The Jack Bauer Guide to Productivity

Jack Bauer is an agent for a fictional government agency known as CTU (the counter-terrorism unit). If you’ve never seen the show, this is what you need to know.

Jack does more in 24 hours than most of us will do in a year. Throughout the day, he puts out fires, interrogates suspects to get information, and prevents the country from some disaster. Every time he solves one problem or puts out a fire it leads to another one.

  • Suspects with critical information to his mission get shot.
  • His co-workers turn out to be double agents.

In 8 seasons of the show, he doesn’t eat, sleep, shit, or has sex. The one time he was getting laid, a terrorist shot the woman he was having sex with. Talk about being cock blocked.

His average day is filled with so much chaos, he never goes back to work the next day. The next season always starts a year or two later.

Jack Bauer is productive. You’re probably not diffusing bombs or interrogating terrorists. Unless you work for the FBI, it’s unlikely you’re to-do list is as long or insane as his. If you want to be more productive, you can learn a lot from Jack.

1. Treat Your Days Like You’re an Agent in Charge of a Mission

Jack isn’t pleasant to work with. He’s had to testify before Congress because of his methods, been fired from his job for insubordination, and thrown in a Chinese prison for violating international law.

But when shit hits the fan, he always gets his job back. That’s because he’s a master planner. I don’t recommend you model his personality, just SOME of his behavior.

Every mission at CTU starts with a plan. Here are some simple parameters you can use to come up with your plan for the day.

  • What’s the goal of the mission?
  • Who needs to be involved
  • How will we communicate?
  • What’s the timeline for this mission?

Say that my mission for today is to publish a new piece of content

  • The goal of the mission is to have a new piece of content on my blog
  • Maybe I need some help from an editor and illustrator
  • We’ll use Notion to communicate
  • It will be done by the end of the day

The easiest way to do this is to plan your days the night before. Depending on the nature of the mission, it might the only thing you get done today. As you become more like Jack, you’ll be able to do complete more ambitious missions throughout the day.

2. Make Sure You Have Systems to Complete The Mission

Between background checks, orders from the President, and communication between people in the field and those at CTU headquarters, Jack has to process a lot of information. And the systems at CTU are integral to each mission.

The systems ensure that everyone has access to the information they need. And they don’t have access to information they don’t need (aka security clearance levels).

If you’re a knowledge worker or creative professional, you have to design systems to maximize your output and complete your daily mission. You need systems for capturing ideas, organizing information, and making those ideas happen.

You can do this in a google doc or do it in Notion. It doesn’t really matter. But if you don’t capture your ideas you’ll never capitalize on them. And if you don’t have systems for organizing information, you won’t make those ideas happen or complete your mission.

3. Go, Rogue, Whenever You’re Working on Something Important

Jack can strangle a suspect, drive a car, and communicate with CTU simultaneously. You, on the other hand, are terrible at multitasking.

When he needs to get something done, Jack Goes Rogue. People who work at CTU lose their shit when he goes rogue. But somehow, he always resurfaces having solved the problem while everyone at CTU is busy worrying about his whereabouts.

If you want to go rogue, consider the following

  1. Don’t start your day on the internet. Complete the hardest part of your mission. That might mean you do one hour of deep work with zero interruptions.
  2. Block digital distractions with a tool like Rescuetime. You don’t want anyone to be able to get in touch with you.
  3. Avoid your inbox as if it’s s a deadly disease that will incapacitate you. Nobody ever changed the world by checking email.
  4. Leave your devices out of the room and shut off everything that would make it possible for people to communicate with you

By going rogue, you increase your attention span eliminating the competition for it.

4. Create Filters for The Input You’re Allowing into Your Life

Jack has personality conflicts with almost everyone that works at CTU. In every season somebody who works there turns out to be a traitor or makes his life difficult. Obviously, that’s not the lesson to learn here.

However, there’s one person with who he maintains a good relationship throughout all eight seasons. Chloe is the filter for the information he allows into his life. She knows everything about the mission, the people involved, etc.

She’s probably the only person he trusts.

Between emails, status updates, text messages, we have a lot of useless information in our life. Most of it is irrelevant to your mission.

  1. Create a separate email address for signing up for things like new apps, services newsletters, etc. You can use something like ThrottleHQ for this.
  2. Use tools like Airtable and Typeform for people who want to contact you.
  3. For emails from VIP’s use something like MailmanHQ

Limit the people who have access to you. Unless they’re critical to the mission, make it difficult or impossible for them to contact you.

5. Yell “Damn It” When Something Goes Wrong

If you watch all 8 seasons of the show, you’ll hear probably hear Jack say “damn it” every time somebody with critical information gets shot, or something goes wrong. This is a joke of course.

Even if you plan your day as well as Mark Walhberg planned his heist in the Italian job, things will inevitably come up that you didn’t expect. And those things will throw off your day.

You’re not a robot. You’re human. So cut yourself some slack when you don’t cross off every item on your to-do list.

Unlike Jack, who gets shot at, beats people up, gets in heated battles with his coworkers, and is always having the longest day of his life, you’ll be back at your job tomorrow.

My name is Srinivas Rao. I’m a blogger, podcast host and today is the longest day of my life. Just kidding. (Unless you’re a fan of the show, the previous sentence won’t make much sense.

Order An Audience of One: Reclaiming Creativity for Its Own Sake: Listen to the @UnmistakableCR podcast in iTunes

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store