How to avoid working while giving off the impression that you’re working

With my career as a salesperson winding down, I’d like to offer up some advice for any young professionals out there who aspire to be like me.  And by “be like me,” I mean learning to slack off so well that you can avoid working during an entire eight-hour work day without anyone sensing that you aren’t actually working.

This advice is not for someone who’s planning to leave their job and has already given their two-week notice…once you’ve done that, you can be obvious about your lack of production.  For instance, I just spent the last 90 minutes re-watching all of the best hockey fights from last weekend’s NHL playoff games.  I watched them at my desk, on my big monitor with a minimum of 15 people in view of my screen.  No one cares at this point because they know my last day of work is April 27th.

I can only offer advice in the form of my current role, which is a sales rep for a technology company.  The majority of my day is supposed to be spent either on the phone talking to clients or composing and sending brilliant emails to clients.  The beauty of this job is that I’m supposed to have a lot of meetings over the phone with clients where it’s completely normal to be in a conference room, thus getting me far away from bosses and management types who can monitor what I’m really doing.  It’s also the type of job where there aren’t set tasks to complete each day, so no one can call me out for not doing those routine tasks that other occupations have.

Regardless of your job, I’m certain there are helpful hints in this post for everyone.

Let’s dive in:

It all starts with the entrance, the desk visit and meal one

Rather than a normal entrance to start your workday where you go directly to your desk and turn on your computer, enter the building while talking on your cell phone.  It doesn’t matter who you’re talking to…pick a friend or family member you’ve been meaning to catch up with and give them a call right before you get to your office.  You can easily convince your boss and coworkers you’re on the phone with a client, and that allows you to go directly into a conference room and continue to catch up with your friend.  You may even earn bonus points because you got an early start on calling your clients for the day.  Time Wasted: 20 Minutes

After you’ve ended that phone call, you’ll want to go to your desk and turn your computer on.  But don’t you dare sit down just yet.  Turning your computer on lets the office know you’re here and ready to work.  But before you sit down, I encourage you to visit each of your coworkers at their desks and recap what you did the previous night.  Be sure to ask them what they did too.  If you find you have nothing in common with these coworkers, and you’re struggling to start a discussion, feel free to use some very generic work speak.  Simply saying, “Can’t wait for the weekend,” will trigger a chain reaction of small talk and pleasantries.  Your coworker will respond with, “I know, this week is going by sooo slowly.”  And then you can ask, “what are you up to this weekend?”  And you can expect him to respond with, “Not much, probably just laying low, taking it easy.”  And suddenly you’re in a five to ten-minute exchange that has no substance to it whatsoever.  And just to give off the scent that you’re doing work, go ahead and ask them how work’s going, what big deals they’re working on, etc.  You don’t have to actually listen to them, but at least any managers who walk by will hear work-talk happening.  Let’s assume you do the desk visit with six different coworkers.  Time Wasted: 30 minutes

After you’ve visited with a minimum of six coworkers, it’s time to finally sit down at your desk.  Go ahead and open up your email and a web browser.  Log into whatever applications you normally use for work.  I promise that part will be the hardest work you do all day.  As soon as those applications are open, get up and go to your office’s kitchen.  It’s time for breakfast (one of three meals you’ll eat today).  Sure, you know exactly what breakfast options your office has, and you know what you want to eat.  But spend some time looking through all of the cabinets as if you haven’t decided yet.  Once you’ve spent at least five minutes deciding that you’ll eat the same cereal that you’ve eaten for 300 straight days, go back to your desk with it.  The beauty of eating meals at your desk during work is that no one expects you to do work while eating.  It’s an unwritten rule that if you eat at your desk, you’re allowed to surf the web, listen to music or do whatever you want.  Just as long as you make it look like you’re only taking a quick break.  This is the time where you catch up on emails…not work emails, personal emails.  It’s also a great time to check the previous day’s fantasy baseball results.  Time Wasted: 35 Minutes

The art of the coffee break, the fake call and the computer reboot

Let’s say your day started at 9am.  All of the sudden it’s 10:25am and you haven’t done an ounce of work.  The nice thing is that you’ve been sitting at your desk the last 30 minutes (eating breakfast and not working, but still) so it’s OK for you to get up again.  This time we’re going for coffee.  I don’t drink coffee, but you can bet your ass that I go for the walk with my coworkers whenever they get coffee.  You need to go for coffee at least two times a day because this is a perfectly acceptable excuse to not be working.  Coffee equals energy.  Energy equals motivation.  Motivation equals a productive worker.  No one minds the constant coffee break taker.  And if you’re like me and don’t drink coffee, just ask the barista for an empty cup so it looks like you’re returning to the office with your motivation-in-a-cup.  Time Wasted = 20 Minutes (multiplied by 2 coffee runs) = 40 Minutes

Now that you’re back at your desk with coffee, your boss probably expects you to work.  After all, it’s almost 11am and you haven’t done any.  For the next hour or so, we’re not going to avoid work like before, we’re going to do fake work.  If you aren’t in sales, you’ll need to come up with your own variation of this method.  If you are in sales, this next bit of advice works great.

The first method is to put your headset on, dial up your own cell phone number, and then sit there in silence.  Sales people have a lot of phone meetings where they are mostly listening while much smarter people talk over their heads.  Your boss will not be suspicious at all as long as the headset is on and the green light on the phone’s console is showing that you’re on a call.  During this time you can click around different pages on your computer to make it seem like you’re keeping up with the conversation.  Every now and then, write a fake note in your notebook for good measure.  This also saves you from getting sucked into real work because when your boss inevitably comes over to ask you to do something, he’ll see you’re on a customer call and leave you alone.

In an ideal world, you have a friend who hates his job as much as you do.  And at some point, you’re going to need to act as if you’re actually participating in phone calls.  Instead of calling a customer, you should call this friend, and both of you will pretend to be on a work-related call.  Let’s say the friend happens to be an estimator for a landscaping company, and you’re a sales rep, the conversation might go like this:

-Sales Rep: “So if you wanna buy 10 licenses of our software, I can probably get you a small discount.”

-Estimator: “No, that cedar didn’t work well on our last project, let’s go with a stronger wood this time.”

-Sales Rep: “Are you sure you only wanna start with five licenses?  I can’t give you a discount for such a small volume.”

-Estimator: “OK great, so 3000 cubic yards of birch at 14 dollars per cubic yard, sounds good.”

-Sales Rep: “well, it is what it is.”

It doesn’t matter that this conversation makes absolutely no sense!

And by the way, bonus points for using “it is what it is.”  People will get off to you saying this.  Business people like this phrase more than they like sex.  The same goes for “at the end of the day.”

I suggest doing the silent call to your cell phone for 30 minutes followed immediately by the fake customer call with your friend for 30 minutes.  Time Wasted = 60 Minutes

The final thing you’ll want to do before lunch is a computer reboot.  I love technology.  I love it because it’s a built-in excuse for my lack of production.  And everyone has had computer issues so they totally understand when you have to waste 10 minutes shutting down and restarting the damn thing.  I encourage you to reboot your computer twice a day.  Be careful not to oversell how awful your computer is though.  That could encourage your boss to ask the IT department to get you a new one.  A new computer is fast and reliable, and your boss will expect the same from you.  Also please don’t start the process of rebooting your computer and then leave for lunch.  Only an idiot would do that.  Sit at your desk for the entire reboot process (play a game on your phone or something while you wait), and then once it’s done, reopen those applications you’re supposed to be using.  Then get up and head to lunch.  Time Wasted = 10 Minutes (multiplied by 2 reboots) = 20 Minutes

**It is now lunchtime.  In my experience, if you’re trying to give off the impression that you’re a hard worker, eating lunch at your desk is the way to go.  And it actually works in your favor because you can take a lot longer of a lunch at your desk and still look productive compared to taking a long lunch at a restaurant while your desk is empty.  And here’s the real beauty of it all: you eat your lunch in two separate sittings.  For instance, I often get the world’s largest salad for lunch, and I’ll eat the first half of it at my desk from 12:00 – 12:45, and then I’ll eat the second half from 3:00 – 3:45.  And just like that I take a 90-minute lunch break, but it doesn’t seem like that to any of my coworkers.  In this day and age of people pretending “lots of smaller meals” is a healthy eating schedule, you might even be applauded for eating more frequently.  Time Wasted = 45 Minutes (multiplied by 2 lunches) = 90 Minutes

Afternoon errands and stressing out in a conference room

In my experience, being away from your desk in short spurts is much more discreet than being gone for one prolonged period of time.  As a matter of fact, I’ve taken as many as five short breaks in one afternoon at work.  This means when you have errands to do during the day, you split them up into different trips.  Need to pick up dry cleaning?  Grab a pack of gum?  Deposit your roommates’ rent checks?  That’s potentially four separate breaks from work right there.  Why four?  Well if you’re like me and you have two roommates that give you a check for rent every month, you don’t deposit both checks at once.  That’s two separate ATM trips during your day.  Get creative; I’m sure you can find a way to do four errands per day.  Time Wasted = 10 Minutes (multiplied by 4 breaks) = 40 Minutes

Now it’s time for fake work again.  This time we’re going to the conference room again.  It goes without saying that you should bring everything with you to that conference room that you’d normally use if you were actually doing work.  It also should be obvious that your computer screen faces away from the door or any windows.  For the next 60 minutes, you’re staring at your screen with a look that says “my brain is working overtime trying to put this presentation together.”  What you’re really doing is reading up to get an edge on fantasy baseball, replying to personal emails that have accumulated over your busy day, and Gchatting with anyone willing to entertain you for this hour.  Time Wasted = 60 Minutes

The water and urination cycle, and other bathroom stuff

It’s tough to assign a set amount of time for this next piece, but let’s try.

Most offices have a water-filling device, and you often receive a work-issued water bottle to use as your regular drinking vessel.  When you need to refill your bottle, don’t walk directly to the water filler, do a lap around the office first.  And actually, don’t use that 20-ounce water bottle.  Use the smallest cup or mug you can find.  This will instantly double or triple the number of trips you make to refill water throughout the day.  And I encourage you to drink as much as humanly possible.  The amount of refills and water drank will directly correlate to the number of times you use the bathroom.  Every little bit helps.  Also, I work in an office with 29 floors.  I’ve made it a habit to never use the bathroom on my floor.  My preference is the 17th floor for some unknown reason.  Between the constant refills and urination breaks, you’re wasting some serious time, probably.  Time Wasted = 20 Minutes

One final note on the bathroom: please don’t do #2 at your home unless it’s an emergency.  That is some valuable minutes you could be sitting in the bathroom at work, playing Scramble with Friends on your iPhone.  And if you eat like my previous blog described, you might get the opportunity to do two #2’s during your workday.  Time Wasted = 15 Minutes (possibly multiplied by 2, but let’s just leave it at one for now)

The final hour

The day is coming to an end, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.  We’ve got 50 more minutes to waste.  Well how about that…you desk just happens to be dirty and disorganized.  No time like the present for a thorough cleaning.  Don’t cut corners either….get those sanitary wipes and scrub your desk, find a bunch of papers to put through the shredder, take one of those air dusters to all of the crevices in your keyboard and rearrange all of the items on your desk.  Just like taking a coffee break is perceived as a productivity enhancer, so too will cleaning up your desk.  Time Wasted = 30 Minutes

And finally, remember how we started our day by visiting all of our favorite coworkers and recapping the previous night or weekend?  Now it’s time to revisit them to say goodbye and ask them what they’re up to tonight.  It’s perfectly OK to ask them the same questions as before.  Just as long as it wastes at least five minutes per conversation.  Time Wasted = 30 Minutes

Holy Moly, not only did we cover the entire eight-hour day without working, but we actually just clocked 10 minutes of overtime.  If you follow this blueprint, you might be viewed as an overachiever, and I can almost promise you a promotion will quickly follow.

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4 thoughts on “How to avoid working while giving off the impression that you’re working

  1. Ross – I would have bet when I started reading this blog that part of your 8+ hour workday was going to include composing your blogs but I was wrong. I, on the other hand, just used up 20 minutes of my workday reading this blog (no, I’m not really that slow of a reader – part of the 20 minutes included productive interruptions taking customer calls). Great Blog !!!

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