20% Rule: Successful People Spend One Day A Week Just Learning & Experimenting


Over the last few years, I've spent nearly 1,000 hours thinking deeply on, researching, and writing about a simple question that has profound implications...

What percentage of our workweek should we spend on learning and experimentation in order to have a thriving career?

In 5-Hour Rule, I make the case that if you’re not spending five hours per week learning, you’re being irresponsible...

Just as we have minimum recommended dosages of vitamins, steps per day, and minutes of aerobic exercise for maintaining physical health, we need to be rigorous about the minimum dose of deliberate learning that will maintain our economic health. The long-term effects of intellectual complacency are just as insidious as the long-term effects of not exercising, eating well, or sleeping enough. Not learning at least 5 hours per week (the 5-hour rule) is the smoking of the 21st century and this article is the warning label.

More recently, I've been thinking about and researching the optimal dose of weekly learning rather than the minimum.

As I performed this research, I noticed something surprising. Many of the top companies and entrepreneurs in the world have independently found an optimal number that is the same...

Navy Seal Jock Willink, Google, Genentech, 3M, and GaryVee all follow the 20% Rule

They spend 20% of their time on activities on experiments and skill-building.

So, if you work five days per week, that would be one full-day devoted to just learning and experimentation. In other words, a 4-day workweek.

Here are a few of the most interesting case studies I've come across...

1. Google Founders Follows The 20% Rule

Early on, Google created a 20% Rule that gave employees the flexibility to spend 20% of their work time on innovation projects not directly connected to what they're paid for.

Former CEO, Eric Schmidt explains some of the thinking behind the magic "20%" number.

In short, Google believes in the 70/20/10 Rule for learning and innovation...

  • 70% of your time should be dedicated to core business tasks.
  • 20% of your time should be dedicated to projects related to the core business.
  • 10% of time should be dedicated to projects unrelated to the core business

2. 3M Follows A Similar Rule

3M has had an informal 15% Rule for decades. Engineers and scientists can "spend up to 15% of their time pursuing their own projects, free to look for unexpected, unscripted opportunities, for breakthrough innovations," according a Harvard Business Review article.

3. GaryVee Also Follows The 20% Rule

Legendary Internet entrepreneur GaryVee spends 20% of his time on new innovative projects and learning new skills. He credits this approach with a lot of his success.

4. Navy Seal Jocko Willink Makes The Case For The 20% Rule

In a Jogan Rogan podcast episode, Navy SEAL Jocko Willink proposed that police officers, a profession with high-pressure and high-stakes, should spend 20% of their week (1 day a week) training in order to improve.

Explaining his logic, Willink shared that Navy Seals would train 18 months to just go on a 6-month deployment.

5. Genentech, one of the largest companies in the world, follows the 20% Rule

According to a Fortune profile, Genentech "encourages their scientists and engineers to spend fully 20 percent of each workweek pursuing pet projects."

6. 95% of people I surveyed think the 20% Rule would make them more productive

Interested in this 20% Rule, I recently polled members of our Learning How To Learn community. 643 people responded to this question...

If you had a 4-day work-week combined with a 1-day learning-week, do you think your lifetime productivity would increase or decrease?

An amazing 95% of respondents said that they thought that the 4-day workweek would increase their lifetime productivity.


Now It's Time To Ask Yourself These Three Critical Questions

The world is changing rapidly and increasing in complexity. As time goes by, the learning required to have a thriving career is increasing. At the beginning of the 20th century, few Americans even had high school diplomas. Now, having a college education isn't table stakes.

So, it's essential for all of us to ask ourselves three questions...

  1. What percentage of your workweek should you spend on learning and experimentation?
  2. Are you living up to that percentage?
  3. If not, why not?