A 2-List Productivity Strategy

No matter where you find yourself in your pursuit of greater productivity, it’s always smart to experiment with new techniques and strategies. Today I want to share a strategy inspired by the one Warren Buffett often uses to help employees boost productivity. It’s a simple method involving two lists, and it can help you tackle your to-dos for the week or for the year. Here’s how it works:


First things first. Be clear about your time frame. Do you want to tackle goals for this week, this month, this year, or the next five years? If you’re focused on boosting daily productivity, I’d go with this week. If you’re focused on achieving large, long-term goals, a year or more might be a better fit. Once you’ve established your perspective, it’s time to brainstorm. What are your top 25 goals for that time period? This in itself is a really useful exercise, so give yourself the time to reflect.


Now that you have your 25-item list, you’re ready to narrow your focus. Of those 25 goals or tasks, circle the 5 most important ones. Just like the brainstorming part of this strategy, the prioritizing part will take a bit of time and reflection as well.

Your Lists

Now you have your two lists. The first is made up of the 5 items you circled as the most important. The second is made up of the twenty that didn’t make the top 5. Now the key is how you tackle these two lists. We’d probably all say that, of course, we’ll start on the 5-item list right away. It’s often how we manage the second list that could use an adjustment. Many of us would say we’ll work on those as we have time, giving the top 5 more of our attention, but still giving some time to those other 20.

Your Plan

This is where Buffett’s strategy differs. Though it may feel like we’re being responsible by still giving that 20-item list some of our attention, Buffett labels it your “Avoid-At-All-Costs” List. Until you’ve accomplished those top 5, you’re not to give any attention to the other 20. It might feel a bit radical, but that’s part of its power.



We know both lists are important — out of hundreds of other possible tasks and goals, we identified these 25 as the most important. How can we neglect 80% of them? This strategy runs on elimination of the non-essential. It’s not suggesting we ditch the 20-item list entirely, but instead, it forces us to complete our 5 most important tasks before we even get to look at it. That feeling that there are other important things you’re not tending to can be a great motivator to work through those 5.


We lessen our productivity when we have a bunch of half-completed tasks, all vying for our attention. This two-list strategy forces us to streamline our actions and hone our focus. It helps us work through our tasks more efficiently and in order of importance. Give it a try next week, and see if it gives your productivity a boost.

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