I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Being an entrepreneur is hard work. Sometimes, you need a little downtime. And when you're in crunch mode, it can be hard to justify taking any time away from "the grind"--or, at least, things you can justifiably relate to it.

That usually means an unending marathon of Shark Tank, The Profit, Undercover Boss, and The Apprentice. You justify it by saying you're doing homework. I have some unfortunate news for you: Those shows usually teach you more about what not to do than actually useful business practice.

Here are eight alternatives you may not have thought about. They'll get your mind thinking like an entrepreneur in a good way:

How It's Made

This long-running series has a simple premise: Each episode examines how a few everyday objects are created. By documenting every step of their construction processes, you see the complexities that go into even the simplest of tools.

At my former company, Evernote, we spent many years working on becoming the best notetaking tool for handwriting-enabled Windows devices. And yet, it didn't take off until we decided to expand that to other platforms. You need to remember that even the smallest of ideas takes time to get right.

Dirty Jobs

There's an epidemic among entrepreneurs that you need to "follow your passion." I have trouble squaring that with the seven million jobs every year that go unfilled, and the countless unemployed musicians, models, and wantrepreneurs. Dirty Jobs teaches what I consider a valuable lesson: You can take your passion with you to any job, and find meaningful work in the everyday.

At my first post-college job as a flight attendant, I fueled my passion for creating great customer experiences by singing my announcements and finding other creative outlets. At your own workplace, try wearing something that reminds you of your passion -- it may spark some watercooler conversations that leave you recharged for the rest of your workday.

Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares

The original BBC version of Gordon Ramsay's business makeover show had an earnestness that was beautiful to watch. Watch the dynamics between Ramsay--a consultant who was specifically asked by each business to come help--and the business's owners.

Bonus points: Google the results of which restaurants survived after his interaction. The ones who followed his advice had a higher success rate.


The granddaddy of all citizen-science shows takes popular myths and then creates multiple tests to try to prove or "bust" them. Where's the entrepreneurial takeaway, you ask? You can't simply have an assumption and go to market with it. You need to test that assumption, from multiple angles, until you have proven or disproven it.

How I Made My Millions

This is the only true business show on this list. It gives you the true story of real-life entrepreneurs on their path to eventually reaching their $1 million dreams. It usually takes hard work, dedication, rising from failures, and many, many years to become successful. It also takes being human.

Evernote hasn't had a public offering after almost 20 years, meaning that many of the original employees still haven't reached this threshold. This puts it into glaring perspective that even building a billion-dollar company doesn't mean million-dollar payouts.

Fixer Upper

For some people, working with your spouse--or any relative--would be an instant turnoff. For hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines, it was a way to strengthen their relationship. Working with those you know the best allows you to delegate tasks more readily, which can be a key to early business success.

That's not the important takeaway, though. Watch how careful they are to stay in budget, how well they manage their team, and how well they define the customer personas to sell each house. It's a great case study.

The Newsroom

While many people focus on one of Aaron Sorkin's other shows, The West Wing, I'm partial to The Newsroom as an example of a "real" workplace. Each episode focuses around a simple premise: Air the TV show.

No matter what else is going on behind the scenes, if you promise something to your customers, you need to deliver it--even if your obstacles are melodramatic enough to appear on HBO.

Halt and Catch Fire

One of my favorite "geek" shows of all time, this show focuses on a computer company in the 1980's trying to compete with the likes of IBM and Apple. It shows the struggles of building businesses from scratch, striking out on your own, and the trials of getting funding.

More important than that, however, are the personal interactions between the characters. Having a stable base of friends and family can be the true key to your entrepreneurial success. Without my strong base at home, I wouldn't be free to experiment and innovate in my career--which is imperative. It sounds silly, I know, but I learned that from this show.