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Not to Do List: How Warren Buffett Keeps His Priorities Straight

Published 10/21/2015

In today's episode, I discuss creating a "not to-do list", inspired by Warren Buffett's "two list strategy."

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Transcript (Generated by OpenAI Whisper)
Hey everyone and welcome to Developer Tea my name is Jonathan Cutrell. Today I'm going to be talking to you about a not to do list. This is a trick that comes from Warren Buffett. If you're not familiar with Warren Buffett make sure you google him because you should be. He is a very successful investor. Not to anyone's surprise Warren Buffett has a very large staff. One of the people on his staff is his personal pilot and one day he was talking to his personal pilot and he gave him a very simple exercise. He said right down your 25 career goals, 25 things that you want to do in life. The pilot wrote him down and then Warren Buffett said, well circle the five that you think are the most important. Go ahead and prioritize them and circle the top five and the pilot goes forward. The next thing that happens is Warren says, now how do you think you should treat the other 20 things on the list? Not the top five things but the other 20 things. You may be listening to this episode and you may be thinking, well I would just simply prioritize those behind my other five things. But what Warren Buffett said to do is make that you're not to do list. In other words, at all costs avoid those 20 things. Now the idea here is very simple. If you have five priorities and you have 20 things that you would consider close in priority to those five things, those are the most likely threats to your top five items. Now let's reason through that a little bit. If you're not going to do any work to accomplish your top five items, then what are you probably going to do with your time? Now it's unlikely that you're going to totally waste your time unless you're simply procrastinating. But if you are not procrastinating and you are working but you're not working towards your top five things, then you're probably working towards number six or number 12 or even number 25. But by not working towards those top five things, you're not actually prioritizing. Instead you're allowing the secondary things, those things that are less important to take over the importance of the top five. And that is why Warren Buffett said this is now considered. This should be considered you're not to do list. A lot of other people have adopted this strategy, including famous piecasters like Tim Ferris. I'm going to take it a step further and tell you to create a categorical not to do list for each and every day of your life. What are the one or two things that are the most important things for you to do today? Now list the next couple of things that you had considered doing for the day. Now that, the secondary list that you created, that is your not to do list for the day. I did this today actually. I decided I wanted to record a couple of episodes of Developer Tea, but I also had a few other things that I wanted to do. I wanted to get ahead on a actual development project and I wanted to do a little bit more yard work than I'd plan to do a few other things. And I decided that this is the priority. And so I'm going to put some of those other things on my not to do list. And what this does is it provides the space that you need to focus on one thing. You've already said that you are not going to do these other things. So there's no way they're going to steal your focus. Instead, you can focus all of that energy on the things that you have decided. You have pre-planned and pre-meditated that these are the most important things. These are the things that you want to put all of your attention to. You want to put your energy into. Make sure that you do this because if you don't, then it's very easy for you to try to multitask. It's very easy for you to accidentally get your priorities mixed up because the truth is, number six may be really important, but it's not as important as number five. And number five isn't as important as number one. So make sure that you have in mind the things that are the most likely to detract from the things that are the most important in your life. Finally, I would recommend that you create a never do list. These are the things that you have defined as things that you never participate in. For example, I never log into Facebook when I'm at work. Or maybe for you, you never log into Reddit when you're at work. Or maybe you never watch TV past 10 o'clock at night. Or you don't have a TV in the bedroom. There are a lot of these small habits, small things that you can do. And you create a never do list and instead of having to make the decision of whether or not you want to do that thing today, you've decided this is something that I simply do not engage in. This is something that I simply do not do. Thanks so much for listening to today's episode. I know it was a very short episode. I wanted to keep it focused and keep it simple for you today so that you can take this and try to implement it in your life as quickly as possible. I hope you enjoyed it and I hope that you will start a conversation about your not to do list with the people around you, with your family and with your coworkers. And I hope that this actually improves your life in some way. It's not specific to just developers. So if you are a developer but you think maybe your spouse or a friend or a significant other or perhaps a coworker could benefit from this episode. Please share it with them. I think that this is something that we can talk about together, not just developers but other people as well. Thank you so much for listening to this episode of Developer Tea. You can find this show at SPECT.FM. There's show notes there. I'll include links from this episode. And until next time, enjoy your tea.