One of my favorite people to study is Warren Buffett. There are many remarkable things about the Oracle of Omaha, but what I believe we can learn from the most are Buffett’s habits. In particular, how he spends his time.
Buffett knows he’s dangerous if he’s doing anything but allocating capital, so he spends eight to nine hours a day reading and takes a few phone calls on an old-school telephone. He famously avoided investing in technology during the dotcom bubble in the late 1990s because he didn’t understand it. He’s so focused on his zone of genius that he’s ignorant of seemingly obvious things—he once brought his wife a colander when she was on the verge of vomiting.
Buffett illustrates the difference between successful people and highly successful people. Successful people are addicted to saying “yes.” They believe the more they do, the more people they’ll meet, money they’ll make, and impact they’ll have. Conversely, highly successful people like Buffett say “no” to anything that isn’t perfectly aligned with their vision and values.
If you find yourself striving to reach that next level in your life or career but you keep hitting an invisible wall, learning to gracefully say “no” is a key that will unlock so much for you.
The question is: who should you say “no” to? I can help you answer that question. I interact with a lot of people, but they all fall into three groups: friends, buddies, and friendly. Only one of those groups is getting a “yes” from me in reply to their invites. Let’s cover them first.
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These people are your cheerleaders. They want to see you succeed and will do everything in their power to help make it happen for you. They’ll introduce you to people, make calls on your behalf, and bring positive energy into your life. When they call, you actually want to answer.
The “phone test” is actually a useful tool for evaluating who your friends are. If you screen someone’s call when you have the chance to take it, they’re likely not in this group.
I want to do business with my friends and invite them to everything. In the same way they’re willing to help me, I’ll move mountains to try and do things with them. And if I can’t do something with them, I’ll let them know and ask them to please invite me again. I don’t do that as a courtesy; I do it because I genuinely hate to miss what they want to include me on.
For obvious reasons, I keep this group very small. If you find yourself saying “yes” to too many commitments, it might be because your group of friends needs to be pruned. That doesn’t mean you cut them out of your life. It just means they get bumped to one of the next two groups.
I like to hang out with my buddies. We’ll go fishing or hunting together, and occasionally we’ll talk business. But the key distinction here is: I don’t do business with my buddies.
One time, I was hanging out with a buddy of mine who’s fairly wealthy. He was talking about this idea he had while my wife was listening. After he left, she approached me, concerned.
“Are you going to do all that with him?” she asked.
“No way,” I told her. “I did business with him once and I did 11 of the 12 steps. He was supposed to reciprocate and he didn’t. That was a clear sign to me we were just going to hang out.”
In other words, he’s a buddy. Similar to my friends, my buddies bring good energy into my life and want to see me succeed. I’m just going to decline any business ideas they have.
People You’re Friendly With
This final group is reserved for people I’ll be friendly with, but I don’t let them into my life at all beyond that. I might make small talk, but I’m going to keep it brief and move on.
People in this group end up there for a few reasons. First, some people I’m friendly with are actively rooting for me to fail and take pleasure in my misfortune. That’s why I don’t share any details of my life with them—it would only give them fodder for their twisted victory laps.
Second, some people I’m friendly with aren’t good people. I once fired a guy and later saw him at an event where he was telling people he was financially free. Unless he married into financial freedom—which was possible—his claim was an outright lie. I knew he wasn’t financially free, so to avoid associating with him at all, I gave him a nod when I saw him and moved on.
Third, some people I’m friendly with bring bad energy into my life. One time when I returned from a relaxing vacation to Italy, I became aware of a relationship that was 100% drama all the time. Worse yet, he was constantly trying to drag me into drama that wasn’t mine. I don’t have time for that, so I made a note to myself that this individual was moving to the friendly list.
For a myriad of reasons, we all have people with whom we must remain cordial. It would be a bad move to cut them out of our lives entirely. But that doesn’t mean you have to give them anything other than the bare minimum required by common courtesy.
Unlock Your Time
Once you begin to sort people into these three groups, what you’ll find is that your calendar begins to clear up. You won’t be involved in deals that are wrong for you and you won’t be wasting time on people who do nothing but take from you or drag you down.
That’s a big part of the reason highly successful people pull away from those who are merely successful: they have people pushing them forward rather than trying to hold them back.