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The 5-Hour Rule and You: Why Great Minds like Obama, Oprah and Bill Gates are Successful Because of It

EDUCATION: How spending 5 hours a week deliberately learning will drastically improve your prospects

So you’re wondering, what exactly is the 5-Hour rule? What’s so important about it that the world’s top entrepreneurs are using it as in daily practice to learn and enrich their minds?

Dubbed the “5-hour rule” by Michael Simmons, founder of Empact, the concept is very simple. Looking at society’s most successful people, no matter how busy they are, they always make time to spend at least an hour a day — or five hours a work week — learning and they practice this throughout their entire career.

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Simmons discovered that this rule dated back to Ben Franklin, an advocate for constant learning. Franklin frequently scheduled time to literally sit and learn. His personal pattern was to wake up early to read and write. Not only that, but Franklin established personal benchmark goals for himself and he would diligently track his progress.  It was also noted that once he learned something new, he would then experiment and ask insightful questions every morning and evening.

In an interview with the New York Times, former President Obama described why he was dedicated to reading during his Presidency. “At a time when events move so quickly and so much information is transmitted,” Obama said, reading gave him the ability to occasionally “slow down and get perspective” and “the ability to get in somebody else’s shoes.” Both, he continued, “have been invaluable to me. Whether they’ve made me a better president I can’t say. But what I can say is that they have allowed me to sort of maintain my balance during the course of eight years, because this is a place that comes at you hard and fast and doesn’t let up.”

Barack Obama, Former US President

To take it one step further, former President Obama even credited books to helping him survive his presidency. Let’s be clear, Obama isn’t the only person who employs the 5-Hour rule. Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Warren Buffet alike all adhere to the weekly practice of setting aside time to just learn new things, pure and simple.

Is is tough to set aside time in our busy schedules (that are already so jam packed with work)? Sure. Most of us would like nothing more than to come home from school or work, kick up our feet, turn on the TV and just binge the night away. But for those who make the effort (whether it’s an hour a day or just 15 minutes), the payoff will put you ahead of your competition.

Especially now that our society has transitioned into a knowledge economy, where your ability to learn and learn efficiently is your greatest weapon.

Oprah Reading "The Water Dancer"
Oprah Winfrey taking a moment to read “The Water Dancer” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

To start applying the 5-Hour rule in your life, we’ll break it down into three silos: Read, Reflect and Experiment.


Reading is a fundamental learning tool that shouldn’t be taken for granted and it’s the most convenient way to learn. A good habit is to make sure you always have a book on you at all times and that you set weekly reading goals for yourself. With eBooks, it’s that much easier to have access to books of any subject all at your fingertips. A famous advocate for reading is Bill Gates who reads around 50 books a year and cites them as one of the primary ways he learns.

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The next step is to process and think on the material you’ve just learned (or to reflect). Attempting to learn too much material without first stopping and reflecting on what you looked at already can be just as harmful as not learning at all. Find your own pace. A useful trick that will help is keeping a journal. Documenting your progress and the journey thus far will help keep you grounded and will help you retain information.

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After learning and committing it to memory comes the actual application (or experimenting). Make time to test out the new information and ideas that you’ve acquired. Some of the world’s most successful products have come about as a result of experimentation. Like they say, “practice makes perfect”.

So as you set out to apply the 5 Hour rule, just remember that you’re in good company. People like Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are just a few of the folks who value learning and because of it, have enjoyed great success. You can too!

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November 26, 2019

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