"One’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions."
- Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr
New year. New start. New goals. New brain. New approach.
The big-bang of New Year’s Eve may not have been the screeching start we are accustomed to – brimming with optimism, hope and promises – our time to typically commit to shedding the pounds, mastering a skill or growing a conscience. The stark reality is that this tornado of good-intent has generally dissipated by February.
We live in accelerated times and we are being cued to lift our cerebral run-rate. To invest in equity north of the border. To facilitate the expansion of our areas of passion and productivity.
In 2022 let’s consider another way. But how do we replace our over-ambitious targets and equally spectacular missed goals? The answer is in the power of small acts, done often. We know the adage, “it’s the journey, not the destination” that counts. So let’s consider a more sombre and measured approach, something accumulative and formidable - the deep slow waters of continuous change, a flywheel of positive habit-forming.
When it comes to personal development, enhancing skills, boosting career prospects and developing personal skills, there is a deep pit of available self-helpery. But as usual, success is a cocktail composed of a little inspiration and a lot of execution. Check out the five most popular and proven methods for getting ahead. Pick your potion. Choose and commit.
Slow and steady wins the race.
1. The Five-Hour Rule
Let’s start with the Five-Hour Rule method, backed by none other than Barack Obama. Not only did he swear into office, he swore into the routine of reading an hour a day, every work day. We name dropped Barack because - if the guy with the biggest job in the world can do it, so can you!
And as it turns out he’s in good company. Bill Gates consumes a book a week and other overachievers - including Elon Musk and Jack Ma - stand testament to the Five-Hour Rule proving even the busiest maintain their edge through perpetual learning.
The term itself was coined by Michael Simmons. Simmons has written widely about it and stresses that it’s not just about reading – but rather LEARNING something an hour a day.
Simmons advocates spending an hour each day in one of three ways:
Reading. The topic and angle is up to you. While Bill Gates only reads non-fiction – in order to learn new things about how the world works – some of the best life lessons are discovered on the intoxicating pages of novels.
Reflection. The ability to self-edit with awareness and humility, personally and professionally, enables us to recognise successes and failures and accelerate progress as we attach more productive behaviors towards more profound career moments.
Experimentation. Trying stuff lives at the heart of all innovation. Some of the greatest mistakes and paths less traveled have revealed some of the biggest findings in our humanity. We are amidst a whirlwind of change currently, all bets are off as we settle into the new normal. From medicine to technology, space travel to gaming.
The most important aspect of successfully using the Five-Hour Rule is to religiously calendarize learning time that you eagerly anticipate. Choosing an optimal learning time, working with a colleague, committing to get up earlier, or setting up a separate learning space are ideas that may support you form this positive habit.
2. 20 Percent Time
Wanna one-up the Five-Hour-Rule? How about dedicating a fifth of your time to personal development? The world is changing so fast and you can keep up by investing in your top two inches.
It sounds radical, but the 20 Percent Time method has plenty of high-profile fans. The term itself comes from Google. When the tech giant made its IPO in 2004, founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote in their offer letter that employees are encouraged “to spend 20 percent of their time working on what they think will most benefit Google”. It still follows that rule to this very day and gets uber fast paced results because of it. Passion, drive and self-direction fuel business results more than “business as usual.”
Like the Five Hour rule, the concept is pretty straightforward. You, or your team (or your entire brand) commit to dividing your working time so that at least 20 percent of each week is spent exploring or working on projects that you believe in and may not have the prospect of paying immediate dividends. The idea is to spend your time exploring “out of the box” ideas which may or may not work – but if they do, could make a huge difference to you and your brand.
The concept is particularly pertinent for the tech industry, supporting the notion that knowledge workers are at their most valuable when they can occupy a protected space to tinker with the opportunity of trying and failing – repeatedly and without pressure.
As the name suggests, this method of self-improvement is based on accessing the brains-trust of equivalent thought leaders who generously share and challenge each other to higher levels of thinking and solution-creating. It can be lonely at the top and this is an inspiring way to progress in your personal development and career aspirations.
The connections can be virtual, in-person or hybrid and perform best with a forum that facilitates the best from the group.
This group may or may not constitute colleagues, and may be industry-agnostic. Bringing together a mix of different viewpoints and sectors can enable free conversation and sharing of best practices without breaching trade secrets.
Comparing different ways of doing things and exploring and finding out about practices in other industries can be a huge eye-opener. You might quickly realise that people outside your sector are doing something that you would definitely benefit from in your own, everyday work life.
As well as being a way to personal discovery, Masterminds which involve different sectors can increase the cadence of Eureka moments as well as improve entire brands.
4. 5am Club - The early bird gets the worm.
The 5am club is based on a concept by Canadian author and leadership expert Robin Sharma. In essence, you wake up at 5am and spend an hour doing three different things – 20 minutes of exercise, 20 minutes of planning the day and 20 minutes of study.
Members of the 5am Club put a ring on it - body, mind and soul. And we can see why. Not only does it set each day on a productive course, but the world outside, being relatively calm, at 5am, whether you live in the center of a city or in the countryside, there is something magical watching the world come to life around you.
In addition to all the learning and improved fitness, the 5am-ers do wonders for their mental health too. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Research in 2018, those who have an earlier bedtime and wake up before 6am are 25 percent less likely to develop depression, when compared to 'night owls' who get up later in the morning.
Of course, there’s no ‘get’ without ‘give’ so in order to be successful you can’t be burning the midnight oil and earlier to bed is a prerequisite.
The early bird gets the worm.
5. Four Day Week
Let’s state the obvious – do check in with your boss before embarking on this methodology. With the majority of surveyed Americans open to considering a 4-day week, even if it requires longer hours - it’s definitely worth considering.
Wherever the four day week has been experimented, the benefits have been significant. Having that extra day for leisure and pleasure does wonders to physical and mental health and leaves plenty of time for self-improvement.
Take Iceland (the country, not the UK-based supermarket chain), which took a nationwide trial of shorter weeks between 2015 and 2019. Around 1 percent of the total workforce moved from a 40-hour week to a 35 or 36-hour week.
The experiment was declared a "overwhelming success", with productivity remaining the same – and even improving – in the majority of workplaces, despite people working less hours. A number of other trials are now being run across the world, including in Spain and by Unilever in New Zealand.
The trials led Icelandic trade unions to renegotiate working patterns. Today, 86 percent of the country’s workforce has the right to move to a shorter week for the same pay.
Perhaps the strongest argument for the four day week is the way the world has changed. The concept of a weekend and a five-day week is more than 100 years old and has its origins in the industrial north of Britain in the early 19th century. Surely, with commuting, technology and global work patterns, a four-day week would make sense?
And just imagine, if you followed through. What a different space you would sit in this time next year. The remarkable things you would have learnt. The new perspective you would possess.
So - which method toots your horn? Where have you seen success in the past? Does a combo resonate? Have you experienced other successful strategies? And what were the results? What do you commit to this year?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!