Marc Jenkins

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Must avoid at all costs

Warren Buffett is one of the most noteworthy investors of our time. He knows a thing or two about focusing.

One of his employees asked him how to get ahead in life. He suggested that the employee write down 25 things that he wanted to accomplish in the next few years. So the employee made a list of 25 things.

Buffett then asked the employee to circle 5 things on the list that were the most important. These 5 items, Buffett said, are the things that you need to focus on.

“What about the remaining 20?” the employee asked.

Buffett replied, “that’s your must avoid at all costs list.”

We should all have an avoid at all costs list because it keeps us focused. If you’re anything like me, you’ll suffer not from a lack of ideas, but from too many ideas. Our brains are pulled left and right, in this direction and that, but we need to focus. If we try and accomplish everything, we’ll actually accomplish nothing.

I listened to a podcast the other day with Sean McCabe. He talked about how people like to put people in boxes. “Oh, he’s the logo guy” or “She’s the SVG CSS guru”. We categorise people by what we see them do. Not because we are judging them, but because it’s a convenient way for our brain to organise information.

Sean suggests that people will put you in a box so you may as well decide what box you should go in. The way you do that is focus on one discipline. That doesn’t mean you have to only work on one thing but it means you need to filter your output.

Lets say you’re a designer and you design websites, logo, t-shirts, and anything else you can but you’re most passionate about logo design. You don’t want to stop doing the other work because they provide diversity and money. The way to put yourself in the “Oh, he’s the logo guy” box is to only put logos in your portfolio, on your Instagram feed and on your Dribbble account. You need to filter your output. That’s how you get known for something.

So that’s what I’ll be doing in 2015: focusing on my list of 5 things (and avoiding my list of 20) and filtering my output.


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Hi, I'm Marc Jenkins. I run a small WordPress consultancy called 16BY9—I'm available for hire if you need WordPress expertise. I write about freelancing, productivity, tech and more.