The Math Behind The 5-Hour Rule: Why You Need To Learn 1 Hour Per Day Just To Stay Relevant

This is the no. 1 law for the future of work.

Michael Simmons
Nov 5, 2018 · 14 min read

“Knowledge has to be improved, challenged, and increased constantly, or it vanishes.” — Dr. Peter Drucker

Three years ago, I coined the term The 5-Hour Rule after researching the most successful, busy people in the world and finding that they shared a pattern: They devoted at least 5 hours a week to deliberate learning.

  • Almost no one takes this rule as seriously as they should.

Here’s The Simple Math Behind The 5-Hour Rule

Let’s assume that it took you 5,000 hours to master your field. To put this number into context, it takes about 6,400 hours of class time and studying to get a 4-year degree.

  1. We naturally forget a lot of what we learn. These two factors mean that we’d need more than 5 hours per week in our thought experiment.

The 2 Fundamental Trends Driving The 5-Hour Rule

  1. Law Of Increasing Learning: Professionals en masse across the world are increasing how much time they put toward learning (read on for the research). Given that we are competing in a global economy for jobs, clients, and customers, we need to at least match others just to stay in the same place.

Fundamental Trend #1: Your knowledge becomes more and more outdated every single day

“It takes 50 years to get a wrong idea out of medicine, and 100 years a right one into medicine.”

— John Hughlings Jackson, British neurologist

In his book The Half Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has An Expiration Date, researcher Samuel Arbesman says:

“It turns out that facts, when viewed as a large body of knowledge, are just as predictable [as uranium and other elements in their rate of decay]. Facts, in the aggregate, have half-lives: We can measure the amount of time for half of a subject’s knowledge to be overturned. There is science that explores the rates at which new facts are created, new technologies developed, and even how facts spread. How knowledge changes can be understood scientifically.”

For example, if you’ve got liver disease and go to a doctor who graduated more than 45 years ago, half of that doctor’s original information is probably wrong at this point.

  • Number of Species. In 2017, 85 new plant and animal species were discovered. Amazingly, scientists estimate that 90% of species have yet to be discovered. It is estimated that we have only discovered .00001% of all microbial species on the planet. That’s one-thousandth of one percent.
  • Psychology Replication Crisis. If you studied the field of psychology in 2010, you would’ve been exposed to the top 100 studies. In 2015, researchers attempted to replicate those studies and fewer than 50% got the same results!
  • Smoking. Not that long ago, some of the biggest tobacco sales people were doctors, dentists and nurses. This vintage ad would be so crazy as to be illegal in today’s world.
Source: Half-Life Of Facts
  • App development
  • Social media management
  • Driverless car engineering
  • Cloud computing
  • Big data
  • YouTube content creation
  • Online course creation

“According to our analysis of data from the Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics … 28 percent of the most promising positions will require ‘considerable to extensive preparation.’”

Finally, the decay rate of knowledge is multiple phenomena wrapped into one. By understanding that these separate phenomena exist, it helps us understand how fundamental the trend of knowledge decay is:

  • The number of scientists in the world is growing rapidly. Ninety percent of all the scientists who have ever lived are alive today.
  • The number of people creating and sharing ideas is growing exponentially. 30 years ago, the main people creating ideas were scientists, intellectuals, and thought leaders. With the advent of social media, millions of people are regularly creating and sharing their lessons learned.
  • We can perform exponentially more complex calculations. As a result of Moore’s Law, the calculations per second that we can perform is growing. Each advance in computation allows us to understand the complexity of the world at a deeper level and solve whole classes of problems that were previously unsolvable.
  • We are forgetting what we know. Finally, we have the Forgetting Curve, which shows that we humans forget nearly everything we are exposed to over time without reinforcement.

Fundamental Trend #2: You are competing against people who are learning more and more

According to Our World In Data, the average person in developed societies has been spending more and more time learning in formal settings over the last two centuries. The chart below shows the astonishing growth over the last 200 years. The years of schooling has gone from 2 years to 20 years in many developed countries.

Source: Our World In Data: Global Rise Of Education

Use this hack to double your learning time WITHOUT changing your schedule

You might not think you’ve got 5 extra hours in the week. Between your full-time job, family and social obligations, and time spent on your health, how can you find 5 extra hours a week?

  • That the world’s best knowledge is free and at our fingertips all day. This is only possible in the last 10 years.
  • Sauna (I do the sauna 3–4 times per week)
  • Exercise (I walk 10,000+ steps per day and jog a few times a week)
  • Socializing (my friends love learning and we talk about what we are learning)
  • Eating and food prep (I spend 45 minutes per day on this)
  • Doing housework or yard work (I spent 30 minutes per day on this as well)

Not Learning IS The Smoking Of The 21st Century

The bottom line is that those who do not keep learning will be left behind, in very real terms: stuck in an unsatisfying job or career plateau or, worse yet, unemployed.

Accelerated Intelligence

For people who want to find time to learn, learn better…

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