An Experiment in Editing – 2: What I Discovered When I Tried Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule

The following is the second in a series of blog posts inspired by Jason Fried’s post on Signal V. Noise about a writing class he would like to teach. In the hypothetical class, he aimed to show that editing and compressing is truly valuable. That’s why the posts get shorter, not just varying in length, he aims to go from the fully explored idea to just the main point of the text. I am going to attempt to do this with several of my posts, as an experiment to see if it helps with my writing skills.


I saw a video recently about Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule in which it is claimed that Buffett once had a conversation with his pilot. For anyone who doesn’t know, Warren Buffett is one of the most successful investors in the world and has been top of his game for decades. After realising he’d had the same pilot for 10 years, he was perturbed to find that the pilot had not moved on in all that time. I will be paraphrasing, but Buffett says something along the lines of “if you’ve been working as my pilot for 10 years, I must not be doing my job right” so he instructs the pilot to write down 25 career goals and that he can write anything he wants.

Next Buffett tells the pilot to prioritise the top 5. This is more difficult, but the pilot does it. Now, Buffet asks him

“What will you do with the other 20?”

The pilot says “I will treat these as 2nd best and work on them when I have spare time”

Buffett replies “No. You avoid those at all costs, until you had achieved your top 5.”

Buffett explains that spreading yourself too thin means you don’t make any significant progress towards any of your goals. Focusing on a goals instead, is the key to making progress.

This doesn’t mean that you are limited to do just 5 things for the rest of your life, never trying anything new, just repeating the same cycle of days for the rest of time. BUT you can’t do number 6 until you have achieved ONE of the top 5. This is the crux of the idea.

This idea can be applied to any area of life where you have too many options. Too many options meaning there are multiple things you want to achieve, but you never quite seem to get any of them done, they just remain on a wish list for all time. For example, do you have too many hobby projects you never complete? Too many career skills, so none seem to improve all that much? Too many new business ideas, but you don’t ever seem to start any? All of these can be whittled down to your top 5, allowing you to focus and make real progress.

I tried this for myself. I don’t have 25 career aspirations, so I wrote down 25 things I want to do in my life in general from hobbies, to work, to travel. The top 5 I prioritised, see below:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a side-Hustle
  1. I have been reading more and more lately about the benefits of being able to write well, which was part of my inspiration to start a blog, so that was always going to end up on this list.
  2. This blog is new, there’s lots of room to grow and improve, but I’m enjoying the process so far With a lot of practice I hope to be writing better articles, have a better website and anything else that would make the blog better.
  3. I have been trying to do this for years, but I always give up a few weeks in. I was recently pointed towards “Couch to 5k”, which aims to make running a habit by easing you in. Instead of going too hard too soon and quitting, as I always have done in the past, you build up to longer runs until you can do 5k even if you started from a point of doing no exercise at all. The best part for me has been the structure the app provides, as I tend to just run hard, then get tired and never want to run again.
  4. I love to go on solo-travel trips, but I have played it pretty safe so far, going to European cities where pretty much everyone speaks English and the culture isn’t too different to our own. I want to go further away and experience more, even if it is a little scary to not speak the language or know all the customs, that’s part of the fun, right?
  5. I recently read a fantastic book by Chris Guillebau, in which he describes the merits of having a “side-hustle” and how to start one. The book is very clearly written and inspiring, with great advice. I aim to write a post on it someday soon. The main reason the idea drew me in, is it allows you to have a project of your own, that gives you a sense of achieving something of your own. Guillebeau says it’s not about workaholism, having a second job would be a nightmare for many people. Side-hustles come come in many different forms, as you can see on his podcast it’s a creative outlet for some people for others it gives them a sense of independence. It’s a great way to do some work you enjoy, just for you, without going all in and quitting your job to start a business.

If this post or the original video inspires you to try the idea for yourself, please let me know in the comments below, how it worked out for you!

One Page

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule, comes from an anecdote where, it is claimed that he wanted to help advance the career of his pilot after realising the pilot had had the same position for 10 years. In order to do this, he questioned the pilot about his top 25 career ambitions, making it clear to the man, that nothing was off-limits.

Now that the pilot had his list of 25 career goals, Buffett told him to prioritise them in from most important to least and then circle the top 5. Once this was done, Buffett asked his pilot “now that you have your top 5, how will you treat the other 20?”

The pilot replies “I will focus on the top 5 and work on the other 20 in my spare time”

Buffet says “No. The other 20 are now your list of goals you will avoid at all costs, until you have completed one of the first 5, then you may move on to number 6”.

Buffett’s thinking, was that by spreading ourselves too thin, we end up making little to no improvement at all in the goals we have set ourselves. It is better to focus on a smaller, narrower range of things until you have reached one of those goals, then progress on to the next one, so at any one time, you only have 5 goals vying for your attention.

I tried to do this for myself, my top 5 being :

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing for many reasons: work, this blog, being able to communicate better, being able to organise my thoughts better, being able to argue better, this list goes on.

2. I find writing this blog to be a very rewarding hobby, so improving it should hopefully improve that satisfaction.

3. Exercise is just good for you and I haven’t had a regular habit of exercising well since I was at university. The health benefits and benefits it provides to my mood and well-being have been sorely missed.

4. I enjoy solo-travel trips, but I am starting to think I have played it safe for too long, I want to fly further afield and see more of the world than just my home continent.

5. I recently read Chris Guillebeau’s book on Side-Hustles and was convinced by him that it’s not some workaholic’s dream, it’s more about having a project you do for yourself that you can enjoy, be creative in or just use to provide yourself with a little extra money and therefore independence.

3 Paragraphs

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is a rule where a person lists their 25 top goals for their career, then prioritises the top 5 and finally ignores the other 20. That seems counter-intuitive, but the idea is to focus on fewer goals more intensely to achieve real results, rather than making next to no progress across many many goals. You don’t have to never do anything other than the top 5 though, once you complete one you can move on to goal 6 and so on, until all 25 are completed.

I tried this for myself, my top 5 are:

  1. Improve my writing
  2. Improve my blog
  3. Exercise regularly
  4. Travel outside Europe
  5. Start a Side-Hustle

1. I want to improve my writing as I see it as a valuable skill in life and work.

2. I want to improve my blog as I enjoy the hobby and want to make it as good as it can be.

3. I want to exercise more regularly to improve my health and well-being

4. Europe is safe and familiar, travel is about new experiences, so I want to go further to find newer experiences.

5. I like the concept of creating a project for myself and I need more money!

One Paragraph

Warren Buffett’s 5/25 rule is about listing your top 25 career goals, prioritising the top 5 and forgetting about the rest. Only moving on to goal 6 when one of the top 5 is completed. I tried this for myself and found I want to focus on writing, blogging, exercising, more adventurous travel and starting a Side-Hustle.

One Sentence

Focus on your most important goals, don’t think about the rest until you have succeeded in these goals first.

The Best Way To Learn New Information, According To Research

How many times have you re-read a few pages of text, then gone to write about them or answer some questions, only to find you can’t remember a word of what you just read? Revising for exams at school, university or even work is never fun (if it is fun, who are you and how did you find a way to bring joy to revision?), but there is good news. It doesn’t need to be so difficult and dull, “but what is this miracle technique?!”, I hear you cry.

It’s Drawing!

The above title is just for people who can’t be bother to read an amateur blogger’s whole post just to find the answer. Now most people at this point are worrying. Thinking things like

“I can’t draw!”

“I wish it was something I am good at, rather than drawing!”

But, imaginary worriers, you need not worry at all. Skill level is completely irrelevant to whether or not you learn better when drawing (please see the title picture for reference). It’s incredibly common to get self-conscious about your drawing skills around puberty, I know I did. I barely drew a thing for years! But it turns out that diagrams, maps, doodles even smiley faces count. So the bar for the required skill level really is low.

This takes off the pressure and means anyone can do it as easily as they would jot down a note. The drawings are for your benefit, not for anyone else.

Some scientists did a study, where a group of people was asked to recall a list of words and definitions, half were asked to write them over and over and half were asked to draw them. The results were that no matter how good each person’s actual drawings were, the doodlers did significantly better at remembering the words and definitions and understanding the content of what they had read.

Drawing Uses Multiple Parts Of Your Brain Simultaneously

It’s not actually clear just yet what happens in the brain when drawing that makes it so damn effective at helping you learn, but the leading idea at the moment is that it engages multiple parts of your brain at the same time. Similar to what I wrote in an earlier post about writing notes by hand.

When you draw:

  • You picture what it is you are drawing, this is the part of your brain that forms images.
  • You move your arm across the page to create different lines, shading and shapes. This is involves the part of your brain responsible for movement.
  • You judge the accuracy of your drawing, this requires analytical thought.
  • You feel the pen(cil) and the paper (or screen) you are drawing on, this engages the touch sensors in your brain

That’s a lot of brain parts and deeper processing has been found to increase the likelihood you remember something so using all those different brain parts are most likely responsible for drawing’s power to affect your memory.

Drawing Helps You Focus

For some reason, your mind is much less likely to wander when you are drawing, perhaps engaging your brain on so many levels means many more parts need to disengage for it to wander and you learn best when you’re concentrating.

Drawing Broadens Your Thinking

Drawing a thing requires you to picture how that thing looks, then how best to represent the thing and which version of thing to use. If you google aeroplane, you could get a whole bunch of similar looking planes, but if you draw a plane, you could draw: a propeller plane, a jet plane, a fighter plane. Then you could draw it: taking off, crashing, upside down, in a hanger. You can choose the detail level: cartoony, super realistic, just the outlines. The possibilities are as endless as your imagination will allow.

Drawing Keeps You Humble

Drawing is hard. I know earlier I said that it doesn’t have to be the best drawing, in the world to count, but try and draw a pig from memory now, how much does it look like a pig? Drawing shows us how much we actually observe in our daily life and how much we actually don’t know.

As with any skill, someone is always better than you, no matter how good you get. Also taking something in front of you and putting down only the parts you need requires a lot of thought. What parts of a pair of scissors do you need to make a drawing look like scissors?

Drawing something you think you can picture in your head only to see something completely different on the page, can be infuriating, but it’s not impossible, so keep trying, you’ll get there.

The following links contain all the information I used to write this post here, here, here and here.

Please let me know in the comments below, what you think!