[MOTHER OF INVENTION] The Genius of the 5-Hour Rule

Rita Mauceri Mug Shot-PreferredWe had a slow summer. No big trips. No long camp-filled stretches. No classes. My kids did one week of Rec Center camp and, otherwise, a lot of old-fashioned lazing around, pool splashing and ice cream eating—and admittedly, a bit of video gaming. It was the first school break that played out this way for us. Going into it, I wasn’t sure if we would love it, hate it, or just grin and bear it.

As it turned out, it was amazing. The extra time we had to fill with “whatever” was healthy for all of us, especially for my kids who were forced to learn how not to be bored. Now, as we launch into another manic school year, I find myself missing those unfilled hours and wondering how I can get some of the slowness of summer back.

Along those lines: I recently came across an article on Inc.com by Michael Simmons entitled “Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey All Use the 5-Hour Rule.” The piece begins with the life of Benjamin Franklin, who dropped out of school at age 10. Franklin became at apprentice to his father, briefly, and then his older brother who was a printer. Most interestingly, however, young Franklin began to establish a pattern of self-directed exploration and learning in his life. He set aside one hour every day to learn, reflect and read. Essentially, he created “empty space” that he used to explore and grow—and he was religious about it.

The “slack” that Franklin created in his day generated huge results. It produced his famous 13 Virtues and led to the formation of a think tank of like-minded philosophers and learners called the Junto. Franklin, the school dropout, went on to become one of the greatest minds in American history.

Simmons goes on to profile other famous and wildly successful people who have embraced a similar philosophy of “deliberate” or “constant” learning. Among them: Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey and Elon Musk. In a society that focuses on constantly squeezing every ounce of productivity out of every single day, these people consciously carve out time to stop and slow down.

Simmons dubs this the “5-Hour Rule,” saying that every workday should have an hour of free time in it. With that time, you should do several key things: Read. Reflect. Experiment.

Reading is a common denominator among so many visionaries and iconic entrepreneurs from Nike founder Phil Knight—who had a library behind his main office and required visitors to remove their shoes and bow before entering—to Steve Jobs, who had an “inexhaustible interest” in the books of William Blake.

Reflection is becoming almost standard practice among forward-thinking companies, especially in the tech sphere. The senior team at AOL is required to spend four hours a week “just thinking” and LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules “two hours of thinking time per day.”

As for experimentation, it is essential in order to test ideas—large and small—make mistakes, have failures and ultimately have that one great success.

Simmons makes a good case for why the 5-Hour Rule should be part of daily life, the same way exercise or taking vitamins is. For more, check out his entire piece, which is well worth the read.

For busy moms who can barely squeeze in that 30-minute hike while the kids are in school, it may not sound doable. Then again, doesn’t an hour of “empty space” sound like a welcome break from all the chaos?

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