New Year’s No’s

Let’s make a list some goals to avoid

Back Commentary Dec 31, 2014 By Christine Calvin

I am not one to subscribe to New Year’s resolutions. They’re gimmicky, and my abysmal follow-through rate is predictable (though I do love taking advantage of all the free gym trials and complimentary yoga classes). Still, each year around this time I reassess my goals and my 5-year plan (am I the only person still doing those?) and commit to ditching dead weight and advancing my career and relationships with new endeavors.

This year, I’m focusing on “no.” It’s a magical word rarely used when it comes to answering work emails on vacation, committing to stuff you swore you would avoid and attending events that drain productivity from your day. And for what? If you count the number of really valuable nonmandatory meetings, networking mixers and fundraisers you attended in 2014 — the ones you truly enjoyed and that were meaningful to your career and personal interests — how many would you come up with?

What if, instead of saying yes to everything, you chose just a few things and did them really well? What if you started saying no?

I recently read the story of Mike Flint, Warren Buffett’s personal pilot. Flint, being a smart man, discussed his career priorities with Buffett, who asked him to participate in a little assignment. At this point in my reading I decided that I, too, should do the assignment since Warren’s advice is probably pretty sound. (This is where you should maybe grab a piece of scrap paper and do it too. Seriously. It takes five minutes; stop reading for a second and go get a pen.)

So the story goes that Buffett starts by asking Flint to write down his top 25 career goals. (I wrote down the life and personal goals I wanted to accomplish in the next five to 10 years. It’s your list, so do as you please).

Then, Buffett asks Flint to review his list and circle his five most important goals. (Now do that part, and don’t continue reading until you have finished.)

So now you (like Flint) have two lists: The five critical goals, and the 20 other goals that are also important but not top tier.

So Buffett asks Flint what he will do about the big five, and Flint says that, of course, he will pour into them right away. And then Buffett asks, “What about the ones you didn’t circle?” And Flint responds that since those items are also still important, he would work on them as time and resources allowed.

Buffett’s response? “No. You’ve got it wrong, Mike. 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 five.”

This is the point in the exercise where you either make a mental note that Warren Buffett doesn’t know anything about achieving goals, or you take a good long look at your list and practice saying no to lesser priorities.

You make decisions every day that put barriers between yourself and your bucket list, your relationships, your retirement accounts. What if in 2015 you changed that?

It’s a lofty challenge to be sure. I think you should accept the test, but if you simply can’t, we’ve included in this month’s pages a few other areas of focus you might consider. Upping the ante of your workplace attire could be a good place to start (see advice from the Evil HR Lady on page 32). Or, if you really want to present your best self in the new year, perhaps a few lessons in the finer points of professional etiquette will suit your fancy (“Extreme Makeover: Work Edition,” page 60).

Either way, we look forward to seeing you at your best in 2015.


Mariann Eitzman (not verified)January 6, 2015 - 3:53pm

Thank you for this short, to the point, article. I agree with the information. It is better to do more, focused on less goals, that lead you to achieving what really matters now, and for your future.

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Strategic Thinking

Are you employing your highest quality of thought?

You’ve been there. You’re on a deadline with limited information, and what you’ve got to draw from is a similar episode that transpired eight months ago, or eight years ago or with an entirely different company. But hey, there are some parallels. This time sounds like that time (sort of), so you base your present reaction on your past experience. The process is called reasoning by analogy, and while it can be a powerful method in the decision making process, it can also be problematic and limiting.

Oct 1, 2014 Christine Calvin