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The 5/25 Rule: How to Apply It [+ Example]

The 5/25 rule can help you prioritize your most important goals to achieve success. Learn how to apply it and how Fellow can help!

By Mara Calvello  •   May 17, 2023  •   7 min read

Writing a list of career goals for yourself can feel like a daunting task—especially when considering the question, “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”

It can be hard to pinpoint goals for yourself, but doing so can ensure you’re moving in the direction you want your career and your life to go.

And while no two career trajectories will be identical, thinking long term and broadly about career goals allows you to think realistically while focusing on the objectives that are the most important to you.

To go about making this list, consider using the 5/25 rule.

What is the 5/25 rule? 

Warren Buffet created the 5/25 rule, a productivity strategy you can follow in three steps:

  1. Write down a list of your top 25 goals.
  2. Circle the 5 most important goals for you. These can be the most urgent goals or the ones that are your highest priority.
  3. Cross off the other 20 that hold less importance.

According to Warren Buffet, since the 20 goals you get rid of aren’t as urgent as the 5 you circled, any effort you invest in them doesn’t allow you to hone in on your 5 high-priority goals. This exercise is used to help people truly focus on the goals, accomplishments, or tasks that are most meaningful to them.

Where did the 5/25 rule come from? 

It is said that the 5/25 rule came from a conversation Warren Buffet has with his pilot, Mike Flint.

Flint was a successful pilot who had flown four presidents in Air Force One and one day found himself conversing with Buffet about his career. Budget asked that he write down his 25 professional priorities. When Flint did, he asked him to circle the 5 most important from the list.

Flint assured Buffet that he’d focus primarily on the 5 he circled, and when Buffet asked him what he’d do with the 20 others, he said he’d commit some time and energy to those too, just not as much.

Buffet replied, “No, you’ve got it wrong, Mike. Everything you didn’t circle just became your Avoid-At-All-Cost-List.” Buffet went on to explain that if he was seriously interested in accomplishing his goals, he should put in zero effort to the 20 he got rid of and only focus on the 5 he circled.

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Benefits of the 5/25 rule 

Putting the 5/25 rule into effect can lead to several benefits. Some of these advantages are the rule:

  • Allows you to focus on what’s most important
  • Makes time management more straightforward
  • Reduces distractions by action items of lesser importance
  • Sets you up for success since you know what to dedicate your time and energy to
  • Ensures you practice efficient task prioritization 

In episode #48 of our Supermanagers podcast, we spoke with Amanda Goetz, Founder of House Of Wise, about the ruthless prioritization of tasks. Goetz shares,

“I ruthlessly prioritize how I approach my days. And usually, that means no meetings before 11:30 AM. I use that time to push things forward, work on tasks that take my brain power, and I’m on offence. I tell my team the same thing—you’re in charge of the calendar. Have internal rules of what’s your best thinking time and prioritize it. The time where you reach a flow state of thinking and ideation and coming up with ideas—defend that time at all costs.”

How to follow the 5/25 rule

Following the 5/25 rule is simple, and it all comes down to three steps.

1Create a list of your top 25 career goals

First, start with a list of your top 25 career goals. You can be broad or as specific as possible. 

2Decide which 5 of those goals are most important

Then, hone in on the 5 of these goals that are more important to you or that you believe will have the most significant impact on your career or life overall.

3Cross out the remaining 20 goals 

Finally, take the remaining 20 goals on the list, cross them off, and mark them as your Avoid-At-All-Costs list.

5/25 rule best practices

To apply the 5/25 rule correctly, follow these best practices.

Stay organized

The first best practice is to stay organized. When using the 5/25 rule for career goals, staying organized regarding what you want to accomplish sets a solid foundation for achieving these goals. 

For those who struggle to stay organized, consider using a tool like Fellow. When you have past meeting agendas to look back on, feedback from peers, and past and future action items all in one place, nothing falls through the cracks.

Have a clear purpose

When you’re coming up with the 25 career goals you have for yourself, having a clear purpose for why you’re doing something will make it easier to create the list. Find the true reason for every goal you want to achieve, which will help you narrow your list down to those key 5.

Avoid procrastination

Another best practice is to avoid procrastination. While it’s not uncommon to delay something you’re supposed to do until the last minute because you’re not looking forward to doing that particular task, procrastinating only puts off the inevitable. Furthermore, it only gives you less time to accomplish your to-do list once you hone in and get to work.

Use the time-blocking method

Knowing how to time block can also come in handy here. Time blocking is a time management method that helps individuals organize their workdays into specific blocks of time. Knowing how you’re spending your time and which types of tasks are taking up most of your working hours can help you reprioritize and establish which tasks need to be completed first.

Minimize distractions

Eliminating distractions isn’t easy—especially since we have more distractions than ever before. 

Maybe your main distraction is your overflowing email inbox, a list of unread direct messages, or your dog whining to go outside if you’re working from home; whatever the case may be, these triggers keep you from being productive at work, which can cause you to make mistakes, miss deadlines, or forget to follow up with a coworker, among other things. 

Make time for focus time

Focus time is a dedicated period used when you intend to focus on a specific task or group of tasks without disruptions. The purpose of establishing this time is to eliminate distractions to make time for deep work. 

Being able to focus at work is imperative to your success. When you’re able to devote your total concentration to tasks and action items, you’ll likely see a boost in your performance and your ability to work through a to-do list faster with fewer errors.

Example of the 5/25 rule 

Below is an example of a 5/25 rule in action.

List 25 professional goals:

  1. Research programs for my Master’s Degree
  2. Obtain three marketing certificates
  3. Shadow weekly manager meetings
  4. Reorganize and create templates for meeting agendas
  5. Revamp social media campaigns
  6. Redesign company website and branding
  7. Get the company website to one million visitors
  8. Revamp the employee training program
  9. Attend one marketing conference a year
  10. Start a podcast
  11. Launch an internal company newsletter
  12. Orchestrate a food drive for a nearby homeless shelter
  13. Recruit, hire, and onboard a team of editors
  14. Start a blog
  15. Revamp the work-from-home policy
  16. Get new employee business cards
  17. Launch an email newsletter to customers
  18. Plan a successful holiday party for staff
  19. Revamp the onboarding process
  20. Partner with a new catering company for in-office food and beverages
  21. Hire a summer intern
  22. Recruit, hire, and onboard an analytics specialist
  23. Learn a new language
  24. Improve public speaking skills
  25. Revamp employee evaluation forms

Choose the top 5 goals:

  1. Revamp the social media campaigns
  2. Launch an email newsletter to customers
  3. Recruit, hire, and onboard an analytics specialist
  4. Redesign the company website and branding
  5. Revamp the employee training program

Move the 20 other goals into your Avoid-At-All-Costs list!

How to apply the 5/25 rule with Fellow

Using the 5/25 rule can help you hone in on the goals you need to accomplish most to achieve your desired success. To set yourself up for the most success possible, consider using a tool like Fellow to help achieve these goals while improving your workflow and giving yourself a productivity boost.

Here’s how to use Fellow to make the most out of the 5/25 rule:

  1. Use Fellow’s private streams to create your list of 25 goals.
  2. Review this stream and highlight the 5 most important goals and cross out the remaining 20.
  3. Title the stream of the remaining 20 goals as your Avoid-At-All-Costs list.
  4. Use Fellow’s objectives tool to create objectives with due dates for the 5 goals you’ve established that are most important.
  5. Incorporate the key results and objectives and key results (OKRs) you need to have for success. Remember to be specific, track your progress regularly, and have check-ins with yourself on these goals.

Make a list. Check it twice.

Whatever you decide your top five goals are, making a conscious effort to accomplish these goals can make or break your long-term success. Whether you’re looking to learn a new language, start a podcast, or revamp work procedures, focusing on achieving what’s most important is the key to your success.

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