until every single one of your five most important goals are completed.

You know what, I agree. Focus wins. But if I trash that list of twenty items, I won’t have anything to reference.

Thus, instead of eliminating the second list, I follow a slight variation from Warren Buffett’s advice … 

Creating a NOT to-do list. 

Tasks related to our goals inevitably end up on our to-do list. But if we have 25 goals, our to-do list can grow into an overwhelming nightmare. 

Successful people like Warren Buffett don’t have a lot of goals. They have a few. And they are incredibly focused on them.

Here's how you can follow Warren Buffett's advice. 

Step 1: Create a list of 25 career goals

Here are 25 career goals of mine, which hopefully makes it easier to complete this exercise yourself: 

Create List of 25 Career Goals

   1. Become a better storyteller. 14. Create a YouTube channel. 
   2. Grow my Twitter account. 15. Create a Podcast.
   3. Become an angel investor. 16. Learn how to edit photos in Photoshop. 
   4. Learn data analysis techniques, such as SQL. 17. Ability to create high quality videos.
   5. Study behavioral psychology and economics.            18. Study productivity habits to get more done in less time.
   6. Learn how code with HTML and CSS. 19. Study typography and design. 
   7. Learn how to code with PHP.  20. Become fluent in Spanish
   8. Become a better copywriter. 21. Obtain a private pilot's license. 
   9. Ability to run multivariate testing. 22. Learn how to collect external data for market research.
   10. Create successful Facebook ads.  23. Investing in residential real estate.
   11. Create successful Twitter ads. 24. Learn how to create animations. 
   12. Create a website using affiliate marketing. 25. Speak at marketing conferences.
   13. Create an online course.  

PHEW. My brain feels numb just looking at that list. Can you imagine doing every single one of those? So what would I do first???

Now I need to follow Warren's advice.  

Step 2: Narrow the List to Five Goals. 

Next, I need to limit the list to five goals. 

Fair warning: This is NOT easy. But narrowing goals is the difference between rapid career growth and stagnation. 

My To-Do Goals List

   1. Study productivity habits to get more done in less time.

   2. Become a better storyteller. 

   3. Become a better copywriter

   4. Study behavioral psychology and behavioral economics. 

   5. Learn data analysis techniques, such as using SQL.  

According to Warren Buffett, the key is to never diverge from this list until I feel confident in my abilities in each category. Never, ever, ever.

Step 3: Create the NOT to-do List

Finally, now that I've created my primary list of five goals, I create my NOT to-do list. This list is essentially all goals that aren't in my top five. 

I need to avoid them at all costs. 

For example, I shouldn’t do anything related to creating Facebook ads. Or taking Spanish classes. Or how to start a podcast. Or write code in PHP. Likewise, I shouldn't read any articles in that these categories either. 

Here's my new, NOT to-do list. 

My NOT To-Do List

   1. Create successful Facebook ads. 11. Create a YouTube channel. 
   2. Grow my Twitter account. 12. Create a Podcast.
   3. Become an angel investor. 13. Learn how to edit photos in Photoshop. 
   4. Learn how to create animations. 14. Ability to create high quality videos.
   5. Investing in residential real estate. 15. Create an online course.  
   6. Learn how code with HTML and CSS. 16. Study typography and design. 
   7. Learn how to code with PHP.  17. Become fluent in Spanish
   8. Speak at marketing conferences. 18. Obtain a private pilot's license. 
   9. Ability to run multivariate testing. 19. Learn how to collect external data for market research.
   10. Create successful Twitter ads. 20. Create a website using affiliate marketing.

Next time you do something, consider Warren Buffett's advice. Write down 25 goals. Choose five that matter. Eliminate the rest. 

If a task comes up, or you found something new to read, as yourself this question - Is it on my NOT to-do list? 

If so, eliminate it. Avoid it at all costs. Don't read it. Don't do it.

In the end, you’ll make progress quicker than you ever could have imagined. 


You can do anything. But not everything. 


Topics: Sales Goals

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