The 3-Hour Rule: How Top Leaders Spend Time on Growth

by @deanyeong | Sign up to weekly newsletter here

If you are approaching your career as a specialist, what you need is 10,000 hours of deliberate practice and learning on a specific skill as mentioned in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. The numbers of the hour may vary but it basically means you need to stay focused and put in the work before expecting any return.

But being a leader is a completely different story. A good designer is not necessarily a good creative director for an agency, a brilliant developer is not guaranteed to become a good CEO for a startup, and a talented writer will not always become a good chief editor for a publishing firm.

The basic ground skills are crucial for one to become a leader, but you should always make sure your team is better than you at a specific skill. If you’re the CEO and you know more about programming than your developers, then you should reconsider your hiring process.

As a leader, we should always focus on growth, both the company and the individual. Most leaders like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg are busy individuals, but they all know one thing as a fact.

To grow their company and their businesses, they must first improve themselves.

Many of these leaders set aside at least 3 hours a week, despite their extremely busy schedule, to deliberately grow themselves with these three activities. And here are what they do:

Spend An Hour Each Week to Read

Books are my pass to personal freedom. – Oprah Winfrey

I’m an active user on Quora. And I answered many questions on the topic of self-improvement. One of the habit I stressed a lot is reading. For me, reading is a path to hacking the authors’ wisdom. You save yourself years of time when you learn something from books, which usually took the author decades to figure it out and put it into words.

We all know Bill Gates for Microsoft and his initiative to start the Giving Pledge with his wife Melinda Gates, and billionaire Warren Buffett. But did you know Bill Gates as an avid reader too? Check out the book reviews on his personal blog – Bills Notes.

Besides these, there are many other billionaire entrepreneurs and leaders practice extreme reading routine:

  • Mark Cuban reads more than three hours every day.
  • Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads two hours a day.
  • Billionaire entrepreneur David Rubenstein reads six books a week.
  • Dan Gilbert, a self-made billionaire and owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, reads one to two hours a day.

Spend An Hour to Try Something New

Top leaders and entrepreneurs always spend times to experiment with new ideas. I once read an article on the job descriptions of every CEO, and these are the three most crucial and important tasks for every business leader.

  • Set the direction and vision for the company
  • Manage the cash flow of the company
  • Hiring the right people (and firing) to form a strong team

Some might say these are simple works, but they are easier to say than to be done. They are tasks that cover a wide range of nature from operation management to sales and marketing. A leader doesn’t need to be an expert in a specific area to carry out these tasks, but one common trait required is the openness and willingness to learn and embrace new things.

Great leaders experiment new ideas with like-minded people by forming a mastermind group. Google famously allowed employees to experiment with new projects during 20 percent of their work time. Facebook encourages experimentation through Hack-a-Months.

One greatest example would be Elon Musk. He takes his experiment to the extreme by challenging many outdated industries in all his ventures such as Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX. These experiments are what push the humanity forward and become the great invention for the future.

Spend An Hour to Reflect

You read to absorb new knowledge and wisdom, then you try doing new things to take your learning to the next level. Now spend another hour each week, to reflect on your actions, behaviors, results, and life in overall.

Successful leaders spend times to reflect because it brings clarity to their actions. Reflection strengthens one’s willpower, at the same time, it uncovers some mistakes we made in the past and so we can pick up new lessons from them quickly. Great leaders know this very well and do it often.

Just like reading and experimenting, you can do it in a group to double or even triple the impact. Form a group with like-minded people so you can share knowledge with each other. Brainstorming new ideas and even pointing out mistakes and considerable risks for each other.

Triple Your Improvement Rate

If you are spending 10,000 hours, deliberately practicing your craft, it’s certain that you will get somewhere. It’s the power of focused, consistent tiny actions that compounded by time. You will definitely achieve the level of mastery.

The 3-hour Rule

The power of the 3-hour rule is much greater, it can’t replace the practice itself for sure, but if you spend at least 3 hours a week on a side, you’re going to double or even triple your overall improvement rate. The 3-hour rule is the missing element – when you absorb new ideas and insights from reading, when you implement those as an experiment, and then gain feedback and spend the time to reflect, you are practicing in the next level. Because of the higher level of consciousness involved.

The true power of the 3-hour rule is the improvement rate. It makes your 10,000 hours equivalent to someone else’s 30,000 hours. To maximize this simple principle, implement this with like-minded people by forming a mastermind group.

Start practicing with the 3-hour rule and keep me updated with your progress in the comment section below.

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  • Hey Dean. Great article! I would go as far as saying it’s important to schedule at least one hour a day (at least for your most important activity). Reading, for example, is one of my most important tasks and therefore schedule an hour every day to get it done.

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi Sam, you’re right! Reading is really an essential routine to implement daily!