The five hour rule: the benefits of deliberate learning

Written by Jennifer Trenery on Monday January 29, 2018

The five-hour rule has become synonymous with inspirational leaders around the world. What is it and who abides by it?

Bill Gates? Yes. Barack Obama? Double yes. Oprah? You guessed it, yes. The five-hour rule is a relatively new term, but one that is perfect for explaining success. Whatever your personal opinion of the aforementioned leaders, their success is undeniable.

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Which begs the question, what is the five-hour rule? Coined by Michael Simmons the term is based on a study of famous heads of business and world leaders, when measuring what makes some, more than others, predisposed to success.

The five-hour rule can, in short, be defined as structured learning. One hour of deliberate learning per day, per week (the working week, that is). Setting aside one hour per week to learn has proven to be successful for leaders in politics and business. And if learning one hour per day is good enough for Elon Musk, it’s good enough for us mere mortals too.

While success can be defined in many ways, your professional objectives can bemet with learning goals.

Barack Obama famously read for one hour per day while he occupied the White House  and was often snapped reading a great deal on his vacation. His library was impressive too: Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri were among the books on his reading list.

Bill Gates is possibly the world's most prolific reader, and widely acknowledged for this too. He often reads one book per week, and posts his reading list of the previous year annually.

What does this commitment to learning, and reading, demonstrate? People who read a lot are not automatically successful business persons, presidents and inventors. Nor are those who don’t read a great deal suddenly deemed unsuccessful. Rather, it’s the dedication and commitment to learning that is valuable here. Learning is, ultimately, an investment.

Investing in learning is imperative in the knowledge economy. The knowledge economy, if you haven’t heard this phrase before, is the ‘...system of consumption and production that is based on intellectual capital. In a knowledge economy, a significant part of a company and persons potential is based on intangible assets – in short, their knowledge – which becomes intellectual capital’. Of course, this cannot be added to your organisations balance sheets, but what an asset to have!

Today's workers, in particular millennials, place more value on purpose than a paycheck (although it would be remiss to think that they would work for free). And who can blame them? A large salary is one thing, but being unmotivated to go to work, feeling despondent and downcast in your role – well, that’s another. Purpose is the key to work.

Dedication to learning is not the only the key to success à la Oprah, but also makes work more meaningful. So, what knowledge is right for you? And how can it pay off?

Take a look at these points below:

Invest in the right knowledge at the right time

If everyone has a degree in economics, then the market is saturated with the same knowledge. Are there niche ways that you can upskill in a key area? Sanctions, mobile financial services, the challenge of cryptocurrency; these are hot topics in regulatory risk and compliance – and only a limited pool of people know these topics inside out.

Can you learn quickly?

Being able to learn quickly and flexibly is the key to success. Identifying a gap or a need, maybe in your industry as a whole, or maybe at a micro level as needed in your department, means that you can learn quickly. Having foundation knowledge is important, but deep diving into a more advanced area means that you are positively enforcing the knowledge economy. Dedicating one hour per day can make a great deal of difference. And what’s an hour per day? For many, that’s the commute on the train. Use the time wisely.

Be vocal about your skills

Bill Gates doesn’t hold back when he talks about what he knows, what he reads and why he does this. Being vocal doesn't mean that you have to be ‘showy’ about your knowledge. But if you want to command a larger salary, you need to know more and be able to communicate that knowledge. Being a thought leader in your industry can open many doors, and give you positive recognition.

Enhance your portfolio

What qualifications are going to command the highest return on investment? Ensure that you have the right portfolio for learning. Dedicate your time to making your CV stand out from the crowd.

Learning hard has become the new status quo, and the five-hour rule is as important as your five per day, or 10,000 steps.


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