Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5 Hour Rule

Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5 Hour Rule

November 21, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs


At the age of 10, Benjamin Franklin left formal
schooling to become an apprentice to his father. As a teenager, he showed no particular talent
or aptitude aside from his love of books. When he died a little over half a century
later, he was America’s most respected statesman, its most famous inventor, a prolific author,
and a successful entrepreneur. What happened between these two points to
cause such a meteoric rise? Underlying the answer to this question is
a success strategy for life that we can all use, and increasingly must use. Throughout Ben Franklin’s adult life, he
consistently invested roughly an hour a day in deliberate learning. I call this Franklin’s five-hour rule: one
hour a day on every weekday. Franklin’s learning time consisted of:
Waking up early to read and write Setting personal-growth goals (i.e., a virtues
list) and tracking the results Creating a club for “like-minded aspiring
artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community”
Turning his ideas into experiments Having morning and evening reflection questions
Every time that Franklin took time out of his busy day to follow his five-hour rule
and spend at least an hour learning, he accomplished less on that day. However, in the long run, it was arguably
the best investment of his time he could have made. Franklin’s five-hour rule reflects the very
simple idea that, over time, the smartest and most successful people are the ones who
are constant and deliberate learners. Warren Buffett spends five to six hours per
day reading five newspapers and 500 pages of corporate reports. Bill Gates reads 50 books per year. Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every
two weeks. Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day,
according to his brother. Oprah Winfrey credits books with much of her
success: “Books were my pass to personal freedom.” Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads
two hours day. Dan Gilbert, self-made billionaire and owner
of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reads one to two hours a day. So what would it look like to make the five-hour
rule part of our lifestyle? To find out, we need look no further than
chess grandmaster and world-champion martial artist Josh Waitzkin. Instead of squeezing his days for the maximum
productivity, he’s actually done the opposite. Waitzkin, who also authored The Art of Learning,
purposely creates slack in his day so he has “empty space” for learning, creativity,
and doing things at a higher quality. Here’s his explanation of this approach
from a recent Tim Ferriss podcast episode: “I have built a life around having empty
space for the development of my ideas for the creative process. And for the cultivation of a physiological
state which is receptive enough to tune in very, very deeply to people I work with … In
the creative process, it’s so easy to drive for efficiency and take for granted the really
subtle internal work that it takes to play on that razor’s edge.” Adding slack to our day allows us to:
1. Plan out the learning. This allows us to think carefully about what
we want to learn. We shouldn’t just have goals for what we
want to accomplish. We should also have goals for what we want
to learn. 2. Deliberately practice. Rather than doing things automatically and
not improving, we can apply the proven principles of deliberate practice so we keep improving. This means doing things like taking time to
get honest feedback on our work and practicing specific skills we want to improve. 3. Ruminate. This helps us get more perspective on our
lessons learned and assimilate new ideas. It can also help us develop slow hunches in
order to have creative breakthroughs. Walking is a great way to process these insights,
as shown by many greats who were or are walking fanatics, from Beethoven and Charles Darwin
to Steve Jobs and Jack Dorsey. Another powerful way is through conversation
partners. 4. Set aside time just for learning. This includes activities like reading, having
conversations, participating in a mastermind, taking classes, observing others, etc.
5. Solve problems as they arise. When most people experience problems during
the day, they sweep them under the rug so that they can continue their to-do list. Having slack creates the space to address
small problems before they turn into big problems. 6. Do small experiments with big potential payoffs. Whether or not an experiment works, it’s
an opportunity to learn and test your ideas. For many people, their professional day is
measured by how much they get done. As a result, they speed through the day and
slow down their improvement rate. The five-hour rule flips the equation by focusing
on learning first. To see the implication of this, let’s look
at a sales call (note: you can replace “sales call” with any activity you do repeatedly). Most professionals do a little research before
the call, have the call, and then save their notes and move on. Somebody with a learning focus would think
through which skill to practice on the call, practice it on the call, and then reflect
on the lessons learned. If that person really wanted an extra level
of learning, he or she would invite a colleague on the call and have the colleague provide
honest feedback afterward. Embracing a learning lifestyle means that
every time we make a sales call, we get better at doing sales calls. Focusing on learning un-automates our behaviors
so we can keep improving them rather than plateauing. Every event is an opportunity to improve. By focusing on learning as a lifestyle, we
get so much more done over the long term.