How to Use the ‘5 Hour Rule’ to Radically Improve Your Intelligence and Success

A system of constant learning used by Benjamin Franklin, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates.

A system of constant learning used by Benjamin Franklin, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates.

In today’s business world, it seems like every second you’re not working there’s money being poured down the drain. Especially during hectic weeks, most of us just try to keep our heads down, our eyes on the screen, and distractions far, far away.

But it turns out that devoting just one hour of purposeful distraction every weekday can actually enable you to be radically more productive and innovative in the long run.

So no matter how busy they are, many of the world’s most esteemed entrepreneurs, artists, and politicians share this quality.

For a prime example, look no further than Founding Father Ben Franklin. An Inc. article points out that Franklin took at least one hour out of his busy schedule every weekday, in order to learn a new skill, read, write, determine goals, or experiment.

Beyond him, successful people of all kinds get to where they are because their education goes well beyond their schooling. They are lifelong learners, who are constantly pushing their knowledge and abilities so they can become capable and creative leaders. As you’ll see, even the busiest moguls in the world understand that taking time to improve yourself is the wisest investment you can make.

Here are five ways ultra successful people adopt the five-hour routine into their daily schedules and how you can too. By adopting the “five hour rule,” you can not only work smarter, but also propel yourself to new heights of success.

Make Time For Your Eureka Moment

Lounging around in coffeehouses doesn’t sound like hard work to most of us, but that’s where many of the world’s best ideas were born. According to author Steven Johnson, during the 18th century, coffeehouses in England were where great thinkers, such as Benjamin Franklin, took time out of their schedules to bounce new and experimental ideas off other great minds.

Sometimes it takes stepping away from work for a bolt of inspiration to strike. Whether it’s sitting in a cafe or learning a new skill, making time for pursuits that better yourself can give you perspective and lead you to exciting new insights.

For example, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, was struggling with a failed draft of her memoir, so she took up gardening to clear her head.

“I was pulling up the spent tomato vines when — quite suddenly, out of nowhere — I realized exactly how to fix my book. I washed my hands, returned to my desk, and within three months I’d completed the final version of Committed — a book that I now love.”

Even spending one hour a day pursuing a conversation or a new hobby can enrich your mind so that a career defining eureka moment can happen for you too.

Be Curious

What separates massively successful entrepreneurs from everyone else is their unending curiosity. They are never content to be good at just one thing or knowledgeable in a single area. They are always look to diversify themselves so that they can spot valuable opportunities when they arise. And they work towards this goal every single day.

Justine Musk, author and wife of tech mogul Elon Musk, wrote about this very topic on Quora. “Shift your focus away from what you want (a billion dollars) and get deeply, intensely curious about what the world wants and needs. Ask yourself what you have the potential to offer that is so unique and compelling and helpful that no computer could replace you … Then develop that potential.”

So pick something that interests you, (and use an hour of your day to fall down the proverbial rabbit hole with it). Research or go to seminars and conferences that can teach you more about what interests you.

As Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM said at the Forbes’ 2013 Most Powerful Women Summit,

“The most important thing for any of us to be in our jobs is curious.”


Another way to utilize the five-hour rule and maximize your productivity is to spend your hour a day experimenting. In our modern world, it can feel like there’s nothing new under the sun, so experimenting is an incredibly important entrepreneurial endeavor.

Take Danish chef René Redzepi, for example. The world famous chef co-owns a two-Michelin star restaurant, Noma, in Copenhagen, and he’s renowned for pushing the boundaries of what food can be. He does this by taking time out of his and his staff’s day to focus of experimentation in their test kitchen. They ferment, and rot, and combine food from all over Denmark, in the hopes of creating something new and delicious. Not all of their experiments work, but there is something to learn from that failure too.

Whatever your business or craft might be, take the time to test the waters of what is possible in your field.


One of the most effective yet simple ways to participate in the five-hour rule like a pro is to read every day. You’ll find that the world’s most powerful and successful people all read voraciously. President Obama, Bill Gates, Oprah, George R.R. Martin, and Warren Buffet have each famously spoken out about how reading got them to where they are today and how it continues to shape and inform their decision making on a daily basis.

Be a Lifelong Learner

Habit can stagnate our ideas and skills, but by committing to being a lifelong learner, you commit to bettering yourself and your work. Stepping outside of your usual routine and daring to be challenged is what the five-hour rule is all about. It can keep big time executives to small business owners from feeling stuck, burnt out, or unprepared.

Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, claims that lifelong learning is what defines him as a leader. “I fundamentally believe that if you are not learning new things, you stop doing great and useful things.”

New opportunities are on the horizon for people that invest in themselves, and that can start with just five hours a week.

Have you found any ways to make your day more positive and successful? Give me a shout!

If you enjoyed this piece, check out my other articles in Inc. Magazine and my latest project, Love The Hustle.

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