Lori Mihalich-Levin
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The “5-hour what?” you’re probably asking. Five-hour naps? Networking?  Meditation?  What exactly am I supposed to be doing for five hours?

The answer may surprise you, but it’s simply this: deliberate learning.  For five hours per week.    

According to Michael Simmons (who coined the term), notables like Oprah Winfrey, Obama and Warren Buffet all apply this 5-hour per week strategy of intentional, continuous learning. 

Their great success is a testament to how effective being intentional about learning can be.  And their activities, Simmons says, tend to fall into three buckets: (1) reading, (2) reflection, and (3) experimentation.

“5 hours per week?” you might be wondering.  “Where do I find that kind of time?”

As a working mom of two little boys who also practices law and runs a business, my own answer is this: in bits and pieces.  And scheduled intentionally.

Here’s how I approach the 3 buckets that Simmons says comprise the 5-hour rule: 

1. Reading

No, I don’t have a solid hour each day to sit and read a book.  But I do have 10 minutes on the metro on the way to work, and another 10 minutes on the way home.  I crawl into bed a good 10 minutes before I go to sleep, to curl up with a book, too.  I focus my reading most intently on issues related to working parenthood (here’s my list of inspiring reads for working moms), which helps both with my own personal life and with my business.  So there’s 30 minutes per day, already.

2. Reflection

My approach here is twofold.  First, I am very deliberate about how I use my shower time in the morning.  For the few minutes I’m alone getting ready every morning, I set an intention for my day, stretch, savor that hot water, and enjoy some quiet thinking time.  Second, I schedule days for reflection into my calendar – because if something isn’t on my calendar, it doesn’t happen.  Every year, for example, my husband and I schedule two retreat days per year to step back, reflect, and plan out the next six months or year.  I’m also a big fan of scheduled days for quiet reflection and meditation, and I do things like the Half-Day Pause yoga and meditation retreat in D.C. at the change of seasons.

3. Experimentation

If I’ve bothered to take the time to read or learn about something, I’m then intentional about putting these learnings to good use.  For example, I once attended the Women’s Power Conference in Maryland and there were some fantastic, really informative sessions.  One of the lectures I attended was on using storytelling to boost your presentation skills, and – well-timed! – I had a presentation to give the following week.  During my talk, I played around with the concepts I had just learned and tried them on for size.  Reading and listening to lectures, podcasts, webinars, etc. are wonderful first steps.  But all that knowledge does no good if you don’t get out there and apply it.

I know so many of us are short on time, and “squeezing in” five hours of anything seems like a stretch.  But if you schedule it in first, and use the nooks and crannies of time you already have to be intentional about your learning, I promise you’ll see leaps in what you’re able to accomplish.

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Lori K. Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the founder of Mindful Return, author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, and creator of the Mindful Return E-Course. A partner in the health care practice of a global law firm, she also is mama to two beautiful red-headed boys. Lori holds a law degree from the Georgetown University Law Center and completed her undergraduate studies at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

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