Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Proactive Procrastination

Have you ever had one of those days where you’re at work with either nothing to do, or absolutely no motivation to do it?  Of course you have, everybody who’s worked in an office environment has, but the key is to make sure that nobody else around you notices when you’re having one of those days.  We all have our little tricks and secrets to keep ourselves looking busy during these self imposed mental health days, and here are a few of mine:

1)    Keep a pen in your hand.  Everyone looks busier when they have a pen in their hand.  It gives the illusion that you are right in the middle of something, whether it be proof-reading documents, signing off on invoices, etc…  Think about it.  Why else would you have a pen in your hand unless you plan to use it whilst in the middle of “doing something”?
2)    Clutter your desk with paper.  A clean desk at the end of the day means you’re organized, but a clean desk during the day means you’re not doing anything.  Spread a few pages around, but be careful not to over do it, as too much paper could draw your boss’s attention when he/she becomes curious about why you look so swamped.  That LAST thing you want when you’re not doing anything is to be asked what you’re doing!     

3)    Drink lots of water.  If your boss walks by and sees you drinking a glass of water, it just looks like you’re in need of refreshment from all that “hard work” you’ve been keeping busy with, and they’ll likely leave you to it.  As an added bonus, frequent urination means several more trips to the restroom than usual, which helps keep the minutes ticking away.

4)    Pretend to read old emails.  Nobody knows they’re old except for you, so any co-workers who happen to walk by will just assume you’re busy “doing something” reading current emails, all the while your mind has in reality wandered off to far away places.  If by chance the co-worker engages you, and asks what’s got you so deep in thought, you’re already familiar with the email, and can spew out a quick one line summary of what you’re “reading” without even looking, hence satisfying their prying curiosity.

5)    Check your home voicemail.  People who are on the phone look like they are “doing something”.  For a passerby, it just looks like you’re about to place a phone call, or maybe you’ve already placed a call, and the receiving end phone is still ringing.  Or maybe you’re on a conference call, and someone else is doing the speaking.  Either way, you look busy, and that’s all that really matters.

6)    Get up and quickly walk around the office.  People don’t know where you’re coming from or where you’re going to, but if you’re walking fast, surely you must be in the middle of “doing something”.  It’s also good to make an appearance every now and again and remind everyone that you’re still there.  You don’t want anyone thinking “Hey, I haven’t seen {insert name here} for a while, I wonder what they’re up to, maybe I should go see what they’re working on…”  

7)    Leaf through your calendar.  You need to still have one of those old fashioned day-timers for this one.  If your schedule is in your Blackberry or iPhone, this doesn’t work quite as well, since it looks like you’re playing, sending text messages, Tweeting, or lurking on Facebook, and you don’t want that.  There’s nothing fun and exciting about an old fashioned day-timer.  If you’re leafing through your day-timer, the only thing it looks like you’re doing is checking your schedule or setting up a meeting.  I like to buy the day-timers that have the little mini Atlas at the back, as you can easily burn 5 minutes by figuring out where you’ve been, and where you want to go, all while giving the appearance that you’re actually “doing something”.

8)    Tie your shoes.  When nobody is looking, reach down and untie one of your shoes.  As soon as you hear someone coming, reach down, and slowly tie your shoe back up, being sure that they see you mid-tie.  It may sound weak, but it’s still “doing something”, and everybody can relate to having to tie up their shoe, which means nobody will even think twice about it, and will just keep on walking.

9)    Pretend you’re looking for a file.  Searching for a file even when you’re actually looking for one can easily take several minutes if it’s not a file that you normally require access to.  This is good for burning away at least several minutes, but be careful not to overdo it.  You don’t want anyone offering assistance.  Grab the file (any file, it doesn’t really matter), take it back to your desk, leaf through it, then return it.  That’s good for killing off another few minutes.

10) Highlighters.  Grab a highlighter and start highlighting something.  It could be an old email, and old report, or whatever else you have handy.  Why would you be highlighting something if it wasn’t important, right?  You don’t even have to read what you’re highlighting, just the simple fact that you’re highlighting words on paper makes it look like you’re busy “doing something”.    

The key is to look busy, but at the same time look like you've got everything under control.  Look like you’re “doing something”, without drawing too much attention to yourself.  We all know that those that complain the most about how busy they are, aren’t, and those that just put their head down and grind it out, are.  So keep your head down, make it look like you’re “doing something”, and rest assured that eventually, 5pm will come.  Oh, look what time it is!  Mission accomplished.  Sweet, I’m outta here… 


  1. ha ha ha...I've spent a good 2 hours trying to look busy today while at the same time reading all your posts.