TV for multi-tasking: 10 shows to help process your e-mail

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We’re 5 days into the 7-day quest for Inbox Zero by 2011, which means we’re now at the drudgery phase. One of my productivity tricks is to save mindless, tedious chores for the evening, when I enjoy our home media setup by watching TV shows while I do my ultra-boring brainless tasks. But the week between Christmas and New Year’s is a wasteland of reruns and holiday specials, so I feel it’s my duty to recommend some TV shows you can rent or download (via iTunes, Netflix, Amazon, or for the godless, bittorrent) to make the inbox-draining task less soul-destroying.

  1. Burn Notice: A former spy washes up in Miami. Fun, frothy and light; if you miss a crucial scene you won’t have a hard time following the rest of the episode.
  2. Lie to Me: A human bullshit detector applies his skills to solving crimes and assorted legal and personal dilemmas.
  3. The Closer: Kyra Sedgewick is phenomenal as an LA detective in a cop show with a nice sense of humor.
  4. The Defenders: Your basic lawyer show, done well.
  5. Glee: E-mail processing is the perfect activity to see you through Glee’s increasingly labored story lines; close your computer whenever they burst into song.
  6. Parenthood: Total chick TV, and perfect for processing e-mail on those nights when Rob’s not around (because he would hate to miss an episode of Burn Notice).
  7. Gossip Girl: No TV lineup is complete without a teen soap, and Gossip Girl is mine. I don’t know if it would be watchable in the absence of multitasking, but there’s almost nothing I’d rather multitask. Just be sure to look up at least once during each scene so you don’t miss the outfits.
  8. No Ordinary Family: If you want to multitask your e-mail while hanging with your kids, this show about a family that acquires superpowers is a safe choice.
  9. Nikita: If you want to multitask after children are truly, soundly asleep, with no chance of walking in on a bloody shoot-out, try this reasonably well-done thriller about an assassin gone rogue. Look up during the action sequences.
  10. Human Target: Your brain shouldn’t be unduly taxed by the challenge of handling e-mail while following the thread of this program about an assassin-turned-assassin-buster. Hey, we should fix him up with Nikita!

Not on the list are my actual favorite shows, which warrant more than 75% of your attention (about what you have available while processing e-mails). Tuning into a really brilliant show like Damages or Justified is pretty much the worst thing you can do while processing your e-mail, since it will either absorb you so much that you don’t get through your messages, or go under-appreciated because you are doing such a good job of focusing on your e-mail.

Instead, I recommend developing your own set of good (but not great) shows and movies. You’ll find yourself much more inclined to do your e-mail catch-ups if you’ve got something enjoyable to occupy the other 3/4 of your brain. Who knows? Maybe you’ll be delighted to have an excuse to catch up on Gossip Girl.

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