The 5 hour rule: keep learning the Benjamin Franklin way

I thought you said an investment in knowledge pays the best interest, Ben? Rip-off merchant more  like.
I thought you said an investment in knowledge pays the best interest, Ben? Beneath you, mate.

I enjoyed this article from Michael Simmons in Inc. Like seemingly all Americans who write about anything, he has a Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) fixation – but why not, it probably beats my fixation with Paul Scholes (1974- ), articulate and thoughtful though the Bury-born former midfield ace is.

Franklin was of course famously productive, unlike me. Marvellously the tenth son of a soap maker, he invented the lightning rod and bifocal glasses and managed to juggle, according to Wikipedia, being an “author, printer, political theorist, politician, freemason, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman, and diplomat.” Though I bet he never took his kids to karate, did the washing up, or sat in rush hour traffic. I can’t claim any of those job titles – and have no insight into soap making either – but I have one thing in common with him. Like me, he was a Fellow of the RSA, where they now, down on John Adam Street off the Strand, have a Benjamin Franklin Room. I’m not so much Enlightenment as three-lighters-for-a-pound, but perhaps I can learn something from this dude.

So Franklin’s trick, says Simmons, was to devote an hour a day, every day of the working week, specifically to learning. He got up early to do it. Now, I already get up early to get my son’s breakfast, as he has a long trip to school (due to education cuts, ironically), so fat chance of reading and writing, unless we get into sleep deprivation territory. But I think I can squeeze in an hour a day on learning.

So how should I be doing it? Simmons says:

1. Plan out the learning. We shouldn’t just have goals for what we want to accomplish. We should also have goals for what we want to learn.

2. Deliberately practise. We can apply the proven principles of deliberate practice so we keep improving e.g. practising specific skills we want to improve. [Simmons should practise his spelling, he spelled it ‘practice’ when using as a verb. Schoolboy error]

3. Ruminate. This helps us get more perspective on our lessons learned and assimilate new ideas. It can also help us develop slow hunches in order to have creative breakthroughs.

4. Set aside time just for learning. This includes activities like reading, having conversations, participating in a mastermind, taking classes, observing others, etc.

5. Solve problems as they arise. Having slack creates the space to address small problems before they turn into big problems.

6. Do small experiments with big potential payoffs. Whether or not an experiment works, it’s an opportunity to learn and test your ideas.

Yes, this is slightly vague and waffly stuff. But the bigger point is, you get more done by working smarter, not necessarily burning the lightbulb at both ends [that was Thomas Edison, you numpty -Ed]. You only see those shortcuts and those big insights when you give yourself space to do so.

I must say freelance / independent qual life has its drawbacks, but has been (for me anyway) better at giving physical and mental space to think than agency life was. The catch is, you miss the interaction with others that you also need. So, a freelance / independent, going on training courses pretty regularly is a must. Freeing up the time and budget for that is easier said than done, but always worth it. In the meantime, I have some lighters to shift …

Published by Simon Riley

Qualitative researcher in the UK. I listen to people from all walks of life and think about what it all means. I work for leading brands, media companies and government.

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