Hyper-focus and commit only to your top priorities

By Jack J. Kelly


We all set goals for ourselves, and usually, unfortunately, epically fail to achieve them.  One big reason for the high failure rate is due to people not even getting started.  Not only do we fail to ignite our engines, we get easily distracted, forget to write the goal down, and can’t recall the awesome plan we had at two in the morning when we woke up with the instant creative spark of the idea for … ugh, can’t remember.

A guy who did sort-of okay for himself is our favorite billionaire, Warren Buffett.  He’s like your granddad, except your pop-pop is in a dilapidated nursing home and Warren Buffett is a multi-billionaire and one of the richest people in the world.

In addition to knowing how to make oodles of money, Buffett has a lot of good old-fashioned common sense.  The multi-multi-multi billionaire had an interesting idea when advising one of his employees on how to find guidance and direction with his career and life.

As the story goes, his personal private jet pilot, who felt stuck in his career, turned to Buffett for the wealthy man’s sage advice.  While the pilot had had an illustrious career, he felt grounded, lacked direction, and asked Buffett for his advice and counsel.  Buffett instructed the pilot to write down his top 25 career goals that were important to him (a flight plan, if you will). The pilot was then told to circle the five goals which held the most importance.

The pilot now had two lists: one with the top five most important goals and the other consisting of 25 relatively significant goals. Everything that the pilot wrote down had a sense of importance and meaning. The top five, however, contained the objectives that held the most meaning for him.  The pilot viewed the longer list of 20 goals as not necessarily urgent priorities, but still worth pursuing.

To the guy, it seemed reasonable to have a big wish list of objectives to go after, which would make Buffett proud of his grand ambitions.  This was, however, the wrong approach according to Buffett. Why, you ask?  Buffett explained to the pilot that he had a limited amount of time and attention. Any efforts spent on the lower 20 priority goals would lead to turbulence and take away time, energy, and effort from his higher-priority goals.

Buffett had the pilot completely eliminate the other 20 goals.  He recommended that he place all of his efforts, enthusiasm, drive, and energy into achieving everything on his top-five list before even thinking about moving on to anything else. Why? These 20 items, along with other potential future opportunities, would only serve as distractions and delay him from his ultimate destination.

Buffett’s advice was to hyper-focus on the pilot’s core set of five goals, as it would be easier to plan, execute, and, ultimately, succeed. Also, the other 20 would only serve to distract him, sending him around in circles. If he went after all 25, the pilot would have done a mediocre job on all of them instead of reaching his destination on the top five.

Simplicity is the key to success. One fully-completed project is better than 20 half-finished ones. (**Or as wise sage, Ron Swanson, once said, “Never half-ass two things. Whole ass one thing.”) Buffett suggested that you don’t just prioritize what is most important, but you need to support this prioritization by avoiding everything else.

“You’ve ‘gotta keep control of your time,” Buffett says and hyper-focus on what truly matters.

This is a true story, and interestingly, there was no mention whether the pilot landed a new job.


**My editor, Christine, is a really big Parks & Recreation fan. 

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