The Five-Hour Rule

Throughout Ben Franklin’s adult life, he consistently invested roughly an hour a day in deliberate learning. This has been called 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., 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

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.

The difference the five-hour rule makes

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.

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.

So, are you ready to embrace the five-hour rule?