Warren Buffet is known as one of the most successful and generous investors of all time.

And he recently shared one tip for how to spend less time procrastinating and more time actually executing your ideas.

My colleague James Taylor brought it to my attention in his recent video, which you can see above (you may remember James from his podcast where I was recently interviewed).

Buffet was speaking to his personal airline pilot Mike Flint, who was asking for some advice on how to prioritise the activities which will help his career.

Warren Buffet then advised him to go through the following process, which you can do yourself:

  1. Buffet told him to take a piece of paper (or nowadays anything to create a list, like your favorite app), and write down his Top 25 career goals (specific things you want to accomplish)
  2. Then, take a minute, look through the whole list, and on a separate sheet, select your Top 5 career goals from the original list and write those down again, while crossing them off the list of 25
  3. You should now have two lists, one with your Top 5 goals, and the other with the remaining 20 goals

Flint agreed that he would start working on his top 5 goals right away. Then Buffett asked him about the second list with the remaining 20 goals which he had originally listed as important.

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 put in the Top 5 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 power of the Two List system

Warren Buffet really hit the nail on the head with this advice, as it is something which almost all creative people will struggle with.

The constant desire to try out new things at the expense of sitting down and dedicating the time and effort to complete the most important work.

Some people call it “Shiny Object Syndrome”.

Others may refer to the old saying “The grass is always greener on the other side”.

And as I outlined in my previous article about why some entrepreneurs and creative people achieve nothing for weeks, it is much easier to keep switching to start the next easy task than to work through the frustrating stage of experimenting and refining an idea.

This is a problem that I have encountered many times with some of my students who describe themselves as “hypercreative”.

Often they say that they are constantly working on numerous (sometimes dozens) of different projects at the same time, and constantly have new ideas for each which they want to try out.

But then they tell me they are frustrated that none of the projects ever seem to get finished.

If this applies to you, I would strongly suggest you take some time to go through the Two-List exercise today. I’d estimate it will take most people about an hour.

At the end of it, you’ll have a much clearer plan as to which of your creative projects (and the tasks which support them!) actually deserve your attention. It will also give you less of an excuse to procrastinate, as you’ll have a physical reminder of what work you should be focusing on, and which to ignore until one of those Top 5 tasks is done.

What do your two lists look like?

I want to thank James Taylor for the original inspiration for this article, and in turn his colleague Scott Dinsmore who told him about it.

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Creativity & Innovation expert: I help individuals and companies build their creativity and innovation capabilities, so you can develop the next breakthrough idea which customers love. Chief Editor of Ideatovalue.com and Founder / CEO of Improvides Innovation Consulting. Coach / Speaker / Author / TEDx Speaker / Voted as one of the most influential innovation bloggers.