Different jobs take up different percentages of your brainpower. A job that takes 100% of it 100% of the time will tend to burn you out pretty quickly, even if you only work 40 hours a week. A job that takes 10% of it 90% of the time are often too boring to survive unless you can find something to do with the remaining 90% of your brainpower. I typically define something taking 80% of your brainpower if you can’t talk to anyone else or listen to anything while your working because it will prove too distracting. In the 60-80% range you can listen to music, but anything with words might mess you up. In the 30-60% range you can listen to music while you do it though you don’t necessarily need to be doing something else (though at lower levels it helps). In the 0-30% range, you need something else to keep your mind occupied while you work and you can even be doing more contemplative things while you work like thinking about world events, watching television, or talking to a coworker.

My current job only requires 5-20% of my thoughts 70% of the time. This would be miserable, except that they let me listen to things while I work. They let me do the same in Deseret, where it was 20-40% of my brainpower 95% of the time. In both cases, keeping the rest of my mind occupied helps keep me on task because it prevents me from doing something that takes too much attention away from my work, such as surfing the Internet.

This past year or so has really worked out very nicely for me, given the givens. I don’t like my job all that much and don’t get much in the way of personal satisfaction through it, but it gives me room to do things that make my day a lot more entertaining than it might be if I was at a job that required more of my brain. A year or so ago I bought a Pocket PC as a stand-in for an iPod solely so that I could listen to stuff while I worked. I started with music, but before long I figured out that I could listen to television shows and podcasts of the audio and video varieties.

It has turned into a marvelous investment. So much so that when it broke, I had no problem justifying the purchase of another. Not only do I get to listen while I’m at work, but I can also listen while I clean up around the apartment, while I’m going shopping, and while I’m doing anything that doesn’t require all that much of my attention. It makes a lot of boring stretches in my day go by faster and it allows me to “watch” television shows that I’d otherwise never get to see (or at least wouldn’t get to see starting at the beginning all the way to the ending).

You might be surprised how many television shows you can just listen to. Most sitcoms are listenable unless they’re gag-oriented. Most humor is in dialogue and even when there is something funny that’s not dialogue, you can picture in your mind what’s going on. Dramas are a bit more spotty, particularly if there’s a lot going on. The Sopranos, for instance, is far too visual, as is science fiction like Battlestar Gallactica. Thus far I have only had to abandon two shows due to it being excessively visual. About halfway through the first season I stopped listening to Las Vegas. When I don’t have anything else to listen to I’ll give it a shot, but about half of the episodes there are stretches where I really don’t know what’s going on. the same is true for Third Rock From The Sun, which is more visual than I would have thought. I can follow the plot, but I’m missing out on more of the humor.

I know that I’m missing stuff on other shows, too. The toughest one that I’ve gotten through was Homicide, Life on the Street. I managed to get through it, but sometimes I’d realize about halfway through that someone had died or I’d missed some big event. Nonetheless, it’s surprising how my mind is able to put a lot of it together. Music helps a lot. I can never see characters kissing, for instance, but I can often tell by the music alone.

Every now and again there will be some episode that I will have to skip. This happens particularly in sitcoms. There was an episode of Frasier where no one spoke for the first twelve minutes, an episode of Two Guys and a Girl where no one spoke at all, a couple episodes of How I Met Your Mother where subtitles are used extensively, and an episode of The Drew Carey Show where the characters are speaking gibberish and what they mean is on display on comic-style bubbles. There are also various points at which something other than English is being spoken, though most of the time you can figure out what’s going on regardless.

Sometimes I feel bad knowing that I’m missing some visual gags or there’s something going on in the episode that I am missing, but for the most part it’s unlikely that I would get the opportunity to watch these shows all the way through if I didn’t do it this way. It’s better to catch 90% of a show than miss out on it entirely. Sometimes after listening to an important episode, I’ll go home and watch it.

Below is a list of all of the shows that I’ve listened to more-or-less in the order that I’ve listened to them in. Sometimes I’ll have two shows going on in parallel because I’ll want to switch to a comedy because I’m having a depressing day but once I am in a better mood I want to go back to a more gripping drama. Also, when about to finish one show, I’ll frequently start another show before the last season so that when I finish the first show, I’m already entrenched in the second show. For instance, I started listening to Just Shoot Me prior to watching the last season of The West Wing.

NewsRadio (All 5 seasons)
Frasier (All 11 seasons)
Cheers (Half of first season)
SportsNight (Both seasons)
The West Wing (All 7 seasons)
Just Shoot Me (All 7 seasons)
Profit (All 9 episodes)
Two Guys and a Girl (All 4 seasons)
Friends (All 10 seasons)
Seinfeld (First 3 seasons)
The Practice (All 8 seasons)
Boston Legal (Up to current)
Ally McBeal (Seasons 1-4*)
Las Vegas (First seventeen episodes)
Homicide, Life on the Street (Seasons 3-7*)
Felicity (Two episodes)
Brothers & Sisters (One episode)
Third Rock From The Sun (Much of first two seasons)
The Drew Carey Show (Up to Season 6)
Spin City (Still in Season 1)

* – I watched the first two seasons of Homicide on the exercise bike before switching to listening to it at work. I had to watch the fifth and final season of Ally McBeal because they were in a format that wouldn’t play on my Pocket PC.

Category: Office, Theater

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7 Responses to Showtime At The Office

  1. Webmaster says:

    You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to “watch” (e.g. listen) tv that way even in a room. When my old dorm TV (which I used to watch cartoons and afternoon shows while on the computer) had the tube die, it may have been up to 2 weeks before I noticed that the picture was cutting out within 5 minutes of turning it on.

    The audio never went anywhere.

  2. Barry says:

    But how do you concentrate on dialogue when you’re trying to work? Music I can understand, even music with lyrics, but if I was listening to a TV show out of one ear and trying to work with the other, I wouldn’t get much done in either.

  3. trumwill says:

    It depends on what I’m working on. If I’m reading something then I have to turn what I’m listening to off (whether it’s TV or music). If I’m typing something short like an unimportant email where I know ahead of time what I need to say, I can multitask it. If I’m mostly using my eyes (and not to read), I can dedicate my ears to other tasks.

    It’s not that dissimilar from listening to an audiobook while I drive. For most of it I don’t have any problem, though once I’m driving through a neighborhood trying to find a specific house or I’m trying to get un-lost or something that requires more thought, I sometimes have to pause what I’m listening to.

    And I do miss dialogue sometimes. Sometimes I miss something important, but my brain has always been good at filling in gaps of missing information. Like in high school, when I’d often skim through chapters by only reading paragraphs with vocabulary words and paragraphs that come before or after vocab words. Most TV shows are actually pretty forgiving. When something important is said, a character very frequently will describe it to another character. That’s the same way I manage to get by without seeing the action. So even if I miss something, I’ll get caught up on it later.

  4. Webmaster says:

    (A) – TV shows are predictable. It’s not hard to interpolate (once you know the characters) what’s gone on if you miss something.

    (B) – TV shows often repeat. Half the time, it was an episode of something that I’d already seen. Since I wasn’t watching it with my full brain, it wasn’t that important to get something new on.

    I’ve even occasionally put on a DVD of my favorite anime (subtitled, of course) and managed to “watch by listening”, having every idea what was going on, even though I don’t speak Japanese.

    (C) – If it’s something I don’t particularly care about (and/or one of the talking-heads news shows) it gets even easier!

  5. Linus says:

    – Will, I am amazed at your ability to cope with jobs that don’t interest you. I hope you can find something better, but obviously it’s great that you’ve found a way to keep your mind active.

    – I’ve lately discovered The Great Courses, which are a series of audio lectures by engaging college professors. I spend an hour a day in a commuter van, and it’s great to make productive use of that time.


    – The fact that you can “watch” most shows with audio alone only reinforces my conviction that the vast majority of television content is worthless.

  6. trumwill says:

    I’ve lately discovered The Great Courses,

    It’s great to be able to do something more than listen to music when you drive. I listen to audiobooks a lot (working my way through Orson Scott Card’s series, made my way through Harry Potter, listened to DaVinci Code in Sierra). I’ve been mulling over learning Spanish on CD. Also, it’s not Great Courses, but I’ve been told about this thing called Knowledge Inc, which has CDs that explore the great philosophers. I’ve been mulling that over as well.

    The fact that you can “watch” most shows with audio alone only reinforces my conviction that the vast majority of television content is worthless.

    There’s actually not that much of a correlation between how good or “smart” a show is and whether it is listenable, in my experience. The shows that you can listen to are typically dialogue-driven. More intelligent shows like The West Wing are great, but brainless action shows are not followable. Slapstick comedy doesn’t work, but character-driven comedy does.

    That being said, it is somewhat how telling how predictable a lot of sitcoms are by how much you can miss and still figure out what’s going on. The essence of good comedy, though, is not the plot so much as it is how it is unwrapped. Comedy is less plot-driven than is drama, for instance. I’ve been mulling over a post on that topic, actually.

    Also notable is that if a show is really good, I don’t want to just listen to it because even though I can follow it I know that I’m not getting everything that I can out of it. I listened to The West Wing, for instance, and then happily watched it with Clancy. We moved on from there to The Practice, where I am enjoying seeing all the stuff I heard before. I’ve never attempted to listen my way through The Wire, even though I probably could.

  7. trumwill says:


    (A) True (see previous comment to Linus)

    (B) I’d already seen 75% of the episodes of Frasier before listening to it through work. That helped make it easier to follow because I’ve seen it before. The fact that I could be doing something else while listening to it made getting through episodes that I’d already seen without getting bored easier. Why listen to shows that I’ve already seen? A lot of episodes take on different (and greater) meaning when seen in the context of the original order rather than in sporadic re-runs.

    That you can do that with anime is impressive. I can’t even listen to dubbed anime. Too visual.

    (C) If you don’t care, why are you watching/listening? Are you one of those people that needs the noise? I’m sort of like that, though if I need noise I prefer music to talking. If people are talking, I want to pay attention and get distracted more easily (depending on what I’m doing, of course).

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