Warren Buffett 25/5 Rules of Productivity

Eliminate the biggest distraction to what you want to accomplish

With a total net worth of $73.3 billion to his name, Warren Buffett is the second wealthiest person in the United States and the fourth wealthiest in the world. He is also considered by some to be one of the most successful investors in the world.

Buffett was also known as a notable philanthropist who pledged to give away 99 percent of his wealth to philanthropic causes, mainly via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

From a monetary point of view, you could say that Buffett has a great understanding — and rather a different perspective — of how he spends his time and energy on his work.

The story below, which was shared by his personal pilot, demonstrates how Buffett manages his focus. It’s a simple 3-step productivity strategy that everyone can use to determine daily priorities and actions.

The story of Buffett’s personal pilot

Mike Flint has been Warren’s personal pilot for 10 years. According to Flint, Buffett was talking about his career goals and priorities on a flight.

In the conversation, Buffett asked Flint to list the top 25 things he wanted to do in the next few years or during his lifetime. Listing five to ten goals is easy, but if you’ve ever tried to write down 25 dreams and goals at once, you know it’s challenging.

Flint took some time to get that done. Buffett then asked him to review every item on the list and circle the top five that mattered the most to him. Flint was hesitant because to him, everything on the list was important.

However, Buffett insisted that he could only select five out of the 25.

Flint retook some time to look at his list and circle the top five. With that, he had two separate lists - the top five and the other 20. Buffett then asked Flint about when he will start working on the top five and how he would do it.

“I’m going to work on them right away. I’ll start tomorrow. Actually, no. I’ll start tonight.” Flint answered. Buffett then asked him about the second list, “And what about the ones you didn’t circle?”

Flint replied confidently, “Well. The top five are my primary focus but the other 20 come in a close second. So, I’ll work on those intermittently as I’m getting through my top 5.”

To which Buffett replied sternly, “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 3-step process of 25/5 strategy

If you haven’t start making your own 25/5 list, here is the step-by-step guide for you to do it right now.

Step 1: build a list of 25

List 25 goals and things you want to accomplish in the next five years or in your lifetime. For me, I think of them as  three separate questions:

  • Who do I want to be?
  • What do I want to do?
  • What do I want to have?

Step 2: review and pick your top 5 priorities

Review the 25 items you just listed and circle the top five that matter the most to you.

Step 3: focus on the top 5 and eliminate the AAAC list

Keep both lists: the top five as your primary priorities and the other 20 as your avoid-at-all-cost list.

Spend all your time and energy on the top five and avoid giving any attention to the remaining 20.

The underrated power of elimination

I’m big fan of minimalism, especially when comes to focus, productivity, and decision-making. While many of us are trying to do more, doing more usually isn’t the solution. In fact, it’s the exact opposite of it.

One does not accumulate but eliminate. It is not daily increase but daily decrease. The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity. —Bruce Lee

Eliminate ruthlessly. Remove things and decisions that don’t contribute to your top goals and focus 80 percent of your energy on the 20 percent of things that produce the most outcome. Instead of having multiple half-done projects, focus on completing a small number of them.

No priority, decision, or action is neutral. All of them are constantly consuming some sort of energy and a certain amount of focus. And the intensity of your focus affects the success rate of the things you pursue.

Secondary goals are sometimes the biggest distractions

I think Buffett’s approach on priorities is brilliant. However, it’s easier said than done. On a personal level, I had a difficulty coming up with 25 goals. I got around ten top goals for the next few years, and then I made up a few low-key goals to fill in the list.

However, when it comes to selecting the top five and eliminating the remaining 20, it becomes even more challenging. The top six and seven are usually important to us. But when compared to the top five, they are secondary.

It’s easy to give in and spend time and energy on them. Eventually, they become the distractions to our top five goals. To succeed, eliminate ruthlessly and force yourself to focus.


  1. I first read about this story here (by Scott Dinsmore) and here (by James Clear).

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