A Matter of Hours: The Five-Hour Rule

You will probably spend 10 minutes reading this article, give or take. That means 10 minutes of not working, of not sleeping in the morning, or of anything else you wish to do at this moment. Time is a resource that is equally divided among all human beings, and there are so many ways to waste time; however, there is also a handful of ways to use time wisely and efficiently. Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule suggests that spending 10,000 hours on developing a skill can make you an expert, if not the best, in that field. The 80/20 rule believes you can spend just 20% of your time to reap 80% of the benefits from doing what you love. While those two rules are interesting in theory, there is another rule that is used by CEOs, billionaires, and other successful figures. It is the highly-praised, realistically-proven five-hour rule.

The five-hour rule is simple: dedicate at least one hour each weekday for deliberate learning or practicing. One hour per day adds up to five hours per week, thus the name “five-hour” rule. Successful people usually do one of three things during this hour: they read, reflect, or experiment (Rampton).

Everyone knows reading is a beneficial activity for the intellectual development of the youth. Elon Musk learned how to build a spaceship from reading books. Oprah created an influential book club on her television show that introduced reading to homes across America. Bill Gates is known for having a passion for reading; he reads and introduces books to the public, with topics ranging from macroeconomics to the biological evolution. What’s more important to note is that successful people don’t just read “occasionally.” When Barack Obama was president, no matter how busy his schedule, he still spent half an hour at the end of the day to read (Business Insider).

Reflection, also known as meditation or thinking, is another way CEOs and billionaires spend an hour of their day. They dedicate time daily to think about and evaluate their past successes and failures, often in the span of one hour or even just thirty minutes. Owing to their busy schedule, successful figures and businessmen set out a time with no distractions to ruminate, to work on their internal emotions, to plan future endeavors, and most importantly, to solve past and present problems.

For the innovators, inventors, and entrepreneurs, they also practice experimentation in their blocked-out hour for the day. Google allows a portion of the workday for its employees to work on new and potential projects. Facebook organizes Hack-a-Months for its employees to do the same thing.

All three methods of growth – reading, thinking and experimenting – are beneficial for just about anyone. However, what makes them effective is when they are implemented as part of the five-hour rule. As much as the next Marie Curie takes the five-hour rule seriously by reading a chemistry book (that is, not a textbook from school) every day for an hour, she won’t find herself holding a Nobel Prize anytime soon if she doesn’t understand the underlying concept of the five-hour rule. In the modern world, where productivity and efficiency equals success in the professional sphere, one criteria is often neglected: the quality of work.

The five-hour rule is also being viewed in the same light: read an hour per day and you’ll be the next Elon Musk. This idea of a straightforward work-to-reward system falsifies the perception of deliberate learning and practicing in the minds of the people who iterates this tip continuously: parents. It then transfers down to the youth, making them believe that time automatically equals progress. The true power of the five-hour rule lies in another concept that surprises the world of false productivity. A successful person doesn’t celebrate when work is done. He or she celebrates when progress is made. A mediocre person’s work is done when the clock strikes 5, the school bell rings, and the duties are all ticked off the list. An innovative and successful person’s work is rarely finished when the sun goes down; hard work resumes the next day until something comes into fruition. This is the essence of the five-hour rule: quality.

Deliberate practice is the activity that should happen in each hour every day. It is categorized by three main components: focused attention, critical analysis of performance, and specific goal for improvement. While regular practice, which comprises of repetition and no change in the practice, is what the common majority do when they “practice,” it is insufficient to bring about real, substantial progress (Clear).

Take, for instance, standardized test prep. Suppose student A and B both study for the upcoming TOEFL exam. Student A does 20 questions in one hour, carefully looks over wrong questions and keeps the mistakes in mind, concentrates fully throughout the study session, and makes 17 correct answers in the end. Student B does 10 questions in one hour, eats snacks while working, occasionally glances at the answer key to get through a tough question, and has 5 correct answers. If both students continue the same style of studying, and suppose both spent 30 hours practicing before the real test, who will receive the higher score?

That is the magic of standardized testing. Everyone answers the same set of questions, in the same given time, in the same condition, even with the same 2B pencil, yet there will be people with higher scores. If those students spend the same amount of time preparing for the test, the quality of learning in that amount of time will determine who gets the better score. Life isn’t a timed test with paper leaflets and 2B pencils, but the success of those in life and the cause of said success is the same as that of the students who performed well: they both used their learning time effectively and to the best of their capabilities.

The idea of deliberate learning is that it is deliberate. For reading, deliberate learning is not about how much you’ve read; it’s about how much you understand. Bill Gates has some tips for effective reading: take notes to express what you understand on the margins, avoid skimming through, and dedicate at least one hour to fully immerse yourself into the book (“How Bill Gates Gets the Most out of Reading Books”). As Gates would agree, sprinting through pages won’t be of much use if you don’t fully grasp what the book is trying to express or teach.

Deliberate learning is not the only component to apparent success; the five-hour rule also implements the concept of empty space (Empact). Successful people deliberately set out empty space in the day, usually one hour, for deliberate learning as well as other essential yet unseen problems that might not be resolved in a normal, jam-packed day. The empty space created can also be for reflection instead: in a normal weekday when we are constantly swarmed with information and our actions dictated by a to-do list, having an hour to let out the stress and evaluate the performance so far helps to evaluate what has worked so far and what has not. This is not to be confused by relaxing time or for entertainment, as the empty hour in the day is for actively reflecting upon oneself and the progress made. Take it as a progress report for yourself.

However, with the implementation of empty space, consistency is the criteria that need to be kept. Much like one’s helpless New Year resolution to work out and lose weight, a plan for blocking out time for deliberate learning won’t gain much substance if it is not every day or occasionally. The empty space doesn’t have to be one hour either: successful entrepreneurs suggest starting the deliberate learning session after you wake up, having only thirty minutes instead of one full hour, and setting up a behavioral trick where you can just limit the learning process to three minutes and hope that your curiosity will take you further and longer. Learning applies differently to each of us, and as long as it works, your plan doesn’t have to be the same as others.

The rule is straightforward: set out around one hour every weekday. Read, reflect, or experiment. It’s not just about spending the time to do things. It’s about deliberate practice and learning, focus, and substantial progress. It’s about setting up empty space in the day and every day for deliberate learning. It’s about consistency. That is the five-hour rule.

Works Cited

Business Insider. “A Day in the Life of the President of the United States.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 16 Feb. 2015, www.businessinsider.com/day-in-the-life-of-president-obama-2015-2#then-he-tries-to-get-in-about-a-half-hour-of-reading-before-lights-out-18.

Clear, James. “The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice.” James Clear, 1 Sept. 2018, jamesclear.com/beginners-guide-deliberate-practice.

Empact. “Why Constant Learners All Embrace the 5-Hour Rule.” Inc.com, Inc., 20 June 2016, http://www.inc.com/empact/why-constant-learners-all-embrace-the-5-hour-rule.html.

How Bill Gates Gets the Most Out of Reading Books.” Open Culture, 2 Apr. 2018, www.openculture.com/2018/04/how-bill-gates-gets-the-most-out-of-reading-books.html.

Rampton, John. “The 5-Hour Rule Used by Bill Gates, Jack Ma and Elon Musk.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 31 July 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/317602.