What can you do while watching tv? (or audiobooks)

Watching TV can be either a full focus, mentally intense activity or the TV is background noise. A show like LOST, where missing 15 seconds could make you completely not understand anything is full focus. Re-runs of The Office can be background noise. (Don’t watch LOST, save your time)

You can swap ‘Watch TV’ with listening to audiobooks for these.

From “highest TV” focused to “mostly activity” focused:

  • Light Exercise- Walk loops around the house, treadmill walk/run, stationary bike, hula-hoop
  • Stretch
  • Massage- Foam roller, tennis ball
  • Feed Animals
  • Clean
  • Practice Musical Instruments
  • Crochet/Knit/etc..
  • Cook, cut peaches, prep, full blown meal cooking
  • Hard Exercise- Abs, pushups, Jump rope, high intensity interval training.

Light Exercise

A casual stroll on a stationary bike or treadmill walk/light jog is nearly mindless. Your head can still fully face the TV at all times. You burn calories, condition yourself, and hit that recommended 30 minutes of exercise per day that everyone talks about. This wouldn’t be my only exercise, I’d definitely want 2-3 days per week of much more intense workouts, but 30 minutes of easy cardio keep you loose and burn calories.

As a note, the faster I run on the treadmill or more intense I go on the stationary bike, the louder I need to make the TV. Closed Captions help.


This may be a bit more intense than light exercise as some stretching causes you to look away from the TV. Changing positions or counting require mental activity that isn’t focusing on the show for a few seconds. I wouldn’t let this deter you. Most shows have redundancies to clear up confusion.

Do remember there is a difference between Active/Dynamic and Passive/Static stretching. You may find Passive/Static is better for watching an intense show.

Thank you to my wife, a Doctor of Physical Therapy, for correcting my terminology in this article.


This is basically on the same tier as Stretching, with slightly less looking at the TV if you use a foam roller/tennis ball.

Similar to Stretching, you can do Dynamic massage where you are moving back and forth. You can also do Static stretching. Each has different physiological effects, I personally do both.

Feed Animals

This is typically quick and mindless enough to continue to focus on whatever you are watching.


We are now approaching the point where you can ‘miss something’. Cleaning a single room with a TV in it would be rare. However, transporting objects from one room to another is a common activity during cleaning, your back will face the TV and you may leave the room entirely. You may be able to coordinate this in a way where you never leave the room, or are doing things like dusting/picking up kids toys/folding laundry. You can likely empty and load the dishwasher while watching TV and miss little, as long as you can see and hear the TV. This is one of the few cases where sound becomes an issue.

Musical Instruments

We have crossed over into the ‘I’m doing an activity, and the TV is in the background’.

Back when I used to watch (Detroit Lions) sports, I would have a guitar in my lap and practice a difficult technique or finger position. For a difficult technique, you are focused on pulling off the technique and learning from your mistakes. You are doing trail and error, seeing if you can figure out something new that works. If the crowd/announcer goes wild, you can watch the replay. You can also stop practicing when teams are close to scoring or it’s the end of the game.

The best way for me to watch sports is if I’m doing something else productive or visiting friends(which is also productive).


When you know… you know..

The first time I learned how to crochet, it was a full 100% intense activity. Today, I can mindlessly make many different toys with a mere occasional reference to remind myself the order of operations. My favorite are making simple snowballs. At this point, no reference needed. My wife knits blankets.


Cooking gives you long breaks but also critical moments of full focus. After stirring tomato sauce, you might have 5-50 minutes before needing to do anything else. Or you might be frying potatoes/cooking crepes/toasting a quesadilla and 30 seconds of inattention causes your food to burn. Or maybe you are cutting vegetables and can listen to the dialogue of a show.

I wouldn’t put anything attention intense on, but you can always jump back a few minutes if you missed something on TV and are done with time critical cooking.

This one can really go both ways. This year we were processing ~1000 peaches from our peach tree and had to get rid of gross spots and the pits. That was pretty mindless, even if our eyes weren’t fully on the TV.

Hard Exercise

This is really reserved for TV shows that don’t matter. The news and sports come to mind. You can generally get the gist of what is going on from a quick glance.

There is another downside. I don’t think your workout will be at the intensity you could achieve. Intense hype music before a heavy lift will get me to do more reps than if I was listening to a non-fiction podcast/audiobook. My 2-3/week hard workouts are to achieve progress, and I’d be disappointed if I didn’t achieve my goal because I needed to watch TV. However, any workout is better than no workout. You decide.


You are watching TV for enjoyment. Finding any secondary benefit provides an ROI that would otherwise be 0. Find something you find either physically or mentally mindless that works for you.