One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom from the book Grit, by Angela Duckworth, has to do with defining our priorities at work. Most of us have a number of priorities that compete for our limited time, attention, and energy. In Grit, Angela proposes a simple technique originally suggested by Warren Buffett as a way to sort your priorities:
“First, you write down a list of twenty-five career goals.
Second, you do some soul-searching and circle the five highest-priority goals. Just five.
Third, you take a good hard look at the twenty goals you didn’t circle. These you avoid at all costs. They’re what distract you; they eat away time and energy, taking your eye from the goals that matter more.”
Angela was skeptical when she first heard this technique. “I thought, ‘Who could have as many as 25 different career goals? That’s kind of ridiculous, isn’t it?’ Then I started writing down on a piece of lined paper all of the projects I’m currently working on. When I got to line 32, I realized that I could benefit from this exercise.”
You might be surprised by what you find, too. Becoming more productive is just as much about what you don’t work on as it is about what you do. The most productive people don’t only manage their time, attention, and energy—they’re also ruthless in defending their time against less important commitments.