Hack your productivity with the 5-hour rule from ‘Mr. Robot’

4 min read
Cody McLain
  •  Sep 8, 2016
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For starters, let’s not call it the 5-hour rule. How about “deliberate learning” instead?

Doesn’t that already sound better? Maybe it doesn’t, but let’s just go with it.

“What is a Mr. Robot, and what can it teach me about deliberate learning?” you ask.

Mr. Robot is a Golden Globe-winning TV show about a young, anti-social computer programmer named Elliot Alderson. Before you dismiss this tidbit of information, just know that Elliot is a little bit like Batman.

“Dedicate 5 hours a week to retaining new information.”

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Elliot works as a cybersecurity engineer by day, and after meeting (spoiler alert: or so we’re made to believe) a band of tech misfits, he decides to become a vigilante hacker by night.

What does all this have to do with deliberate learning when Elliot’s an actual hacker?

Deliberate learning, or productivity hacking as it’s also been dubbed, means dedicating at least 5 hours of your week to retaining new information.

Not accessing new information. Retaining new information.

This is usually accomplished in 3 ways: reading, reflecting, and experimenting.

Here’s exactly how Elliot deliberately learns (retains new information) at least once a week—although in TV land, a day and a week seem to all mesh into one, so who’s to say? You’ve (albeit cautiously) trusted me so far…

1. Read

Whether it’s reading people’s faces, emotions, or between the lines, you have a lot to gain by dedicating at least 5 hours of your week to reading.

Some people, like Nike founder Phil Knight, follow this rule by investing in libraries that house mountains of books that they find interesting. And once a week, they pay these rooms a visit to deliberately learn something new.

Elliot learns new information about people he finds strange or interesting by hacking, but the one redeeming quality about this action is that he doesn’t do it with malintent. He does it as a way to relate to people better—to understand why people behave the way they do.

2. Reflect

In Mr. Robot’s second season premiere, Elliot journals every thought he has, as he is having it. This gives the viewer some incredible insight into how his mind works. We see the dichotomy between Elliot’s juvenile, almost teenage thoughts about books like the Bible, to Mr. Robot’s more sinister ideas and his need for self-preservation.

In many instances, self-reflection gives you essential information about yourself that you simply would not have access to unless you sat down in silence.

3. Experiment

Elliot informs us that he has a “perfectly constructed loop” in which he has an almost mind-numbing—and I guess that’s the purpose—routine where he does what he perceives “normal” people do daily.

With a twist! He’s living with his strict mother in an analog world.

He believes this loop will help him get his impulses in control. He writes “I am in control” repeatedly in his journal, as if it were some kind of affirmation.

He’s also made a new friend. A guy called Leon, who Elliot likes because Leon himself has just started watching Seinfeld and can spend hours discussing its inconsistencies.

Anyway, the takeaway from this: Disrupt your routine.

“Find a way to disrupt your routine.”

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Get lost! I mean that literally. As in, take a different route to work, or maybe something different for a week. Experiment with new ideas and new concepts, and never stay the same.

There’s probably a lot more that we can learn about the 5-hour rule from someone like Elliot, but as the series is still unfolding, for now these lessons are enough to get you started.

This post was originally published on Medium. To learn more about Cody and his adventures, visit his blog.

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