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How the “5-hour rule” has helped global leaders in their march to success

Regina Ramyata Rao
17th Feb 2018
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Given an option to adopt a habit that can help you attain success, what would you choose? If you had to set aside an hour in a day as a rule, what is the key mantra that you would relentlessly follow? Is there even a Holy Grail of success and creativity? If you are still in search of the answer, here’s a hint – invest your time in building your intellectual capital. One of the easiest ways to build it is reading.

Wisdom is gained through a practice of deliberate reading. If one has to build a sustainable and successful career one needs to invest time in learning. Thomas Corley, the author of Rich Habits: The Daily Success Habits of Wealthy Individuals, has found that adopting reading habits is statistically correlated with success. Books have always been a gateway to knowledge accumulation. But how can you make the most of this resource with the limited amount of time you have every day? This is where the “5-hour rule” comes in.

Simply put, it’s a rule that encourages you to read for at least five hours in a week in an attempt to gain as much knowledge as possible. Serial entrepreneur Michael Simmons says he based the rule from Benjamin Franklin’s habit of reading one hour every weekday, or five hours a week.

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Of course, just reading and accumulating information is of little use if one doesn’t make use of it, and that’s the next part of the rule – three simple steps: Read, Reflect, and Experiment.

READ extensively

It is easy to get sucked into the habit of reading a limited amount, blaming our busy lives, other demands on our time, and a host of other excuses. However, some of the world’s most successful leaders actually make it a habit to read as much as possible as often as possible.

Bill Gates, former CEO, Microsoft and philanthropist-billionaire, says reading has changed his life. He reads roughly 50 books a year, or about a book a week. However, he does not simply read for the sake of it – rather he has a thirst to gain knowledge which drives his reading habit. He even makes notes in the margins of his books, something he says provides him with perspective and empathy, an important aspect of the process for him.

Warren Buffett, CEO, Berkshire Hathaway spends 80 percent of his time reading. He believes in reading and thinking, as compared to just sitting and thinking. Deliberating on something you have read opens you to new ideas and perspectives.

Another voracious reader is Charles Thomas Munger, the Vice Chairman of Berkshire Hathaway. He has been characterised by his family and children as someone who is like a book with legs sticking out. He believes that reading gives an individual a sense of temperament to grab the right ideas and implement them. It helps you understand the basic structure of ideas, that leads to wisdom accumulation. Through reading, one can become wiser every day and cultivate curiosity.

REFLECT on your learning

Simply reading a lot is not enough. To really make the most of your reading, it is important to reflect on what you read as well. Taking time out for reflection helps one understand the lessons you can take away from what you read, which you can then use to make your life better.

Oprah Winfrey, Entrepreneur, Author, and Actress, firmly stated that books were her path to personal freedom. They helped her move from a life of poverty to a wealthy life. Her favourite hideout spot while growing up was the library. Books uplifted her and helped her dream and envision her future beyond her economic and social struggles. She even contributed $40 million to provide for a state-of-the-art library to raise girls from poverty towards an attitude of leadership. Oprah says “when you educate a woman you set her free”. She has also been a firm believer in intellectual freedom all her life.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO, Facebook admits to being a painfully slow reader but makes it a habit to read and draw meaningful insights from various books. She carries her iPad everywhere she goes, but when she reads at home, she goes about dog-earing page corners and highlighting her favourite lines. She says her takeaways from books are how to communicate effectively, how to be a player and not a victim, and how to take responsibility, among others, that often resonate with her at very deep levels. Especially since Sheryl is also a prolific writer in her own stead, who is always looking to create impact through her own work.

EXPERIMENT till you find results

It is easy to get sucked into the idea of reading only a certain kind or genre of work – sort of like an echo chamber of books if you will. However, as with life, expanding your horizons will likely give you much better exposure to a variety of ideas, which could then be just the recipe you need for success.

Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, was a bookworm when he was a kid. He humorously says that he was first raised by books and then by his parents. He read encyclopedias extensively at the age of nine and enjoyed science fiction a lot. In fact, science fiction has always been his top go-to reading genre, apart from physics and astrodynamics. In fact, he even credits his understanding of the functioning of rockets to his extensive sci-fi reading.

In his early years, Barack Obama would work his way through everything from short stories to adventure tales. He credits this with rebuilding his personality from being tacit to outspoken as well as reigniting his passion for writing. An avid reader, an exceptional orator as well as a speechwriter, he believes that fiction has helped him be a better president as it gave him a creative edge in understanding people’s lives.

If the “5-hour rule” seems a bit too much, start with baby steps. Spend an hour, and once you get into the habit of reading every day, then increase the number of hours you spend on reading. The secret is to keep learning as you read. Question the status quo and develop an inquisitive and insightful mind. Success is about adopting the journey of learning by keeping an open mind through constant and vigorous reading. Strengthen your intellectual muscles and success will come that much easier as well. Many successful leading entrepreneurs and business leaders have used the 5-hour rule to stay ahead of the curve. Follow these three simple steps, and you can too.

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