Warren Buffett's “2-List Strategy” to Prioritize Focus In Business & Life

Warren Buffet is arguably the most successful investor of the 20th century. He is known for being decisive, intentional, and efficient with his time. And you know how I feel about being efficient & effective!

One of Buffett’s most famous pieces of advice is commonly referred to as the “2-List Strategy” or the “25:5 List Strategy”. It’s simple, but effective. In fact, he uses this exercise to help his employees determine their priorities… thus, determining their actions. Given that his company Berkshire Hathaway is worth about $530 billion dollars, I’d say this strategy must be pretty effective. 

As an advisor, I always had no less than what felt like a zillion irons in the fire. I was making money, I was bringing in lots of assets…. AND, I was exhausted. 

I finally realized (and having kids will do this to you) that I need to focus on just doing FEW things really really well. Enter: Warren Buffet’s 2-List Strategy.

Here’s how it works: 

Step One: List the top 25 goals you would like to accomplish in your lifetime. 

Take all the time you need to compile a long list of goals. Many of them you’ll know right off the top of your head, but many will require more thought. And, if you’re like me, lifetime seems… I don’t know… long? I often don’t know what I’m feeding my family for dinner tonight, much less what I want to accomplish in the next 50 years. 

So, when I do this exercise I shrink the timeline. You could do five years, one year, three months, or maybe even this week. I prefer the time frame of one year.  

It might take a few days to a week to complete this step. Once you get started, you’ll find that additional ideas pop into your head at random moments. Be sure to capture these. So take your thought and be really thoughtful about your list–you’ll get better results.  

Feel free to make the initial list much longer than 25, but ultimately limit yourself to 25. 

Step 2: Choose the five most important. 

This step was TOUGH for me. Choose the five most important goals from your list of 25 goals. Again, you might need some time to complete this step. I reworked this several times and I was only planning for a year! 

One good way to help with this is to imagine that you only had the opportunity to accomplish five goals. Which would you choose?

Buffet says no more than 5… no wiggle room on this one. Circle them and move on to step 3. 

Step 3: Create two lists. 

At this point, you have two lists. Take the 5 goals you circled and put them on one list. Let’s call this list, List A. And put the remaining 20 in another list. We’ll call this List B. Buffet will rename them for you in just a minute. 

Keep both of them handy. Both are useful, just not for the same reasons. 

It feels kind of obvious, right? The 5 are the priorities and the 20 are the “when I have pockets of time I can work on those”.... WRONG. 

Buffet says that the List A, your top 5 goals, now become your exclusive focus. 

List B he calls your “To Be Avoided At All Costs List.” 

Items 6-25 are things you really really care about! They made it to the top 25! Which also makes them a list of appealing distractions that will keep you from accomplishing your most important goals. 

Buffet says you must avoid List B at all costs until you’ve succeeded at ALL of the items on List A. Keep this list available. Remind yourself regularly of these items. View them as poison to your success.

Most of us wouldn’t have the time to complete all 25 items, unless the goals are quite small. Spreading yourself too thin is a recipe for disaster. When your attention is scattered, you’ll accomplish little.

Prioritizing, and then limiting yourself to just five, ensures that you’re magnifying the effectiveness of your time and energy. 

Can you ever do any of those 20 items? Yes, but ONLY after the first five have been accomplished. 

STEP 4: After you complete your top five, complete the process again.

After completing five important goals, you won’t be the same person anymore. Your priorities and interests will likely be different. Your business will be in a different place. Your family will be in a different place. Start all over again with a new list of 25 goals. 

It’s important to avoid those other 20 items until you’ve achieved success with the primary five. They can be very appealing ways of wasting your time and energy. The most successful people are focused on a small number of goals. Prioritization and focus are necessary for success. 

Warren Buffett has proven that his advice is worth considering. Get clear on your goals and focus. Make a list of your 25 most important goals and prioritize them today. Then, get started making your top five goals your reality!

Related: 8 Productivity Hacks to Get More Done in Less Time