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Cut yourself some slack! How lifelong learners prioritize improvement over short-term productivity

Alana Garcia


Often times we’re so busy running on our hamster wheels we don’t realize we’re not moving forward. It’s easy for days to fly by during the quarter. There’s so much to get done and so little time to finish everything. It feels good to check off our to-do lists and feel like we maximized our productivity for the day.

But a task-oriented life can lead to an aimlessness that lacks time to reflect on ways to improve our approaches to problem-solving, creativity, and overall efficiency.

That’s the argument that author Michael Simmons makes in his article about the 5-hour rule. Simmons uses Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography to point out how the inventor set aside an hour each weekday for the following:

-       waking up early to read and write

-       setting personal growth goals and tracking the results

-       creating a club for “like-minded aspiring artisan and tradesman who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community”

-       turning his ideas into experiments

-       having morning and evening reflection questions

While some of the details of how Franklin filled his five hours were specific to his calling, the underlying theme is to create consistent space for metacognition and deliberate learning. Taking slack time during the day to consider these questions may hinder short-term productivity but lead to a lot more getting done in the long-run through consistent self-improvement. Here are some ways Simmons suggests adapting the 5-hour rule for our own lives with some student-specific strategies.

1.     Plan out learning – what do you want to learn? Why do you want to learn it?

2.     Deliberate practice – instead of just going through the motions, identify specific skills you want to work on and get feedback from friends, TA’s, or professors.

3.     Reflect – take a walk. Go to Windhover. Get into the diffuse mode of your mind and allow it to make new connections, think outside-the-box, and look at the big picture.

4.     Set aside time for just learning – since you’re a student, you do a lot of this. I would suggest taking it a step further and not just learn to get through the class or for a certain grade. Find your favorite aspect of a class, challenge yourself to develop a new study skill, and discuss interesting concepts with your roommate to elevate your experience.

So how will you step off your hamster wheel?