3/9/13

mod note: this was originally posted on 7/11/12
Everyone's on vacation. You've pretty much done minimal work the last week because you were celebrating your independence. Let's face it, you've probably checked out since memorial day weekend and now begins the long stretch towards labor day weekend and the end of the lazy summer. With most colleagues on vacation, it's pretty difficult to get much done during the summer - but you're stuck behind a desk anyway. So how do you keep busy and stay underneath the radar, while doing as little as possible?

I'm by no means a pro, but here's a list of tricks I've picked up and have seen others execute masterfully along the way. These tricks are almost as powerful as Ben Bernanke's eyebrows, so please, use wisely or else you'll ruin it for the rest us.

  • Always have a few spreadsheets up
    This one can be tweaked, depending on your job, but the key here is to always look like to you're plugging away at some document. You could be working on a personal budget spreadsheet or a comprehensive list of local bars and happy hour list. It doesn't matter, just keep your desktop covered with things that look like work
  • Take notes
    Take notes furiously. Keep a notebook open and glance up at your spreadsheets and then jot down a few fake notes. Everyone will surely think, "man, they're writing up a storm, better not disturb, I'll come back later"
  • Block off some time on your calendar
    This is one I use year round. I don't like Monday morning meetings and I certainly don't like a meeting on a Friday after 2pm - so I block off some time in outlook. Bingo Bango, no one tries to book those slots. Put a few of those on your calendar - use sparingly and in combination with the next tip.
  • Take a walk and carry a prop
    If your're gonna step away (during aforementioned blocked off timeslots) to take a lap around the floor or the building, for that matter, take a notebook with you. Everyone will think you're on your way to take notes somewhere. I also like to print random things at the printer fartherest away from my desk - not because I hate the environment, but because I dont have a printer at home. Taking a long walk to the printer and staring really hard at what I just printed in the copy room makes me feel busy.
  • Take a walk and leave a prop
    When combined with the previous tip, this is a sure-fire way to look like you're really on the move. Leave some food out - a half eaten apple or something next to a spare notebook with a strategically placed pen/highlighter. No one will beleive that you'll be gone for an hour if you leave a half eaten granola bar at your desk next to notes that you were obviously busy reviewing.
  • Walk with a purpose
    If you're walking fast (with notebook in hand) it must mean you really need to be somewhere and have no time to dilly dally around. You've got places to go and people to see. For a dramatic flare, look pissed off.
  • Make your desk look like staples threw up on it
    I like to have a mix of random notes, notebooks, and slide decks strewn across my desk. Expert tip: Have some the slide decks open and stick some post-its on it so it looks like you read through it and have some items to follow up on when you have the "bandwidth".
  • Have a Penske file on hand
    Forgive me for the Seinfeld reference, but George really nailed this one. Have a vague project that no one really knows about. Talk to anyone, anywhere, all the time about it. "the Pensky file... can't wait to sink my teeth into that." You'll never actually work because you're so busy telling everyone how busy you are.
  • E-mails, lots of E-mails
    You can send and receive e-mails to yourself. You can schedule your emails to be sent later. The sound of you clammering away at those emails is a sure sign that you really chipping away at that to-do list. Schedule an email to be sent late in the day so it really makes you seem like you're burning the midnight oil. Or schedule it to send before the work day - early bird gets the worm, right?
  • Headsets - these are now attached to you
    Keep your headset on at all times. Makes it look like you're on back to back calls all day. Combine this with your laps around the floor and those fake meetings you created in outlook and no one's gonna mess with you because you're so busy taking calls and notes - a regular walls street mover and/or shaker
  • Do some actual work..but not too much
    Use this as a last resort. When all else fails, do a little work. But don't spread yourself too thin! Easy there, tiger. Don't do today what can wait until tomorrow.

We have about 6 more weeks of summer, so what are your suggestions for looking busy during the slow times.

Comments (82)

7/11/12

The always be ready to tab into an Excel sheet is my go to.

7/11/12
In reply to adapt or die
7/11/12
adapt or die:

another mindless thread

I disagree, this is completely relevant to office life.

7/11/12

AKA "the life of the 2nd year analyst"

In reply to Cane0180
7/11/12
Cane0180:
adapt or die:

another mindless thread

I disagree, this is completely relevant to office life.

Seconded. Definitely important to keep up appearances in banking. No reason to always be under a ton of pressure. Plus, when you do have that spare "bandwidth," you have the ability to commit more time and effort to your actual work.

7/11/12

You're Penske material

7/11/12

one thing that i have found crucial to selling this is that you have to act a little angry and unhappy. its much more believable that you are busy when you seem pissed off about something.

7/11/12

lol. Good advice. But the last bullet is most important - make sure if something is expected of you, you get it done and get it done well

7/11/12

Agree with Abe. I always look pissed when I have down time and periodically growl. I make 30 visits to the water cooler/coffeee station. Take 30 minute dumps. Create spreadsheets to track my lack of utilization. Put in an earbud and then hold the phone to my ear.

No one cares, really. Maybe at the 7years exp+ level, but analyst/consultant/associate levels no one really cares. They just want you to look busy and periodically turn out some lame work.

Still not sure if I want to spend the next 30+ years grinding away in corporate finance and the WSO dream chase or look to have enough passive income to live simply and work minimally.

7/11/12
minibar:
  • Take a walk and carry a prop
    If your're gonna step away (during aforementioned blocked off timeslots) to take a lap around the floor or the building, for that matter, take a notebook with you. Everyone will think you're on your way to take notes somewhere. I also like to print random things at the printer fartherest away from my desk - not because I hate the environment, but because I dont have a printer at home. Taking a long walk to the printer and staring really hard at what I just printed in the copy room makes me feel busy.
  • Story of my life, hahaha. You need a very focused and serious facial expression to make this one shine.

    7/11/12

    I thought prop said poop at first

    7/11/12

    Leave a set of fake keys on your desk. People will be looking for you all over the building.

    7/11/12
    7/11/12

    Good thread.

    One of the greatest skills I have mastered (this only works if you have mulitple screens) is to angle them at such angles that you create a blind spot (mine is at the bottom right hand corner of my left hand screen) where colleagues are unable to see what is happening. So my right hand screen has a compex excel model with lots of graphs and red numbers, my left hand screen has my emails / pdf and in the bottom right hand corner a perfect youtube video sized screen for watching tv episodes on.

    Be warned, this is a very risky technique, only to be attempted by those able to blag their way out of trouble if caught!!!

    7/11/12
    7/11/12

    haha, i love the penske reference.

    7/11/12

    The granola bar tip is hilarious...and brilliant

    Brush away the cobwebs from your daydreams
    7/11/12

    Add to that: leave jacket on chair. Take off screen saver.

    In reply to samoanboy
    7/11/12
    samoanboy:

    Good thread.

    One of the greatest skills I have mastered (this only works if you have mulitple screens) is to angle them at such angles that you create a blind spot (mine is at the bottom right hand corner of my left hand screen) where colleagues are unable to see what is happening. So my right hand screen has a compex excel model with lots of graphs and red numbers, my left hand screen has my emails / pdf and in the bottom right hand corner a perfect youtube video sized screen for watching tv episodes on.

    Be warned, this is a very risky technique, only to be attempted by those able to blag their way out of trouble if caught!!!

    Angling screens can be very important. It also helps to just be lucky and have your cubicle situated where it's unlikely someone could sneak up behind you.

    To add to the fake note taking, I've found it can be helpful to use very bad handwriting so that even if someone sees my notes from a distance, they have no idea what the notes say. It also makes it look like you didn't have time to worry about things like neatness. I find it even more helpful in meetings to avoid someone looking over my shoulder. I generally have decent handwriting (for a guy), but there are times when it pays to be sloppy.

    7/11/12

    good stuff minibar :)

    WSO's COO (Chief Operating Orangutan) | My story | My Linkedin

    PM me if you're traveling to Buenos Aires in 2016 (I live here) :-)

    7/11/12

    is this why HR takes forever to reply to my e-mails?

    The Knicks are back?

    7/11/12

    Set a screenshot of excel as your screensaver.

    I am wise because I know that I know nothing -Socrates

    7/11/12
    7/11/12

    Absolutely brilliant.

    I am going to call my kids Ctrl, Alt and Delete. That way if something is going wrong I can beat them all at once.

    In reply to samoanboy
    7/11/12
    samoanboy:

    Good thread.

    One of the greatest skills I have mastered (this only works if you have mulitple screens) is to angle them at such angles that you create a blind spot (mine is at the bottom right hand corner of my left hand screen) where colleagues are unable to see what is happening. So my right hand screen has a compex excel model with lots of graphs and red numbers, my left hand screen has my emails / pdf and in the bottom right hand corner a perfect youtube video sized screen for watching tv episodes on.

    Be warned, this is a very risky technique, only to be attempted by those able to blag their way out of trouble if caught!!!

    I have 1 monitor sufficiently angled for privacy, and another on the opposite side with a really dark desktop wallpaper angled to the door so I can see reflections when anyone walks in. I always keep It works great with a glossy screen. Keep excel somewhere visible in the middle and you're good to go.

    In reply to stoudemire1
    7/11/12
    stoudemire1:

    is this why HR takes forever to reply to my e-mails?

    They ARE busy....fingerpainting

    Get busy living

    7/11/12

    Spot on, classy moves to add to the arsenal.

    Most people do things to add days to their life. I do things to add life to my days.

    Browse my blog as a WSO contributing author

    7/11/12

    Good stuff.

    Also create a signature "look" You always give this look when you want to dismiss others. It has to be a little intimidating and slightly scary. Guaranteed no one will bother you.

    I may not be on the Jedi Council, but I sure am great with the Force.

    See my WSO blog posts

    7/11/12

    I used to work with a guy who would randomly start cussing out his computer and get really angry. I once asked him why and he said so people think he was doing work. Genius

    7/11/12
    minibar:
  • Take notes
    Take notes furiously. Keep a notebook open and glance up at your spreadsheets and then jot down a few fake notes. Everyone will surely think, "man, they're writing up a storm, better not disturb, I'll come back later"
  • I haven't tried this one on purpose but I don't see it working in my office environment. You would think they would be like, "Oh man, he looks crazy busy." but in reality most don't really give a shit.

    In reply to JDimon
    7/11/12
    JDimon:

    lol. Good advice. But the last bullet is most important - make sure if something is expected of you, you get it done and get it done well

    Reasonably well...its mid summer - don't want to set the bar too high, then you're boss will to expect these things from you

    In reply to captainbuysidee
    7/11/12
    captainbuysidee:

    I used to work with a guy who would randomly start cussing out his computer and get really angry. I once asked him why and he said so people think he was doing work. Genius

    I would just assume he was crazy which would be reason enough for me to leave him to his own devices. Nice strategy.

    7/11/12

    When work is slow, I focus on something mindless but interesting and entertaining - like fantasy football. I'll take a big block of data (aka football stats) that can be manipulated in Excel. I will then View > Arrange horizontally the football stats next to some work that looks important.

    Sounds dorky but time flies when you try to find underlying reasons behind peaks and valleys in statistical production.

    7/11/12

    not too much time to waste on an S&T desk. I'm really busy start to finish every day.

    In reply to minibar
    7/11/12
    minibar:
    captainbuysidee:

    I used to work with a guy who would randomly start cussing out his computer and get really angry. I once asked him why and he said so people think he was doing work. Genius

    I would just assume he was crazy which would be reason enough for me to leave him to his own devices. Nice strategy.

    The funny thing is, he would be so visibly angry over nothing, that the staffer didn't dare go near him for the rest of the day. Guy had the system worked.

    7/12/12

    A strategy I've used goes along with the Penske file. I've found a pdf version of a book and had it up on one screen and excel on the other. Anyone walking by will assume you're reading a client document or some boring stock purchase agreement and will assume you're busy. If it is a book that remotely pertains to work, you can always say that you are trying to learn more about that particular subject in your downtime at work to bring new skills to the company... yada yada yada. I've done that with a book about trading and the boss was actually impressed. That excuse probably won't fly with Twilight, though.

    7/12/12

    Great thread. I was reading this, I was thinking to myself, this is so George Costanza. Then I came across the Penske file, I'm very familiar with the Penske file.

    --Art Vandelay

    7/12/12

    You can also study for series xyz, GMAT, classes, or do work for your own company (or post on WSO). The people here think I'm working furiously, I'm simply rebuilding my resume. Man, this industry isn't anywhere close to the hyper efficient dog eat dog brutality I came for, just a bunch of soft drones.

    And that's fine by me.

    Get busy living

    7/12/12

    The Penske File is a great way to make everyone really annoyed with you.

    If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses - Henry Ford

    7/12/12

    "Leave some food out - a half eaten apple or something next to a spare notebook with a strategically placed pen/highlighter. No one will beleive that you'll be gone for an hour if you leave a half eaten granola bar at your desk next to notes that you were obviously busy reviewing"

    hahahah winner

    Always in a rush, but never late

    7/12/12

    Brilliant ! Absolutely brilliant !

    7/12/12

    I would like to hire you but....hold on I have to take this.

    7/14/12

    You might Look busy, but you need to Sound busy too. Don't forget to type gibberish, click animatedly and pretend to drag some shit around once every few minutes if you work mostly in the bullpen.

    7/14/12

    A great way to look busy is to get on some online forums about something your about to purchase(like a forum about speakers, bodybuilding site, or even reddit). You'll looking focusing on what your reading, typing(responding to posts), and because your new to the materials you'll end up re-reading some of them which will cause you to look angry or frustrated.

    There is actually a bodybuilding forum that has a tab that says something like "quick the boss is coming" and when you click it the page turns to a excel spread

    7/14/12
    7/14/12

    Just posting to get an SB

    "After you work on Wall Street it's a choice, would you rather work at McDonalds or on the sell-side? I would choose McDonalds over the sell-side." - David Tepper

    7/14/12

    wow, just wow! story of my life and my co-workers. everyone in my dept pulls these tricks and its working great.

    7/14/12

    If you really want to master these skills - shadow a government employee.

    In reply to Soros
    7/14/12
    Soros:

    If you really want to master these skills - shadow a government employee.

    Oh, ROASTED.

    Most people do things to add days to their life. I do things to add life to my days.

    Browse my blog as a WSO contributing author

    In reply to APAE
    7/14/12
    APAE:
    Soros:

    If you really want to master these skills - shadow a government employee.

    Oh, ROASTED.

    Dude, govt employees don't even fake it.

    7/15/12

    Hahaha, I do these things often. I actually act pissed sometimes. The associate who usually gives work to me was thanking me a dozen times for a small task. A good way to scare people off. I also actually walk really fast in the hallways. I bet some people mistake me as an important person. People actually stand up from there cubicles to see who just walked by. Haha, I like a bit of commotion.

    7/16/12

    I hear some people make a real Excel file the home screen. This way you can just click on to the desktop and at quick glance all a passerby will see is an Excel file that they presume is being worked on.

    In reply to TerpStreeter
    7/16/12
    TerpStreeter:

    I hear some people make a real Excel file the home screen. This way you can just click on to the desktop and at quick glance all a passerby will see is an Excel file that they presume is being worked on.

    If you go this route make sure to hide the desktop icons, otherwise it'll just be obvious.

    7/16/12

    My supervisor caught me reading this thread today. Unbelievable.

    In reply to minibar
    7/17/12
    minibar:
    TerpStreeter:

    I hear some people make a real Excel file the home screen. This way you can just click on to the desktop and at quick glance all a passerby will see is an Excel file that they presume is being worked on.

    If you go this route make sure to hide the desktop icons, otherwise it'll just be obvious.

    When are they going to do this for WSO:
    http://mashable.com/2011/07/03/hardlyworkin-excel-...

    It fills a well defined need...

    Brush away the cobwebs from your daydreams
    7/17/12

    This is great stuff!!! Although some of these tips, I already do. Like the Excel, frustrated look, and note taking. :)

    No contract means I have all the power. They want me, but they can't have me. - Don Draper

    In reply to UFOinsider
    7/19/12
    UFOinsider:

    You can also study for series xyz, GMAT, classes, or do work for your own company (or post on WSO). The people here think I'm working furiously, I'm simply rebuilding my resume. Man, this industry isn't anywhere close to the hyper efficient dog eat dog brutality I came for, just a bunch of soft drones.

    And that's fine by me.

    http://www.infinitelooper.com/?v=e0Y39QnwRvY&p=n

    9/15/12

    I usually read finance-related stuff for fun anyway, so it's not like seeing a Capital IQ screen would cause any concern.. Alt tab is always useful too of course lol

    9/16/12
    9/16/12
    9/16/12
    9/19/12

    Suggestion! Add an 'Excel' button to WSO which skins the entire site to look like Excel.

    12/30/12

    If the glove don't fit, you must acquit!

    In reply to adapt or die
    12/30/12

    adapt or die:
    APAE:
    Soros:
    If you really want to master these skills - shadow a government employee.
    Oh, ROASTED.

    Dude, govt employees don't even fake it.

    ...that's the joke he was making...

    If the glove don't fit, you must acquit!

    12/30/12

    This is helpful. Since my work is dependent on dealflow we have significant downtime when we don't have a deal in hand and its really irritating since I want to be productive. When we don't have a deal, I generally ask everyone if they need help with anything and they say no. So basically I am bored out of my mind when we don't have a deal. So here is some advice:

    1. If you are an analyst studying for an exam, GMAT, CFA, etc., then I recommend you find online materials and copy them into word. If you have double monitors, try to memorize formulas, strategies, etc. and retype them onto your second monitor. Look up in the air sometimes to seem as if you are brainstorming, this is so if anyone walks by they think you are working hard. With this strategy, you are basically being paid to study, and most importantly you are being productive.

    2. If your firm is not too concerned about facetime and nobody would notice if you left. Take a 2 hour lunch. Seriously, during lunchtime people are usually out and about so if you are gone for two hours, nobody will notice. This works for people that live close to the office, they can basically go back home.

    3. Read up on finance news. Now this depends on how lax your firm is. Lets say you work in the energy group. Find out what energy companies have reported earnings and just read up on them. Honestly, I do this as I am interested in the public markets and if my manager came by, I would actually talk to him about the report. My manager is actually happy to see me learning about the industry more.

    4. Take 30 minute breaks in between your work. So since people who are trying to kill time are not busy, I doubt they will be at the office more than 10 hours, it seems kind of pointless. If your taking a 2 hour lunch break, your day now has 8 hours. Now take 3 30 minute breaks in the day, but take them at times when people are mostly likely not going to ask your questions. This take out another hour and a half of your day. So now you have a 6 and half hour day. I normally use breaks to go talk to my friends in other departments, many of them are not busy as well so I usually go talk to them about football, nightlife, etc.

    Again, this only applies to people who have nothing to do. I wish I had more work, but since dealflow isn't consistent, there is not much I can do. I also ask everyone in my group if they need help, but given that I am pretty free, for the most part they are in the same boat as me.

    12/31/12

    I have always felt this list was relevant, but never more than today. I don't think a single person in my office is actually doing anything. I think I've run through 1-10 already, and it's a few hours until lunch. I might have to make the dreaded decision to actually do real work today soon. Thought I would be able to avoid this on NYE...

    I would agree with you, but then we'd both be wrong.

    12/31/12

    Seek opinions that make others work. "What's our stance on xyz?"
    Actually heard that the other day.

    PE is the new black.

    12/31/12

    You're telling me that there are people that actually give a rats ass about what somebody else does at work? If you want to goof off goof off! You'll be happier and far less stressed. It doesn't make much sense to waste mental energy on pretend work. Why the horse shit?

    To borrow a thought from Dr. Sam Halpern ...don't be the hooker that pretends to be out on a walk when the cops drive by.

    12/31/12

    I used the angry and annoyed face when working and walking. I tell ya, this stuff works!

    No contract means I have all the power. They want me, but they can't have me. - Don Draper

    1/1/13

    Combining the pissed off look along with furious typing when somebody walks by usually works. I call it the "in the zone look". If they try to speak to me about something work-related I barely look up and give short two-word answers until they go away. This usually buys you ~30-45 minutes of alone time.

    1/2/13

    Having a spreadsheet open is definitely a plus, especially if you have multiple monitors.

    2/17/13

    LOL -- great list OP. This list sums up why there's so much B.S. in jobs. If you're able to get your work done, then you shouldn't need to be in the office acting busy. I do this all the time at work though.

    3/9/13

    It's good to know I'm not the only dogfucker in the white collar world. But I gotta disagree with you econ, we do need to be at the office for when new requests come down the line....

    In reply to woodywoodford
    3/9/13

    woodywoodford:
    It's good to know I'm not the only dogfucker in the white collar world. But I gotta disagree with you econ, we do need to be at the office for when new requests come down the line....

    I'm just saying it's inefficient with a lot of wasted time. Basically, they treat us like elementary school students who need to be in a seat 8 hours a day in order to be productive.

    3/9/13
    3/9/13

    My colleagues definitely do this. I'm happy working on my tasks, developing my skills and getting ready to get promoted at my job or elsewhere while they're pretending to work.

    3/13/13

    *Don't do today what can wait until tomorrow*
    We wouldnt be doing what we do if everyone did understand this concept now, would we?
    Love the article, LOVE it!

    3/15/13

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