Warren Buffett’s 25/5 Rule Will Help You Learn to Set Priorities, Achieve Focus, and Advance Your Career

The 25/5 rule only takes five minutes to put into practice, but it can maximize your productivity and boost your career.

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Besides being one of the wealthiest and most successful investors in the world, Warren Buffett has demonstrated remarkable emotional intelligence on more than one occasion. 

For example, have you ever heard of Buffett’s 25/5 rule? 

A successful colleague of mine, Jeffrey Towson, recently shared on LinkedIn how he’s applied this rule to his career to great benefit. 

Here’s the story behind the rule–and how it can benefit you.

The 25/5 rule: Simple yet brilliant

According to the story, Mike Flint, who worked as Buffett’s personal airplane pilot for a decade, was discussing career priorities with his boss when Buffett walked him through a simple exercise.

First, Buffett told Flint to make a list of his top 25 career goals. 

Then, Buffett said to circle the top five goals.

Let’s pause for a second. What do you think Buffett advised Flint to do with this list? Maybe combine a few goals, to see how he could kill multiple birds with the same stone? Or brainstorm strategies to prioritize those goals in the right way? 

To the contrary, Buffett recommended using the list in a very unique way.

Reportedly, Buffett told Flint to:

1. remain focused on accomplishing goals 1 through 5, and

2. stay completely away from working on goals 6 through 25.

What’s the lesson? 

“It’s all about focus,” says Towson. “You’re not going to accomplish 25 things in your life. If you really focus long-term you can do three to five big ones, maybe. And the impediment to your not having focus is numbers 6 through 25, because those are the things you’re interested in. Those are your biggest potential distractions.”

This simple rule is a brilliant way to apply emotional intelligence in your everyday life. 

It’s easy to come up with five things you really want to do. But it’s even easier to get distracted from actually making progress on those five goals, because you get caught up in the excitement, the joy, the temporary pleasure of things that simply aren’t as important.

And that’s why it’s so important to identify items 6 through 25–to help you identify the things that are holding you back.

How to make the 25-5 rule work for you

In the story, Buffett was advising on how to reach your biggest career or life goals. But you can extend this rule to help you with daily, weekly, and monthly priorities as well.

For example, every morning, you might make a task list of five to 10 things you’d really like to accomplish for the day. 

Then, circle only the top task (or two, max). Don’t do any of the other tasks–no meetings, no calls, nothing–until you’ve knocked out that top priority.

Do the same thing for the week. Identify 10 things you’d like to get done, but circle only the top two or three. Make those top tasks your ultimate priority, and don’t let the others get in the way.

You can repeat the same process for your month, for your year, or even for your five-year strategy. Once your list is complete, get in the habit of asking yourself the following questions when faced with choices on how to spend your time:

Will this task help me reach my goal for the day? 

Will this project help me reach my top goals for the year?

Will this strategy help me reach my ultimate career goals?

Or, does it fall under the second category: interesting, but a distraction?

Use the 25-5 rule and you won’t just achieve relentless focus–you’ll make emotions work for you, instead of against you.

Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in real life. 

A version of this article originally appeared on

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