“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr. Seuss

Did you know that Bill Gates reads about 50 books a year? He reads mainly non-fiction books that explain something about how the world works.

Why does he do this?

Gates says that reading tests his understanding and is the main way he learns new things. A book can also help him see something familiar from a different angle.

Being an avid reader is a trait of many of the world’s top business leaders including Elon Musk, Jack Ma and Warren Buffett.

Buffett invests 80% of his time into reading and thinking.

If you want to gain an advantage over colleagues and progress, you need to follow in the footsteps of Gates and Buffett and dedicate a proportion of your free time to learn new things. 

One way you can commit to self-improvement is by adopting the five-hour rule.

How the Five-Hour Rule Works

The five-hour rule is a simple concept that was first coined by Michael Simmons.

It involves setting aside five hours a week or one hour each working day, dedicated to deliberate practice or learning.

Learning comes in many different forms and will include time for reading, reflection and experimentation.

The Three Buckets of the Five-Hour Rule

  1. Reading is a great way to learn. If an hour seems like a lot, start off initially by aiming for 30 minutes each day. Try keeping a book in your bag at all times. Or if you’re a Kindle user, you can install the app on the smartphone. Then the next time you’re killing time waiting for a meeting to start, you can do some reading instead of checking social media.
  2. Reflection is a key part of learning that improves performance. Focusing on the past allows you to identify what you did right and areas you could improve on next time out. This could encompass thinking and making notes in a journal. Try to block out some time in your calendar each day for reflection, even if it’s just 10-15 minutes to start with.
  3. Experimentation has produced some wonderful inventions and products. Innovation doesn’t come from doing the same thing over and over again. Google famously allowed employees to experiment with new projects for 20% of their work time. One way you can experiment is by implementing what you have learned through reading into a real-life scenario.

Setting Aside Time for Learning

Whilst there is a big focus on productivity and efficiency (something we’re guilty of), there is less time dedicated to learning.

We all know that continual learning is good, but do we need to define a minimum amount of time dedicated to learning, in the same way, we might do, for example, exercise?

Randall Stephenson, chief and chairman of AT&T, thinks so.

In an interview with the NY Times, Stephenson states that those who don’t spend 5-10 hours a week learning online will “obsolete themselves with technology.”

The five-hour rule isn’t about going to work and hoping you learn something new — it’s about setting aside time for personal development and deliberate learning.

Building a Habit of Reading

Productivity books

Benjamin Franklin said, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” He woke up early and used this time to read and write.

We all have busy lives and it can be difficult to find the time to actually sit down and read. But with extremely busy people like Barack Obama finding the time to read whilst he was in the White House — we should be able to find the time to build the habit of reading into our daily lives.

Obama said that reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.”

Explore a Variety of Topics

As well as books, blogs and news sites, you can also absorb knowledge through audiobooks and podcasts which can be a great option for those on the move or who spend time commuting.

Simmons recommends focusing on areas that are currently or set to become very relevant to your role. Learning the right thing at the right time can open up new opportunities.

But don’t just focus on topics directly connected to your current role. By exploring a variety of topics you can expand your thinking and unleash the power of possibility.

Final Thoughts

Learning is the single best investment of our time that we can make. When you make learning a habit — you’ll be more successful and productive in life.

You might not see a return in the short-term but by setting aside an hour of your working day for deliberate learning, you’ll acquire new skills and knowledge that is sure to benefit you in the long-term.

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Related: How to Focus and Get More Done!