“Really Successful People Say No To Almost Everything” According To Warren Buffet

When Bill Gates first met Warren Buffett, their host, Gates’ mother, asked everyone around the table to share the single most important factor to their success. Gates and Buffett both gave the same one-word answer: “Focus.”

When I tell people that Warren Buffett follows the 5-Hour Rule and spends 80% of his time reading and thinking, they have an immediate and predictable reaction: “Well, he can do that because he’s Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world. I could never do that.”

While this response may help people feel better about themselves, it certainly won’t make them smarter.

Because the reality is: Buffett has spent most of his time reading and thinking since he was in grade school. Having more money or managing a large company doesn’t magically give you free time.

Having free time is never the default. People don’t just fall into huge blocks of free time unless they retire. Rather, free time is the result of strategy. It’s the result of looking at time differently.

Curious about Buffett’s unique strategies, I’ve read several books about him, read most of his annual letters to stockholders, and watched nearly all of his interviews.

And make no mistake about it… behind Buffett’s jovial demeanor is the most stone-cold, ruthless prioritizer (in a good way) in the world.

Below are the top six strategies Warren Buffett has used throughout his career in order to have lots of reading and thinking time. I invite you to copy them so you can have more time to do what’s most important to you everyday.

As you read these strategies, be aware that these aren’t just random strategies that are thrown together like the typical listicle you see online. There’s a deeper pattern that most people miss — his #1 mental model.

Buffett Strategy #1: Kill busy work

Buffett has eliminated almost all of the obligatory CEO tasks from his schedule:

  • He never talks to analysts (Buffet estimates that 20% of the typical public CEO’s time is spent talking to Wall Street).
  • He rarely talks to the media.
  • He doesn’t attend industry events.
  • He has lived outside of NYC in Omaha, Nebraska for almost his entire career.
  • He barely attends any internal meetings like typical CEOs.

What’s important to see here is that these decisions don’t happen by accident. They require continually resisting immense social pressure.

We get insight into how Buffett deals with distractions and obligations via his personal pilot, Michael Flint. Buffett once walked Flint through his three-step strategy for prioritization [1], and I invite you to try it right now in order to truly get the message:

  1. First, Buffett had Flint write down his top 25 goals on a piece of paper. Go ahead and write your goals down now.
  2. Next, he had him circle the top 5. So far, nothing special.
  3. Finally, he had Flint take the 20 goals he did NOT circle and put them on an “avoid-at-all-cost” list. This is the step where you see Buffett’s true prioritization genius. At this point, most people would simply just focus on the top 5 goals and intermittently work on the rest of the goals. Not Buffett though. He advised Flint: “No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you’ve succeeded with your top 5.”

Buffett’s strategy gets at a few fundamental truths:

  • 20% of our priorities typically account for 80% of our results. Buffett’s top five priorities are 20% of 25. For more on the 80/20 Rule, read my article: This Is Exactly How You Should Train Yourself To Be Smarter [Infographic]
  • The real threats to our time are not obvious distractions that we know are wrong.Rather, the real threats are the wolves in sheep’s clothing — activities which make us feel like we’re working hard, but that do not ultimately move the needle. Buffett’s three-step approach inoculates against these!
  • The real challenge to prioritization is saying, “No!” It’s easy to say yes. What’s hard is saying no to busy work that gives you the satisfaction of checking an item off your to do list — meeting an obligation to someone else, doing an easy task, writing an email.
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