How to Use Warren Buffett's 2-List to Improve Productivity

By Bill Peatman | Updated: 08 Mar, 2022

Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in U.S. history, with a current net worth of $114 million. Buffett did not invent any products or found any companies. He and his partners bought a small textile company, Berkshire Hathaway, in the 1960s and used it as a holding company to invest in or acquire (by taking a majority share) other companies.

Companies Buffett has bought or taken significant positions in the following companies (among many more):

  • Coca Cola

  • Dairy Queen

  • Geico

  • General Electric

  • Jared Jewelers

What is Warren Buffett's 2-List?

As the story goes, the pilot of Buffet's private jet had been working for the billionaire for a decade, when Buffett thought Flynn might need some career advice. Buffett told Flint, "If you have worked for me for ten years and still have the same job, I have failed you as boss."

Buffet asked Flint to make a list of 25 career goals. Flint did so, after which Buffett asked to circle the five most important goals from the list. Flint pored over the list of goals and selected his top five. He had two lists now: the five most important goals and 20 less critical goals (hence the 2-List title).

After Flint circled his five most important goals, he told Buffett he would begin working on the top five list right away and leave the other goals on the back burner to work on them as time allowed. Not so fast.

Buffet had a different plan. "You have got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn't circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost list," Buffett said. "No matter what, these things get no attention from you until you've succeeded with your top 5." 

Warren Buffett and the Power of Distraction

Buffett told Flint that every moment he spent on anything other than his top five goals was a distraction. Even though these goals are valuable to you, spending time on them will postpone achieving what matters most. You need to differentiate between your top goals and the distractions and focus on the top five.

A famous quote from Buffet is, "The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything." He knew it was just as important not to get distracted as to focus on your goals. Avoid the 20 distractions at all costs, he said, because they will slow you down at least and derail you at worst.

Warren Buffett and the Power of Focus

The opposite of the power of distraction is the power of focus. There is no point in completing projects that are not the most important to you. According to Buffett, it might create a temporary sense of accomplishment, but achieving a less critical initiative is a step in the wrong direction.

An executive's time is their most valuable asset. While it might feel productive to be pulled in many directions and take care of some of your life and business's minutia, it is counterproductive and self-defeating to do so. Time is finite, and every decision you make has a time-based cost. What you say "no" to is as or more important than what you say "yes" to.

Warren Buffett and the Power of Delegation

Buffett does not manage any of Berkshire Hathaway's businesses. Instead, Buffett hires "better people than him" to lead each company. His management and leadership philosophy is characteristically simple:

  • Hire people and do not tell them what to do.

  • Let good people set their standards and direction.

  • Delegate to the point of abdication.

"It's better to hang out with people better than you," Buffett said. "Pick out associates whose behavior is better than yours, and you'll drift in that direction." Buffet also said that the leader's most important role is to select who to delegate tasks to because, without delegation, you get stuck on operational issues that distract from your top five goals.

Delegating the Small Stuff

Executives today spend some 16 hours a week on day-to-day administrative tasks. Email management, scheduling meetings, planning travel, filing expenses, preparing documents, updating contact data—all these tasks were once the domain of traditional executive assistants.

But the administrative assistant role has all but vanished as productivity tools like email, voicemail, chat, and video conferencing create the expectation that executives should be self-sufficient. As a result, executive admin jobs have declined by 68 percent since 2004.

The steady growth of admin work stifles organizational productivity. Few execs put checking emails and scheduling meetings down as one of their top five goals, or even the top 25. Yet the time spent on these tasks continues to balloon.

Enter the Virtual Assistant

A first step in improving productivity is to delegate those 16 hours of admin work. While the work is essential—that is why we have email and calendars and CRMs—these tasks do not need to be done by executives.

Virtual assistants are now ubiquitous in U.S. businesses because they can save their executives' hours per week working part-time at a lower cost than traditional executive admins and certainly lower than the executives themselves.

Managed virtual assistant services can get you to that productivity sweet spot even easier. Managed virtual assistant providers recruit, hire, train, and supervise the performance of remote executive assistants for businesses. The assistants function as members of the company they work for, but there is little management overhead—the last thing overwhelmed executives need is more people to manage!

Clearing Out Distractions

Hiring a virtual assistant is one way to clear out some of the distractions that hinder organizational productivity and distract from those top 5 goals. Are you ready to get started? Make your list of 25 goals, select the top five, and delegate the rest.

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About the Author: Bill is Prialto's senior content marketing manager and writes about the future of work and how businesses can be more productive and successful. His work has appeared in the World Economic Forum Agenda blog and CIO magazine.