The Will to Rise Above, Part 3


I’ve always admired those with the ability to block out distractions and keep a laser-like focus on their priorities. With technology allowing us to be distracted literally 100% of the time, now it is increasingly difficult to focus. Not to mention, most people I know are paranoid they have A.D.D.

I see parents at the park paying no attention to their kids—consumed with their phone, people in important meetings daydreaming and thinking about anything other than the content being spoken about, as well as gym members wandering around the gym for 60 minutes getting less of a workout than they could have gotten in 30 minutes. We can all think of other examples.

It all comes down to the ability to focus and eliminate distractions in our lives.

An example of this is Warren Buffett, who is consistently ranked among the wealthiest people in the world. Out of all the investors in the 20th century, Buffett was the most successful. Given his success, it stands to reason that Buffett has an excellent understanding of how to spend his time each day. From a monetary perspective, you could say that he manages his time better than anyone else.

There is a simple 3-step productivity strategy that Warren Buffett uses to help his employees determine their priorities and actions. This strategy can help those of us willing to put a couple tweaks into our daily habits in all areas of our lives.

Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for 10 years was a man named Mike Flint. 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.

Here’s how it works…

STEP 1: Buffett started by asking him 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.)

STEP 2: 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 following along, pause right now and do these first two steps before moving on.)

STEP 3: At this point, Flint had 2 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 top 5 goals right away. And that’s when Buffett asked him about the second list, “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.”


I like getting rid of things. I think eliminating distractions and waste is one of the best ways to make life easier, make good habits more automatic, and make you grateful for what you do have.

That said, getting rid of wasteful items and decisions is relatively easy.

It’s eliminating the things you care about that is difficult.

It is hard to prevent using your time on things that are easy to rationalize but have little payoff. The tasks that have the greatest likelihood of derailing your progress are the ones you care about but aren’t truly important.

Every behavior has a cost. Even neutral behaviors aren’t really neutral. They take up time, energy, and space that could be put toward better behaviors or more important tasks.

This is why Buffett’s strategy is so important. Items 6 through 25 on your list are things you care about. They are important to you. It is very easy to justify spending your time on them. But when you compare them to your top 5 goals, these items are distractions. Spending time on secondary priorities is the reason you have 20 half-finished projects instead of 5 completed ones.


As the saying goes, the hunter who chases two rabbits catches neither one. What distractions can you get rid of TODAY that will allow you to catch the one rabbit?

Photo by m wrona

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