Two Lists

Mike Flint was an airline pilot; one of the best in the business.  He got his start flying for the US Navy, and later served as an American volunteer in the Israeli air force during the First War of Independence.  Eventually he flew for US presidents.  On this day he was flying his latest employer – Mr. Warren Buffet.

Buffet, known as “the Oracle of Omaha” is now one of the wealthiest men in the world and he wasn’t doing too bad back then either.  As the story goes, Flint was talking to Buffet about priorities in his career, when Buffets eyes lit up.

He asked Mike to work through a simple three stage process with him right there, that would help him identify his priorities.  This is what they did.

Step 1

Write down your top 25 goals.

This can be focused on just your career, or can cover all aspects of your life.  You can think of it in terms of the next year, or your entire life.  You have goals floating in your head right now, just start writing and get it all down onto the page.

Step 2

Circle your top five.

Take some time now to go through your list and highlight those goals that are most important to you.  This can be hard but it is important to isololate the goals that mean the most.  These might jump right off the page at you or it may require careful deliberation.

Transfer them to a new, clean page when you have them.

Step 3

The Two Lists

Now there are two lists.  List number one holds your top five goals.  List number two contains the remaining twenty.

When Mike Flint finished this exercise and looked at his two lists he was excited to get started working on his top five priorities.  Then Buffet asked him what he planned to do about list number two.

Flint paused a moment and replied, Well, the top 5 are my primary focus, but the other 20 come in a close second. They are still important so I’ll work on those intermittently as I see fit. They are not as urgent, but I still plan to give them a dedicated effort.”

Buffet smiled and replied, “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 5.”


The lesson here is that we can’t do it all, much as we’d like to.  In order to become great at something we must prioritize ruthlessly.  The alternative is to achieve mediocrity at a larger number of things.

Greatness comes to those that pursue their goals with a single-minded focus.  No matter what tasks you choose, there will come a point where it feels tedious.  But recognizing this is the first step to pushing through the dip and achieving mastery at that skill.

You can also work towards achieving these goals by completing smaller projects that advance your aspirations.  This helps keep the journey fresh and interesting.

Bonus – Systems Thinking

Confronting a page full of goals can be daunting; even if whittled down to five.  The size and scope of the goal can feel too large, so that you won’t know where to begin.

The final step, once identifying your big goals, is to go small.

Don’t think about the magnitude of the task.  Think about the smallest action you can take to advance yourself in the right direction.  Focus on repeating the small steps until the habit forms, then continue completing these small step.  Putting a daily system into place that consists of tiny actions will take you further than any one single Herculean task.  It just takes time and consistency.

Goals for 2017

I promised that I would post my goals for the year today in order to hold myself accountable to them, so here they are.  I am a firm believer in goal setting and have always used the New Year as a time to remind myself what is important in my life and to gauge if I am living in congruence with my stated intentions.  My birthday, which is happily in June, serves as my half year check in point.

I’ve been thinking hard on this subject for the past month in order to eliminate barriers to completion of my goals.  I imagine that there are many of you out there who have set goals yet never accomplished them.  This is the same for me and while examining why I’ve come to realize that the goals not accomplished were typically missing something from the tried and true SMART method.  We we have been using it at work in the company’s professional development program for the last year so I am fortunate to have had a top level refresher.  For those unfamiliar, SMART is an acronym meant to guide the goal setting process.  It stands for:

Specific: A goal that is ill-defined can never be accomplished.  There needs to be a metric that can be achieved that will tell you when you have reached your goal.  This is why “get back in shape” is both a terrible goal and a cop out.  You need to define what “shape” is.  Better would be “bench press my body weight” or “lose one pound a week until my goal weight of X”.

Measurable: There must be a quantity involved.  “Learn to play guitar” is a great goal, but “play guitar for 30 minutes every day” is far superior.  You can measure that time to see if you are keeping up to your goal.

Achievable / Realistic: I tend to treat these as one and the same.  If you have never ran a marathon, can you achieve it next month?  Perhaps, but it isn’t realistic.  More on that below.  Setting your sights high is admirable and there is value in having big audacious goals, but make sure that you have a realistic plan to get it done.  Or think of your goals as steps on the path towards your larger, meta-goal.  Sometimes making them smaller and easier to accomplish pays off larger rewards in the long run.

Time-bound: Your goals should have a due date.  If your term papers didn’t have a due date would you have ever submitted one?  The time specific component of goals on New Year’s is especially relevant, as you are typically setting them for the length of the following year.  I would consider these medium term goals and I also take the opportunity to set shorter term milestones on the path to the ultimate goal.

If It’s Important

The writings of Dan John have really helped to shape my thoughts on fitness and hard work over the past few years.  In particular, there is a statement that he learned from Olympic gold medal wrestler, Dan Gable:

If it is important, do it every day.  Otherwise don’t do it at all.

This statement is the filter through which I run my goals through.  Do I have enough time to do this every day?  Enough desire?  A good example is that I like to draw.  I got some pens and a new sketchbook, but realized after a month that I just couldn’t commit to drawing every day due to other things that took a higher priority. But just because I don’t have time to focus on it now doesn’t mean that I’ll never come back to it.

Using this idea I’ve put a cap on the number of things to focus on this year.  If I don’t have time to do it (most) every day, then it is off the list.

Focus Your Intentions for the Year

Warren Buffet famously said that you should write out everything that you want to do in your life on a sheet of paper.  Then cross out everything but three items.  The idea being that when your focus is scattered you will end up not accomplishing anything.  While I like the focus part I think that it otherwise misses something overall.  That you can come back to the things you put aside.

I had mentioned this last week, but Derek Sivers spoke about this on The Tim Ferris Show.  He would focus absolutely on a single project until it was completed, then move to the next one.  Learning art, or public speaking, or a new language can all be accomplished.  But you’ll probably be better served to focus on one of these goals for the year rather than all three for three years.  Your undivided attention will pay larger dividends with a bit of patience.

So the process of setting goals is as much an exercise in subtraction as it is in addition; even more so really.  I encourage you to list everything down like Warren Buffet said, but then put aside the bulk of those options to laser in on what your priorities will be for the immediate year.  Get those done so you can focus on a new one the next year.

Goal Categories

I’ve laid out my goal setting philosophy for some background, and to inspire you to set goals for yourself that will actually be achieved this year.  We know that the total number of goals should be capped in order to assure they each receive the attention required to complete.  But how to focus on the various aspects of your life?

Personally, I like to use three broader categories that I learned from Ben Franklin, via Tim Ferriss.

Tim wrote the seminal book The Four Hour Workweek, which introduced the term “Lifestyle Design” into the modern vernacular.  He followed that with The Four Hour Body, then The Four Hour Chef.  Most recently he has published Tools of Titans, which is based on the 200+ interviews conducted on his number one rated podcast The Tim Ferriss Show.  If you haven’t listened to it yet you should  start.  The guests are big names and the ideas are even bigger, which is why I refer to them here so often.

Tim’s overall philosophy for the arc of his book publishing is based off the famous quote from Benjamin Franklin:

Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Each of his books focus on one of those categories; healthy, wealthy, and wise – and the last book serves as an update to all three.  I like the simplicity of the arrangement and have adopted it here for this year’s goal setting.

My Goals for 2017


  1. Run the Houston Marathon – technically this will occur in January 2018, but I’m giving myself a year to train for it.  I’ve discovered running in the last year and, surprisingly, have come to really love it.  This should be fun.
    1. As the end goal is so far out I’ve given myself three intermediate milestones; complete a 5k, a 10k, and a half-marathon.
    2. Finally, the short term goal is to improve the results of my MAF test every month.
  2. Get back to 180lbs by my birthday in June. This goal complements the one above, as it is easier to run when not bringing a spare tire along for the ride.  I’ll accomplish this through:
    1. Smart eating paired with intermittent fasting, which I’ve used before with great success.
    2. Using my late afternoon / early evening time more wisely. There has been many a day where I’ve opted for a beer by the pool rather than completing a short workout when I get home.  Time to change this up.
    3. Putting some skin in the game. Along with accountability, another oft quoted piece of advice when setting goals is to make it painful to lose.  With this in mind I will give away all of the money I have saved for goal No. 2 of the next section if I don’t meet this goal by my birthday on June 19th.  While this won’t be a huge sum it will absolutely impact that savings goal, and I intend to hit all of them this year.
  3. Complete 150 resistance workouts. That is every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with 6 misses built in for sick days.  I’ve been struggling to find time for this so I am going to make time.


  1. Develop a paper to present during conference season, starting in October. While this won’t directly impact my “bottom line” it relates to my career, which I tend to think of holistically.  I spoke at my first conference in 2016 and it was an excellent experience.  I’d like to expand on this meta-skill by:
    1. Attending Toastmaster’s meetings as often as I can. There is a club local to me that meets on Wednesday mornings at a convenient time.  While I travel frequently for work I am going to start attending these when I am home.
  2. Save fifty dollars every month towards a purchase I’d like to make in December. I have a few hundred dollars budgeted every month to do with as I will.  Occasionally I’ll blow it on a weekend out, which is stupid as we have a separate budget line for that.  To better manage this money I will:
    1. Spend zero percent of my Mad Money on food or drink (which will also help with the healthy goals above!).
    2. Pay myself first. Groundbreaking I know.
  3. Finish customizing my car! I’ve carved out some monthly budget for this as well and can get this done if I stick to my budget. 


  1. Publish an article here every week. It doesn’t always come easy but my time away from writing here made me realize how valuable it is to me.  I am recommitting to a publishing schedule with an article on the 1st, 7th, 14th, and 28th of every month.  This will be the main driver to my additional sub-goals:
    1. Increase subscribers from the January 1st, 2017 total of 98 to a December 31st total of 1,000. That is a 10X increase, which I will further help to gain through:
    2. Writing one guest post every month. This is oft-quoted advice in the blogosphere that I have thus far ignored.  Consider this a stretch goal.
  2. Learn fluent Spanish. I’ve been working on this half-heartedly since moving to Houston over two years ago.  My skills are improving slowly but it is time to buckle down and hit this one with a concerted effort.  I’m defining fluency as being able to have a conversation with somebody that doesn’t speak a lick of English.  I’ll work on this daily by:
    1. Completing one audio lesson
    2. Review my flash card set on Quizlet
    3. Additionally if there is time I’ll watch some Casa Cerrado on Telemundo!
  3. 12 months of Modernism. This was touched on in last week’s post.  The plan is to read a novel every month by different writers from the era of modernism, which I have gone far too long without reading.  Plus the one book per month minimum leaves some breathing room to read another by the same author that month, or something completely different.

That is my list.  I’ve already been working towards a number of these goals but it is now time to apply laser focus to each of them and crossing them off so that I can focus on a new skill next year.  People overestimate what they can accomplish in a month, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a year.  By choosing to focus on a select number of goals I feel that the long term gain will be far greater.

How about you?  Do you have grand designs for 2017 and a plan to follow, or do you let the chips fall where they may?  Has the year come and gone with your previous goals incomplete, or did you get everything done that you set your mind to?  Am I being obsessive about this, or is it the key to success?

I’ll let you know in a year’s time!


How congruent are your actions with your values?

This is something I’ve been reflecting on lately as we approach the end of the year. I’ve set myself performance goals every year for as long as I can remember. Some I achieve and some I don’t. But why is that? Why don’t I complete every goal that I set my mind to?

I think it’s due to a lack of congruence between my stated goals and my internal values.

Integrity means congruence. Words and behavior match.
Nathaniel Branden

Are your stated values really your values?

The first thing to consider is the fact that your stated values may not be your actual values.  They may be how you think of yourself, or even how you would like to be, but it is important to take a close look at your true nature and be honest with yourself during the process.  Self-improvement is a worthy and admirable goal, however self-awareness is also a powerful goal.  Perhaps you would be better served to play to your unique strengths.  If you are good at something you should do it (within moral limits of course!)

Why do we fail?

New Year’s is just around the corner.  Think back to the resolutions you made last year.  Accomplished without an issue?  Or are you in the same spot, just a year older?

The key is to set the right goals.  Smart, achievable goals, with measurable results.  If your goals aren’t being reached in a reasonable time frame then modify those goals to fall in line with your values, or work on your values to gain congruence with your goals.

Or maybe you just need to toughen up with yourself and get the work done.  If you want to be tougher then be tougher.  There is no secret formula.  State your goals, make a plan to accomplish them, then put in the work.

Congruence is walking your talk.  When I look at people that I respect the common theme is that they do what they say they will do.  That’s integrity.  I plan to take a page from that notebook this year and publicly state my goals for the New Year, then hold myself accountable.  Doing your work publicly can be a very motivating factor!

What do you think?  Do you set goals or do you think that it is BS?  Is trying and failing better than never trying at all?