The 20% Rule and the Power of Deliberate Learning

Alessio Frateily

Hatched by Alessio Frateily

Oct 08, 2023

5 min read


The 20% Rule and the Power of Deliberate Learning

In our fast-paced world, where technology is constantly advancing and industries are evolving rapidly, it has become increasingly important to prioritize continuous learning. Just as we have minimum recommended dosages for physical health, such as vitamins and exercise, we need to be just as rigorous about the minimum dose of deliberate learning that will maintain our economic health.

The long-term effects of intellectual complacency can be just as detrimental as neglecting our physical health. Not learning at least 5 hours per week, what I call the 5-hour rule, can be likened to the smoking of the 21st century. It is a warning sign of stagnation and a lack of adaptability in an ever-changing world.

But what is the optimal dose of weekly learning? How much time should we dedicate to learning and experimentation in order to have a thriving career? This question led me to explore the concept of the 20% Rule, which is followed by individuals and organizations known for their success and innovation.

For example, companies like Google, Genentech, 3M, and even individuals like Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, all allocate 20% of their time to activities that involve experimentation and skill-building. 3M has had an informal 15% Rule for decades, allowing their engineers and scientists to pursue their own projects and look for unexpected breakthrough innovations.

Willink, in his case for the 20% Rule, highlights the intense training that Navy SEALs undergo, dedicating 20% of their week (equivalent to one day) to improve their skills. He implies that certain professions require ongoing learning to stay at the top of their game.

Genentech, one of the largest companies in the world, also follows the 20% Rule, encouraging their scientists and engineers to spend 20% of their workweek pursuing pet projects. This practice has fostered a culture of innovation within the company.

Surprisingly, when I surveyed people about the 20% Rule, a staggering 95% of respondents believed that implementing a 4-day workweek combined with a 1-day learning week would increase their lifetime productivity. This suggests that people recognize the value of continuous learning and its impact on their overall productivity.

Looking at successful individuals like Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Thomas Edison, and Elon Musk, it becomes evident that they have all embraced the power of deliberate learning. Gates, for instance, has dedicated an hour a day throughout his career to learning, while Buffett has spent 80% of his entire career reading and thinking.

Edison, known for his 10,000 Experiment Rule, and Musk, who may not have publicly stated the percentage of his time spent reading, showcase the importance of applied learning in achieving remarkable success.

Inspired by these examples, I have personally increased my dedicated learning time from one hour per day to 3–4 hours. But how can we find the time for learning when we already feel overwhelmed and behind?

The answer lies in what I call adaptive learning. By prioritizing and making deliberate choices about our time, we can find at least 10+ learning hours per week, as recommended by the 20% Rule. It's about being intentional, setting aside specific time slots for learning, and finding ways to optimize our schedules.

Incorporating plain text files, as advocated by Derek Sivers, can also enhance our learning and productivity. By writing everything important in our lives in plain text, we create an extended memory and an organized repository of thoughts and ideas. Plain text files are reliable, flexible, and long-lasting, ensuring that our work will be accessible on any device, even ones that haven't been invented yet.

Sivers emphasizes the importance of not depending on companies or proprietary formats that may become obsolete or inaccessible in the future. Plain text files offer independence from subscriptions and hype, allowing us to focus on our work without being at the mercy of online tools.

Furthermore, plain text files can be easily converted into various formats, such as HTML, Markdown, JSON, or LaTeX. This flexibility enables us to use different scripting languages to categorize, sort, rename, archive, and export our work. By keeping our graphics files alongside our text files, we ensure that our work remains accessible and usable for future generations.

In conclusion, the 20% Rule and the power of deliberate learning are essential for thriving in today's rapidly evolving world. By dedicating a significant portion of our time to learning and experimentation, we can stay ahead of the curve and continuously adapt to new challenges and opportunities.

Three actionable advice to incorporate into your life:

  • 1. Implement the 20% Rule: Allocate at least 20% of your time to activities that involve deliberate learning and skill-building. This can be achieved by dedicating one day per week or spreading the time throughout your workweek.
  • 2. Prioritize adaptive learning: Find at least 10+ learning hours per week by being intentional about your time and making deliberate choices. Set aside specific time slots for learning and optimize your schedule to accommodate this important activity.
  • 3. Embrace plain text files: Use plain text files as your preferred format for writing and storing important information. They are reliable, flexible, and long-lasting, ensuring that your work will be accessible on any device, even in the distant future. Avoid depending on proprietary formats or online tools that may become obsolete or inaccessible over time.

By incorporating these practices into your life, you can harness the power of deliberate learning and maximize your potential for success in the ever-changing landscape of the 21st century.

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