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The 5/25 Rule: How to Achieve More By Focusing On Less

Today, we’re going to be talking about the 5/25 rule — a simple prioritization method that will help you achieve more by focusing on less.

We all want to have everything right? We all want the higher paying job, nicer car, a better dating life, improved confidence, consistent exercise habits, etc.

It’s natural to want all of these things, but it’s stupid to believe that we can achieve all of them when our mental energy is limited.

That’s exactly what the 5/25 rule achieves. It helps you get clear on what you desire the most, allowing you to pursue those goals without letting everything else that you want drain your focus.

Let’s break down what the 5/25 rule is, and how you can apply it so that achieving your goals becomes easier and less overwhelming.

 

How Was The 5/25 Rule Born?

The 5/25 rule was born on Warren Buffet’s private plane in a reported interaction between him and his pilot, Mike Flint.

Here’s how the story goes:

One day, Flint was outlining his professional goals and asked Buffett for help. With access to a mind like that, why not take advantage right?

Buffett obliged, and proceeded to tell Flint to write down his top 25 life goals. 

Then, Buffet told Flint that he needed to drastically shrink the list. He advised Flint to go through his list of goals and pick out five goals that were the most important to him. 

After taking some time to do this, Flint had two lists. 

  • List A contained those top 25 goals that he wanted to achieve
  • List B contained the five goals that he felt were the most important to him.

At this point, Buffett asked Flint how much time he was going to dedicate to all of the goals he had written out.

Flint replied, “Well the top five are my primary focus but the other twenty come in at a close second.”

He went on to say: “They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit as I’m getting through my top five. They are not as urgent but I still plan to give them dedicated effort.”

It was then that Buffett corrected him, “No. You’ve got it wrong. Everything you didn’t circle 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.”

And that is how Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule was born. 

Here’s what’s ironic though — despite the legitimacy of this exercise, it turns out this interaction between Buffett and his pilot never happened.

Someone actually asked Buffett how he came up with the 5/25 rule at a conference one day, to which he replied, “I’m actually more curious as to how you came up with it. I can’t recall making a list in my life.” 

A bit of an awkward moment for sure. But even though the story behind the rule was debunked, the 5/25 rule is still an incredibly useful exercise that you can leverage to organize your life around your deepest aims.

 

photo of warren buffett

 

What Are The 3 Steps To Applying The 5/25 Rule?

The 5/25 rule has 3 simple steps:

  • Make a list of 25 goals that you want to achieve in a specific timeframe
  • Circle the top 5 goals from that list — the goals that mean the most to you.
  • Eliminate everything else

Let’s walk through each of these steps in  more detail so that you have a bit more clarity as you perform the exercise.

You’ll notice also that I’ve added a step 4 to the rule as well to make the exercise even more effective.

 

Step #1: Decide On A Timeframe

Before you embark on this exercise, there’s actually one question that you need to ask yourself first:

“What’s the timeframe of the goals that I will be writing down?”

You must keep this consistent throughout the entire exercise. Without a timeframe, you’ll find it harder to compare, and more crucially, eliminate goals when you get to the second step of the exercise.

Decide on a timeframe and stick to it — whether that’s 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, or five years.

Which timeframe you pick comes down to personal preference. Personally, my belief is that the exercise is more effective with a timeframe that’s short, but not too short.

I’ve found that thinking about what you want to achieve in the next 5-10 years is a slippery slope. 

A lot can change in a timeframe this large. Major life events force us to constantly re-adjust our priorities and refocus where we spend our time.

  • You might get married and have kids, which will mean that you need to place more focus on raising your children and connecting with your partner.
  • You might develop new interests and switch careers, rendering your previous career goals useless.

That’s why personally I like to stray away from creating a 5-10 year plan when implementing the 5/25 rule.

That being said, a time frame that’s too short brings about challenges of its own. If you have to continually re-evaluate your goals every month, then it’s possible your ambitions will fluctuate too frequently to make real progress on any of them.

My advice is to choose a timeframe between 6-12 months. It’s short enough to reduce the possibility of feeling overwhelmed by a grand vision that you’re trying to live up to. It’s also long enough to give you ample time to see things through without changing your goals.

As mentioned earlier, this is completely up to you. I’m no guru — this is just what’s worked for me in my own life.

Take a few minutes to think about what time frame works best for you before proceeding to Step 2.

 

photo of a clock with deadline showing the 5/25 rule

 

Step #2: Make A List Of Your Goals Within Your Timeframe

The first step in completing the 5/25 rule is simple. All you need to do is jot down any goal that you want to achieve within the timeframe that you chose in step 1. 

Just write down anything that comes to mind — career goals, health goals, relationship goals, productivity goals, etc. Get every one of your goals on paper and then worry about narrowing it down later. 

You don’t even need to limit your goals to just 25 either. Don’t box yourself into just 25 goals because the exercise is called the “5/25 rule.”

Let your mind run free and see what comes out on paper. Once you’ve taken 10-15 minutes to do this, then proceed to step 3.

 

Step #3: Select Your Top 5 & Eliminate The Rest

Step 3 is where things get tricky. You’ve just written down a bunch of things that you want to achieve, but now you’re going to be forced to discard almost all of them.

There’s two reasons that this part of the exercise gives people trouble:

  • First off, human beings hate limiting their options. When you eliminate a goal from your list. your brain struggles to wrestle with the perceived value of achieving that goal going down the toilet. 
  • Second, as you narrow down the list, you’ll have some real tough choices to make. At the start, you’ll be able to remove the less important goals from your list pretty easily. But as you get closer to having a list of five, comparing the value of each goal becomes more difficult. You’ll be forced to cut some goals that you really want, but remember that’s the whole point of the 5/25 rule.

Here are the two techniques that will expedite the process of narrowing down your list of goals. 

First off, you’re going to go down your list of goals one by one. Next to each goal, you’re going to write “nice to have” or “need to have”. 

The difference between these categories is pretty simple:

  • Nice to have goals are ones that would feel good to achieve. You don’t necessarily have that burning desire to achieve them, but it would still be a nice accomplishment. You probably don’t think about these goals very often, but they are still in the back of your mind.
  • Need to have goals are ones that you have a burning desire to achieve. They’re the ones that you think about constantly. They’re the type of goals that if achieved, have the potential to impact several other areas of your life too.

Using these two criteria, go down the list and label each goal. Once you’ve done that, eliminate every goal that you labeled as “nice to have” from the list. 

If this exercise has gotten your list down to five goals, that’s perfect! Feel free to stop reading and proceed to step 4.

However, it’s more likely that you’re left with around 7-8 “need to have” goals. Use the following question to eliminate the last few goals in order to get down to a solid list of five:

  • The Elimination Question: “On a scale from 1-10, what level of impact would reaching this goal have on my overall life-satisfaction?”

Go through each goal and give it a score from 1-10. Make sure to use decimal points in your scoring too. 

Instead of giving something an 8, give it an 8.3 or an 8.6. Trust me, you’ll need these subtle differences to make the next step a piece of cake.

Remove any goal that doesn’t score in the top five and you’ll have completed Step 3.

 

elimination sign - the 5/25 rule

 

Step #4: Take The 5/25 Rule One Step Further

Now traditionally, this is where the 5/25 rule ends — with five goals that should demand all of your focus and attention over the next 6-12 months. 

Good enough right? Well, I certainly didn’t think so when I first completed this exercise. After reading my top five goals aloud, it still felt a little overwhelming.

“You mean I’m supposed to try to improve my confidence, build more muscle, write 80 blog posts, develop deeper personal relationships, and start waking up earlier all at once??”

For an exercise that was supposed to reduce this very feeling, it felt like business as usual. I knew that trying to keep up with all five of these goals at once was going to be a futile exercise. So, I decided to take the philosophy of ruthless prioritization one step further. 

Instead of five goals, I aimed to narrow my list down to two. I took the two goals with the highest scores from step 3 and decided to make those my chief aims for the next 12 months.

This is why the decimal points in step 3 were so crucial — crossing off the other three goals only took about 20 seconds.

Now it’s time for you to do the same. 

Because you know this deep down — focusing on five goals is the same thing as focusing on zero.

You may be able to give adequate effort for each goal for a couple of weeks, but over the long-haul, that espresso shot of discipline will fade, and your motivation to achieve those goals will fade with it.

This leads to you being in the same exact position as you were before — loaded with ambition, but no closer to what you really want. 

In order to avoid that situation becoming your reality, pick the two goals with the highest scores and get to work.

These are the two goals that you will focus on for the next 6-12 months. Forget about the rest and go all-in.

Build your daily to-do list and structure your daily habits around these two goals. And if you’re looking for guidance on building habits the right way, feel free to check out the article below:

 

The Value Of Narrowing Your Focus

Warren Buffett may not have actually come up with the 5/25 rule, but he does have a quote that exemplifies the rule perfectly:

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people say no to almost everything.”

So while he may not have ever told Mike Flint to apply the 5/25 rule, he is a master of ruthlessly prioritizing what deserves his attention and what doesn’t.

This is the central philosophy that the 5/25 rule is built around. It’s hard, even devastating, to say no to your goals.

But it’s also one of the key habits of successful people. If you want to be truly great at something, it’s going to require sacrifice. 

Sure, you can achieve all 25 of your life goals within a span of 20-40 years. But what’s going to put you in the best position 6-12 months from now? What’s going to move the needle in your life so significantly that many of your other goals take care of themselves or become irrelevant. 

That’s the question that you need to answer if you want to achieve true mastery. Out of all of the productivity hacks out there, selective focus is the backbone to making all of them work.

 

photo of an eyecatcher by the ocean

 

Final Thoughts On The 5/25 Rule

I hope you enjoyed this breakdown of the 5/25 rule. But more importantly, I hope that you actually put the action steps that we just covered into practice.

It’s great to read about techniques and tricks, but execution is what moves the needle. So if you haven’t completed the steps above, I implore you to scroll back up and take action.

Don’t let this be one of those articles that you read and then never come back to again. You’ve just been given a step-by-step process for prioritizing your the next 6-12 months of your life.

I hope that you’ll put it to good use!

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