Want to supercharge your career? Here’s how the top CEOs do it.

Investing one hour in yourself every day is could be the key to ongoing personal and professional self-improvement.

Author and entrepreneur Michael Simmons researched the workplace habits of successful CEOs and entrepreneurs and recognised they all shared a common trait.

They all found time in their busy schedules to invest in developing their skills and knowledge.

This behaviour is widely known as “the five-hour rule”.

The power of the five-hour rule

The rule is simply about setting aside time – in this case, an hour each working day – to engage in ‘deliberate learning’.

The research shows many workers measure the value of their day by what they tick off their to-do lists. “They speed through the day’s tasks without focusing on critical thinking or expanding their knowledge,” says Simmons.

Deliberate learning challenges this behaviour by focusing your attention on learning something new, or finding new ways to do what you already do more effectively.

Reading improves productivity

Dive into a book to improve your focus and analytical skills.

Simmons says many top CEOs have realised the potential of learning outside their industry or area of expertise, becoming what Bain & Company chairman Orit Gadiesh coins “expert generalists”.

Expert generalists indulge their natural curiosity and ‘collect’ expertise across different industries and topics.

Simmons says applying this process enhances your creative problem solving abilities, develops your critical thinking skills, and generally improves your capabilities at work.

It also helps develop your creativity.

“If you’re in the tech industry and everyone else is just reading tech publications, but you also know a lot about biology, you have the ability to come up with ideas that almost no one else could,” he says.

Use the five-hour rule to your advantage

By studying the patterns of today’s big business leaders and visionaries, Simmons nailed down three cornerstones of learning that anyone can practice to improve their knowledge, and subsequently their performance at work.

1. Read as much as you possibly can.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX and Tesla, is known for reading two books a day, spanning disciplines from physics to product design.

Microsoft’s Bill Gates reads 50 books a year, sharing his top recommendations with the public.

No matter the genre, reading has been proven to increase your brain power, as well as help you develop empathy and relieve stress.

Reading is crucial for what Simmons describes as ‘learning transfer’, which is taking what we learn in one industry and applying it to another. 

2. Reflect and learn from your mistakes.

Many of today’s prominent leaders put aside hours during the week purely to think.

Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s biggest hedge funds, catalogues his mistakes, allows his entire company to view them and then schedules time to discuss why they were made.

“Focusing on learning makes our behaviours more deliberate so we can keep improving, rather than plateauing,” Simmons says. 

3. Take what you’ve learned and experiment!

Put your new knowledge to use by stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things.

Experimenting with new ideas

Think outside the box. You never know what could happen.

Experimenting might mean suggesting a new project to your boss, loosening some deadlines to allow the best ideas to hit the table, or even engaging in some creative writing to stimulate your mind.

That’s the beauty of the five-hour rule: over time, you’ll develop more ideas, become more well-rounded, and ultimately be more likely to succeed.