For the leaders I tracked, the 5-hour rule often fell into three buckets: reading, reflection and experimentation.
According to an HBR article, "Nike founder Phil Knight so reveres his library that in it you have to take off your shoes and bow."
Oprah Winfrey credits books with much of her success: "Books were my pass to personal freedom." She has shared her reading habit with the world via her book club.
These two are not alone. Consider the extreme reading habits of other billionaire entrepreneurs:
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Other times, the 5-hour rule takes the form of reflection and thinking time.
AOL CEO Tim Armstrong makes his senior team spend four hours per week just thinking. Jack Dorsey is a serial wanderer. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner schedules two hours of thinking time per day. Brian Scudamore, the founder of the 250 million-dollar company, O2E Brands, spends 10 hours a week just thinking.
When Reid Hoffman needs help thinking through an idea, he calls one of his pals: Peter Thiel, Max Levchin, or Elon Musk. When billionaire Ray Dalio makes a mistake, he logs it into a system that is public to all employees at his company. Then, he schedules time with his team to find the root cause. Billionaire entrepreneur Sara Blakely is a long-time journaler. In one interview, she shared that she has over 20 notebooks where she logged the terrible things that happened to her and the gifts that have unfolded as a result.
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Finally, the 5-hour rule takes the form of rapid experimentation.
Throughout his life, Ben Franklin set aside time for experimentation, masterminding with like-minded individuals, and tracking his virtues. Google famously allowed employees to experiment with new projects with 20% of their work time. Facebook encourages experimentation through Hack-A-Months.
The largest example of experimentation might be Thomas Edison. Even though he was a genius, Edison approached new inventions with humility. He would identify every possible solution and then systematically test each one of them. According to one of his biographers, "Although he understood the theories of his day, he found them useless in solving unknown problems."
He took the approach to such an extreme that his competitor, Nikola Tesla, had this to say about the trial-and-error approach: "If [Edison] had a needle to find in a haystack, he would not stop to reason where it was most likely to be, he would proceed at once with the feverish diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search."