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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.

17

Comments (81)

  • Cane0180's picture

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

  • DontMakeMeShortYou's picture

    AKA "the life of the 2nd year analyst"

  • In reply to Cane0180
    DontMakeMeShortYou's picture

    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.

  • abe_froman's picture

    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.

  • JDimon's picture

    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

  • MissingNo.'s picture

    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.

  • Gangsta Killah Blood's picture

    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.

  • Anacott_CEO's picture

    I thought prop said poop at first

  • wannabeaballer's picture

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

  • M Friedman's picture

    This is great

  • samoanboy's picture

    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!!!

  • Going Concern's picture

    The granola bar tip is hilarious...and brilliant

  • bballerct50's picture

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

  • In reply to samoanboy
    Tar Heel Blue's picture

    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.

  • stoudemire1's picture

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

    The Knicks are back?

  • ThunderRoad's picture

    Set a screenshot of excel as your screensaver.

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

  • browniepoints's picture

    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
    trisomy18's picture

    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
    UFOinsider's picture

    stoudemire1:
    is this why HR takes forever to reply to my e-mails?

    They ARE busy....fingerpainting

    Get busy living

  • APAE's picture

    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

  • Disincentivy's picture

    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

  • captainbuysidee's picture

    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

  • TDSWIM's picture

    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
    minibar's picture

    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
    minibar's picture

    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.

  • Bobby Digital's picture

    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.

  • In reply to minibar
    captainbuysidee's picture

    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.

  • onepercent's picture

    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.

  • Art.Vandelay's picture

    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

  • UFOinsider's picture

    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

  • happypantsmcgee's picture

    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

  • PrettyBusiness's picture

    "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

  • TheSquale's picture

    Brilliant ! Absolutely brilliant !

  • cheese86's picture

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

  • BanditPandit's picture

    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.

  • OhPoop's picture

    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

  • Oreos's picture

    Just posting to get an SB

    .

  • ivedtara's picture

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

  • In reply to Soros
    APAE's picture

    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
    adapt or die's picture

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

    Dude, govt employees don't even fake it.

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