How to Say “No” and Achieve Billionaire Success With Warren Buffett’s 2-Step Rule

Elle Kaplan
Sep 12, 2016 · 4 min read

Why is it that ultra-successful people seem to be more relaxed and less stressed, and yet they accomplish so much more?

Warren Buffett once famously said,

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”

Buffett would know, given that at 86 years old he is still considered to be one of the wealthiest and most successful people in the world.

When we think of highly successful individuals, we generally think of all the things they do. This may include building great companies, creating incredible products and closing impressive deals.

But the simple truth behind it is that along with every notable accomplishment comes a long list of things they didn’t do. That’s because mega-moguls know their time is valuable - they have no problem saying “no” on a consistent basis to keep their calendars empty.

But you probably consider yourself a yes kind of person.

I mean let’s be honest, people never want to limit their lives or do just one thing.

We want to do all of the things. We simultaneously want to start a new venture, learn a new language, remodel the house and go out for drinks with friends on Friday night.

It’s almost impossible to shut out the voice in our head that asks: What if an opportunity like this never comes up again? What if THIS is the big deal I’ve been waiting for?

Other times, people also say “yes” to things for the fear of disappointing someone else. We want to be seen as team players, right?

Whatever the psychological back-story or reasoning may be, the fact remains that saying yes to too many things is counterproductive.

And Warren Buffett has the perfect solution.

According to Business Insider, Buffett once spoke to his pilot and joking said, “ the fact that you’re still working for me tells me I’m not doing my job.”

“You should be out going after more of your goals and dreams,” he reportedly said.

To help his long-time employee do just that, he came up with a simple 2-step process to eliminate and say “no” to time-wasting distractions, while honing in on success.

His two-step rule is simple and will help you to set boundaries and therefore become more successful at saying “no.”

1. Write down your top twenty-five career goals, and then circle the five most important to you.

Before you, you will have two lists. While everything that you wrote down likely has some sort of importance, your top-five list should contain those objectives most meaningful. Before sitting down with these goals you likely saw the list of twenty, in addition to the top-five, as not necessarily “urgent priorities” but still having plans to give them a dedicated effort. This is wrong according to Buffett. Why? Your time and attention are limited, and any effort invested on lower priority goals steals away effort from higher priority goals.

2. Now, here’s the kicker, completely eliminate the other twenty goals you have listed. That’s right, cross them off.

Instead, put all of your effort and energy into achieving everything on your top-five list before even thinking about moving on to others. Why? These twenty items, along with many other opportunities that may arise, are simply distractions getting in the way of reaching what truly matters most, as indicated on your list.

Sure, they are important to you, and trust me you’ll get to them. But eliminate them for the time being. Simplicity is the key to success here. One fully completed project is better than five half-finished ones. Buffett suggests that you don’t just prioritize what’s most important, but support this prioritization by avoiding everything else.

Seymour Schulich spoke of this in his book Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons by explaining that, “A small number will be highly attractive; most will be average or below average. The path to superior results is to accept only the best ideas — indeed, no venture capitalist or merchant banker could survive for very long without saying no to 90 percent (or more) of the pitches he sees.”

So, similar to the other twenty items on your list, go ahead and say “no” to those lunch dates you don’t enjoy or to committing to the company softball league this year.

Remember, we’re all given the same amount of time. What makes a difference is how we choose to use it.

Do you have any tips for saying “no?” Give me a shout-out on Twitter!

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Elle Kaplan

Written by

CEO/Founder of @LexionCapital & CIO of Elle Capital. Self Made Entrepreneur, Financial Expert & Dreamer. Visit to learn more.

A network of business & tech podcasts designed to accelerate learning.