The Ultimate Guide to the 5-Hour Rule

Most of us don’t spend enough time adding new skills to our toolbox. We get stuck in our corporate jobs, where we execute the same few procedures day in and day out.

The 5-hour rule is here to remedy that. It makes sure you invest at least 5 hours each week in improving yourself. This will create exciting new opportunities for you.

Learn what the 5-hour rule is all about, who came up with it, and how you can best apply it to your own life.

Definition: What Is the 5-Hour Rule?

The 5-hour rule states you should spend an hour each workday learning something new. That adds up to five hours per week, hence the name.

The term goes back to entrepreneur Michael Simmons, who wrote his first article on the subject in 2016. Since then, the idea has become popular in personal development circles.

Of course, the notion of daily, continuous learning is much older. Benjamin Franklin famously blocked out time each day for self-improvement. Many successful entrepreneurs are known to do the same; think Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, or Mark Zuckerberg.

The 5-hour rule utilizes a 3-stage process of reading, reflection, and experimentation.

“Reading” refers to the input you are getting from books and other sources (podcasts, courses, etc.). The reflection phase is for chewing the new information over. Finally, during experimentation, you apply what you learned to the real world.

Continuous, daily learning is not just some self-help hoax. A study found that 85 percent of the rich ($160,000 annual income or more) read at least two career-related books per month, while only 15 percent of the poor ($35,000 annual income or less) do so.

The R-R-E Triad

As mentioned before, the 5-hour rule champions the R-R-E triad:

  1. Reading
  2. Reflection
  3. Experimentation

You read something new, you adjust it to your situation, and then you apply it. It’s a good basic framework for learning.

However, there are three common pitfalls to watch out for.

First, most people get stuck in the consumption phase. They read their ten pages a day or they listen to their podcast, and that’s that.

But if you don’t apply that new knowledge, you are not getting the whole range of benefits. You might see a slight but not a life-changing increase in skill level.

Second, the things people consume during their study time are often more entertaining than educational. Reading the new Malcolm Gladwell book is not the same as working through an advanced Python course. Only the latter will give you an edge in the job market.

Third, the R-R-E triad implies a linear, top-down process. You gather the general knowledge first, you think it through, and then you apply it to a specific use case.

That appeals to us because it is so neat. But in reality, the best learning often happens synchronously and bottom-up.

For example, when I first started learning SEO, I read a lot, took notes, and did little experiments here and there.

It was an alright approach, but it wasn’t great. I saw some progress, but I didn’t excel.

That radically changed when I participated in a free online program called “The Challenge.” The objective was to start a website and make at least one dollar online.

Driven by this goal, I encountered dozens of little hick-ups, which I then had to read up on and find solutions for. This is where most of my learning happened.

Key takeaways:

  1. Don’t get stuck in phase 1, the input stage.
  2. Be honest with yourself about your studying efforts. Are you increasing your skills? Or are you indulging in edutainment?
  3. Have an objective. For example, commit to learning a piece of music or programming an app. Then study up as challenges arise.

Why You Need the 5-Hour Rule

There are several good reasons why you should implement the 5-hour rule.

1. Skills = Money

The 5-hour will give you a competitive advantage.

There is a sobering statistic from July 2022. It states that 51.57 percent of Americans have not read a book in the last 12 months. That is more than half of the population saying “No” to continued learning.

It also stands to reason that the remaining 48.43 percent do not read one book after another. They will be only slightly less reluctant to expand their horizon.

But that means that if you consistently spend one hour a day studying, your expertise will soon surpass the vast majority of people alive today. That is an easy way to stand out from the herd.

As a result, your net worth will increase. More employers will compete over you and offer you more money to come work for them.

Better yet, you can hire out your valuable skills as a freelancer. Instead of trading time for money — like an employee would — you can now charge per project.

This will allow you to demand premium rates while working fewer hours.

2. Keeping Up

Information has an expiration date. Half of the things you learned ten years ago are now outdated. You must constantly add to your skills, or risk falling behind.

This dynamic is further intensified by the digital age we find ourselves in. Now, there are new, disrupting technologies popping up every five years or so.

Compare this to the pre-digital age where such disruptions might take place two or three times during a lifespan (like the automobile and the radio).

It was hard enough for most people to adapt to these changes back then. But doing this 10–15 times during one lifetime? For most people, that’s unfathomable.

It means there will be soon a wide gap between those few who are willing to keep learning and the vast majority of people who are not.

Learning a new (digital) skill for one hour a day will make you part of that elite group.

3. Counteracting Work

The single biggest antagonist to learning is your 9 to 5.

Employers are always rambling on about lifelong learning, how important it is, yada yada yada.

But in truth, they don’t want you to expand into new areas.

It makes sense.

Doing what you already know how to do? That will make them money.

But being bad at a new skill? That will cost them money.

That is why your 9 to 5 feels so pointless. You are doing the same couple of things every day. There is no development, no intellectual stimulation.

The 5-hour rule will counteract this (to an extent). By establishing a daily learning habit, you will at least foster growth in your own time. Life won’t feel quite so monotonous anymore.

Also, it will allow you to switch jobs, areas of specialization, and even industries. Job hopping is one way to keep the grind halfway bearable.

Finally, expanding your toolbox will enable you to start your own business. You’ll have more skills to draw from which you can combine in new, innovative ways.

What Should You Study?

The answer to that question will depend on you as a person — your interests, your goals, and your talents.

However, there are three areas of expertise that anybody will profit from. These are:

  1. Health-related skills
  2. Digital skills
  3. People-related skills

If you are sick or tired, you cannot perform at your highest capacity. This is why health-related skills are so valuable. Improve your physical well-being, and your productivity will skyrocket.

Note that knowing about health and actually improving your health are two different things. There are a lot of fat doctors.

The next area that will benefit anyone is digital skills. In a digital world, these will give you tremendous leverage.

These three tend to yield the greatest return on investment:

  1. Developing software. In a digital world, if you can code like a wizard, you will always be in high demand.
  2. Handling data. If you excel at mining and interpreting data, you will have an informational edge over everybody else.
  3. Creating content. If you can create the most engaging digital content, you will get the most eyeballs and the most business.

The third area that benefits anyone is people-related skills.

We might be living in a digital world, but we still crave the human touch. Become the best at listening to people, making them feel seen, charming them, etc., and it will open many doors. That’s why you should study psychology, marketing/sales, and influencing people.

Accumulating vs. Pivoting

Another decision you need to make is if you want to build upon your existing competence or explore a new field.

There are advantages and drawbacks to both approaches.

If you build on your existing competency, you will get rewarded sooner. You will quickly experience progress and see financial returns.

But what if you hate your current competency?

For example, you might have become a lawyer to impress your parents, but now dread going to work. In this case, it’s high time to cut your losses and pivot to another area of knowledge.

Don’t hope for things to get better. Admit that you bet on the wrong horse and move on.

How To Implement the 5-Hour Rule

Here is how you can get the most out of the 5-hour rule.

1. Start Tiny

Just because it’s called the 5-hour rule doesn’t mean you have to start with an hour each day. For most people with a full-time job and a family, that will be too big of a commitment, at least initially.

Start with 5 minutes a day. Once that works, go up to 10 minutes. Keep going up in small steps until you get to one hour.

It’s much better to build the habit slowly and sustainably than to rush it and then quit after two months.

 2. Keep It Real

To truly grow, you must sufficiently challenge yourself:

  1. You must stay with one thing for long enough. Jumping from one shiny object to another is fun, but doesn’t lead to growth.
  2. You must pick sufficiently demanding material. Don’t read to feel inspired — read to learn. Think textbooks, not self-help literature.

Always ask yourself — is what I am currently studying propelling me forward? Or am I just entertaining myself?

3. Prefer Books Over Podcasts

In comparison to books, podcasts contain more fluff.

A book is refined over and over again, while a podcast is just someone riffing. That’s why a good book will always beat a podcast in terms of density.

In my whole life, I have known no wise people (over a broad subject matter area) who didn’t read all the time — none. Zero.

Charlie Munger

Also, podcasts lend themselves to multitasking. Most people listen to them while driving, working out, or doing the dishes. That makes it harder to absorb the material deeply.

Don’t get me wrong — educational podcasts are great. I listen to them every day. But don’t neglect reading over them. It is the deeper mode of learning.

4. Consider Online Courses

When it comes to input, online courses are another option to consider.

They can be fantastic. Like a book, the producer can refine the material over and over again, resulting in a high level of density.

On top of that, you can follow the course creator along as they demonstrate stuff. That makes the learning experience more hands-on.

However, there are a lot of bad courses out there. Many people are just trying to make a quick buck. Therefore, really do your research first.

5. Come Up With a Project

Always come up with a pet project to put your knowledge into practice straight away. For example, if you want to learn web design, start building a website from day 1, no matter how crappy.

This is where your most valuable learning will happen.

6. Shut Out All Distractions

We can hardly spend five minutes without reaching for our phones.

That’s a problem. If you are supposed to study for an hour each day, but then spend 45 minutes scrolling through your Instagram reels, it completely defeats the purpose.

Hence, put your phone in silent mode. Turn off all notifications. Go somewhere without WiFi if you have to.

7. Time Block

Put your study session in your calendar and treat it like a non-negotiable appointment.

This will increase your chances of sticking with the 5-hour rule dramatically.

8. Always Come Prepared

Sometimes, no matter how well you plan, you won’t find that quiet study time.

But even during the most hectic days, you will have a few minutes here and there, e.g., while you wait for your food, or while you drive your car through the car wash.

Be ready for these little windows of time.

Always have your Kindle with you. Always have a video course to watch on your smartphone. Always have a few educational podcast episodes downloaded.

Granted, this is not the most effective way to learn. But it’s much better than nothing.

9. Make It a 7-Hour Rule

I know, it’s called the 5-hour rule. But I would prefer you’d make it a 7-hour rule. In other words, study every day.

Understand — accumulating skills is what will make or break you.

It decides how fulfilled you will be at your career, and how much money you will make.

It will give you status and thus increase your sexual prospects.

It will even decide what the future of your children will look like, and the opportunities you can offer them.

For these reasons, learning needs to happen every day, for the rest of your life.

Leave a Comment