December 6, 2022

Best Way to Beat Procrastination: The Warren Buffett Strategy

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Investor, philanthropist, and self-made billionaire Warren Buffett (93-time billionaire, to be precise) knows a thing or two about beating procrastination. I’d say anyone who’s figured out how to make “fuck you money” has figured out how to best beat the procrastination trap. So if your goal is to start or monetize a business, or simply become a better version of yourself, but you constantly find yourself derailed by ADHD and procrastination, I have an important exercise for you, so keep reading. 

This exercise is one that most people rarely do, but has the biggest impact on your personal and financial success. 

The story goes that Warren Buffett* is on his private plane when his pilot turns and asks him how to set priorities. 

*Okay, so, this story is attributed to Warren Buffett, but no one actually knows if it was him or the Buddha or Jesus Christ, all we know is that Buffett gets the credit for this sage advice. 

For the sake of storytelling and blogging SEO magic, I’m going to break down Buffett’s anti-procrastination advice into segments.

Buffet turns to him and says:

“Write Down Your Goals, Dreams, Half-Brained Business Ideas (Yes, All of Them).”

Do you even know what your top goals, dreams, and aspirations are? Seriously, have you ever actually asked yourself that obvious, but often painfully difficult question? If you want to stop procrastination for good, your first order of business is to write down ALL of the things you think you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years. 

Why is this important? Because you’ll finally see that you’ve been trying to bend time your whole life and it’s not working.

A typical ADHDer’s running list of goals often looks like this:

  • Make a million dollars
  • Go on Shark Tank
  • Learn to play guitar
  • Start Etsy shop
  • Start a blog
  • Organize house
  • Change careers
  • Homeschool kids
  • Start a farm
  • Move to a bigger house
  • Save money
  • Go to Hawaii
  • Retire by 40
  • Learn French
  • Move to Brazil
  • Become minimalist
  • Start TikTok account
  • Get promoted at work
  • Write a book
  • Design clothing line
  • Create bitcoin
  • Buy investment property
  • And on and on…

You may have realized the punchline by now, which is that the likelihood of you accomplishing everything on your list is 0. 

Unless you’ve figured out how to add extra hours to the day or plan on living 400 years, pursuing every imaginable idea is flat-out impossible. That’s why this exercise is so important. Often we procrastinate because just keep adding more and more business ideas, hobbies, and passion projects with complete disregard for the fact that time is finite.

“Decide On Your Top 25 Items.”

After you’ve done the arduous task of writing down every half-baked idea you have swimming around in that precious neurodivergent brain of yours, Buffet makes the task even harder. He says you have to pick just 25 goals/dreams/hobbies/et cetera. 

Keep in mind, these are the things you want to accomplish in the next 5-10 years, so be realistic and use your best judgment. The reason this helps you beat procrastination is that it forces you to get clear on what you can feasibly accomplish.

“Make a million dollars,” while a worthy goal, is unrealistic as a standalone item on your list. How do you plan on doing that? What is the deadline? What are your current skills and resources? Do you have enough knowledge, interest, or money to invest in real estate? Or the stock market? Do you offer some sort of product? Are you skilled in an in-demand field like coaching, finance, or graphic design? The point is you can’t jump from $0 to $1,000,000 without a plan. 

Something like “Start an Etsy shop” is more feasible and there are plenty of YouTubers who claim you can make a million dollars from Etsy so you’re combining two goals in one. 

Your 25 goals should include all aspects of your life, including personal and career, because again, time is finite and doesn’t stretch for anyone or anything. So if you want a balanced life, make sure your list reflects that.

For me, my top 25 included health, family, business, and social goals. Once I became clear on what mattered most to me, it became easier to stop procrastinating.

“Next, Rank Them in Order of Importance.”

I know, I know, you probably thought it was going to get easier, but we’re not there yet. Now that you’ve got your concise 25-item list, Buffett warns you must rank them in order of importance.

Your most important goal should be at the top of your list while your least important should be 25th. 

Maybe learning to play guitar isn’t as important to you as becoming a regular gym-goer. Maybe moving to a bigger home isn’t as crucial to your well-being as decluttering your current home. 

Doing this step will force you to reconcile with who you want to be as a person, thereby beating the pitfalls of wishful thinking procrastination. 

Do you value your career more than your fitness? It’s okay if the answer is yes, no one’s going to judge you. Do you value your friends more than your family at this point in your life? Do you want to find the love of your life more than you want a bustling social life? Do you want to buy a home more than you want a fun big-city experience? 

Don’t worry about what other people will think of your list. No one else in the world but you gets to see it. Be painfully vulnerable and honest with yourself. Light a candle, put on your coziest jammies, and get to work. It’s okay if this process takes you a few days, but don’t linger too long or you’ll keep letting life slip you by,

“Now Eliminate Ruthlessly”

We’ve come to the most torturous – but also the most liberating – part of the Warren Buffett exercise – the elimination phase. You have to take the bottom 20 items on your list and… eliminate them. Burn them. Forget they exist. 

Now take your top 5 items and tattoo them on your forehead. 

Okay, don’t actually get a forehead tattoo (unless you’re into that sort of thing). But the point I’m making is this: 

The bottom 20 items of your list are your “middling priorities,” they’re the reason you’re not becoming the person you want to become. Those are not “second tier goals” for you to get to when you have time. Those are the things that will seduce you into thinking you’re accomplishing things, when in reality you’re straying further away from the things that matter to you most by procrastinating them. You can beat the system.

Three hours spent learning how to play guitar means three hours not spent learning how to speak French. And if you only have three hours to dedicate to passion projects each week, you’re going to have to pick one or the other, ma cherie. Unless you’re okay with being a shitty guitar player and an unintelligible French-speaker.

We spend so much of our time focused on middling priorities, the ones we don't actually care as much about but are easier to cross off than the goals we actually care about. Get honest with yourself and stop chasing the bottom of your list. 

Go Out And Be Like Warren Buffett

The “Warren Buffett Exercise” is probably the most important thing you’ll do in this decade. Because if you did it right, you’ll have set yourself up for 10+ years of success and avoided the giant pitfalls that lead to your procrastination. 

Need a step-by-step guide to complete the most important exercise of your life? Download the Priority Planner from Life’s Pretty Wild, available in both digital and printable versions. I included the Warren Buffett exercise and others to help you snap out of ADHD procrastination and into the life you’ve always dreamed of. 

Read 7 science-backed reasons why I recommend digital over physical planners for ADHD here.

Make sure to refer to your list often. Keep in mind though, your list can change and adapt as you learn and grow. It’s okay to replace an item from your top 5 if it no longer benefits you, but think twice before editing. Stick it out for your top five, especially when things get hard. Above all, be ruthless about avoiding those middling priorities.

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