E-mail can wait. You don’t have to answer an e-mail the moment it pops up on your screen. Unless you’re waiting for that one message that could make or break your career, you should designate time to check e-mails so that you don’t get distracted while doing other tasks. You can even disable the new message icon and noise alert to help with this.
Saying ‘no’ won’t get you fired. If the boss or someone comes to you with a task that’s part of your core job duties, by all means accept it. If you’re drowning in work, however, telling co-workers that you just can’t get to their request right now won’t necessarily hurt you. If you tactfully explain that you’d like to help them but you’ve got too much on your plate shows you care about the quality and promptness of your work.
Don’t multitask. The ability to simultaneously talk on the phone, send an e-mail and heat up the meatballs for the monthly potluck is an admirable quality but not necessarily the most beneficial. Multitasking has become the de facto approach to daily operations in many workplaces. The problem is that we often end up doing a little of everything and never making much progress on any one task.
Give yourself a break. Literally, just get away from work for five minutes. Take a walk around the floor or step outside for some fresh air. Without Saturday and Sunday off, you’d probably go a little stir-crazy. Think of brief breaks throughout the day as small-scale versions of weekends. You’ll return with a clear head and produce better quality work.
Don’t eat lunch at your desk. Eating at your desk can be an occasional necessity, either because you’re close to a deadline or you’re in a productive zone that you don’t want to interrupt. Having your lunch in front of a computer every day, however, doesn’t give your eyes or your mind time to relax. You might feel like a slacker if you’re the only one taking your sandwich outside for 30 minutes, but your mental health is worth it.
Schedule some “me” time. Go into your calendar and block off a period of time for whatever work you need to do without interruption. Treat that time as if it were an important appointment with your boss and consider it non-negotiable. If someone tries to schedule a meeting with you, tell him or her that you’re busy but can try for another time. If possible, book a conference room so you won’t be interrupted by a chatty co-worker or a phone cal
If you’re getting paid to do something, you should do it, and do it well. But is it always that simple? What if you have a vague job description, a haphazard workload, and a very bad boss who is only content when you look busy, but not if you’re super efficient? Sad to say, but sometimes working at your maximum potential is punished. This happens a lot in larger organizations and retail.
Let’s say you and a co-worker must each enter the data from 100 files, or shelve 100 books. You hustle and finish an hour earlier than your co-worker, and there’s not much else to do. Your boss or manager walks by, expresses displeasure at the fact that you’re not doing anything, and assigns you to an unpleasant, and really unnecessary task because they don’t like seeing you relax (even though you earned it by finishing your assignment faster, right?). What do you do? Quit? File a complaint? Or slow down? These instructions are here for if you decide to reward your own efficiency by using that extra time you earned for R&R–without your boss noticing.
(Note that if you follow these steps without actually being more efficient than your co-workers, you’ll fall behind on your work and give your employer a reason to fire you.)
- Know what the standards are. At the end of the day, you still have to meet those standards if you want to keep your job. The main thing you should know is how much time your manager or boss expects you to spend on a particular project or assignment. Spend that amount of time on it–no more, no less (unless, of course, efficiency is actually rewarded in your position, not punished). If, for example, your boss expects you to spend 40 minutes on a task (because that’s how long it takes most people) but you know you can get it done in 20 minutes, you should be able to sprinkle another 20 minutes of “fun time” in (broken up into 3-5 minute intervals) and still get the job done in 40 minutes.
- Create the illusion of furious activity whenever possible. Never have a clean desk. Fill your work area with several projects that you are in the process of doing (or not doing, as the case may be). Cover your desk with open binders, highlighted reports, and sticky notes all over the place—make your workspace look like a war zone. Remember to keep your wastebasket full, too, preferably with work-related debris. A good boss will see right through this, but your mean boss will be content to see you look busy (because it makes them look like a good manager).
- Ask a lot of questions. Think up complex questions about tasks you have to do and ask them of your boss or coworkers. Ask questions frequently enough and everyone will think you’re really wrapped up in whatever task you’re asking about. Be careful what questions you ask, though: you don’t want to sound incompetent.
- Open several of the applications you normally use for work and have them visible on your computer’s desktop. The applications, of course, vary depending on the nature of your work. For example, if your task is data entry, you should have one or more databases up and running.
- Be alert. Not working is like playing a sport or game. You’ve got to always be on your toes and ready for anything. Try to anticipate your opponent’s next move — for instance, does your boss always stop by at certain times? — and pay attention to clues (if you hear footsteps approaching, a chair creaking, or a flourish of activity nearby, it could mean trouble).
- Watch out for Big Brother. Most large companies now monitor their employees’ computer usage. Learn about your company’s policies on internet usage, and learn about their monitoring efforts (it helps to make friends with someone in the IT department). If you can’t run afoul of the company’s policies without making sure you won’t get caught, don’t risk it.
- On the frontline, there are free programs you can install, called “virtual desktops”, that will allow you to have two active desktops on your computer (one for work, one for play) that you can switch between at the touch of a key when you hear the pitter-patter of supervisory feet.
- You can also defeat this sort of monitoring by positioning your computer in such a way as to block someone else’s view of the screen (blame the unusual positioning on glare or ergonomics, if you need to explain it).
- Sneakier IT personnel, who monitor usage on the backend, are harder to fool. Use proxies to surf the web, or use cached Google pages of a website instead of going directly to the site. There are also a variety of programs you can get (many for free) specifically designed to help you avoid detection. Search for them on the internet.
- When surfing the web, even with a proxy or cached pages, never delete parts of your history. Most IT loggers will see the sites deleted, and even if the logger logs every site visited, the techie will most likely not look meticulously at every site viewed. It just makes you look suspicious.
- Have lengthy personal conversations away from your work space. There’s nothing wrong with a little personal chit-chat between colleagues — in fact, many managers encourage camaraderie among staff members — but if you yearn to discuss a sporting event, your weekend or any other non-work topic in length while you are at work, find someplace other than your desk to do it. One good option is to book a pretend meeting with a friend (so you appear busy on your email calendar). Book a conference room while you’re at it so you have a private space to talk. (Note: Don’t try this too often, and in general try not to be seen too often with any one friend or people will know what you’re up to.)
- Visit friends in different departments, leaving your workspace very “busy” looking. However, make sure that you have a work-related topic to initiate the conversation and return to if a supervisor walks by. For instance, tell the person next to you that you are going to double check something with someone from a different department. What you’re really doing is providing yourself with an excuse if your boss wonders where you were for a little while. “Oh, didn’t
tell you? I wanted to double check and make sure both of our departments were on the same page about the new ad campaign, I know it’s an important issue and I would hate to have any mix-ups.”
- Drink lots of water. Not only is water good for your health and can combat certain types of cancer, it makes you have to use the bathroom a lot. Bathroom trips can take up a lot of time and are a legitimate way to waste time while still looking busy.
- Make a decoy screen. For a good catch-all, open a couple programs that you use daily. Make sure that all are visible and fill up your screen so you look busy. Then, take a screen shot using the “Print Scrn” button, open MS Paint, paste the image in, then save and set that image as your desktop background. You may also want to hide most of your desktop icons, as this could be a dead giveaway. Even if your computer is on the desktop, it’ll look as if you are deep into work! Here’s another decoy: Next time you install a program, take a screenshot with the “installing” window. Make it your wallpaper when you need to leave the office so passers-by will think you’re just waiting for the installation to finish.
- Make personal phone calls away from your work space. We all know someone at work who makes or takes too many personal phone calls. You don’t want to be known as that person, because people will assume that you are generally a slacker. When you need to make appointments or just want to chat with a friend on the phone, find a phone away from your work space. In corporate America, your best bet is to use a phone in a conference room. Make sure the conference room hasn’t been reserved by someone else (either reserve it yourself or wait until 5 or 10 minutes after the hour to use the room). Bring paperwork and a pen with you and jot down the occasional note, so that people walking by the room assume that you are on a work call. If the room has a conference speaker phone, use it, but make sure the door to the room is closed. To passersby, a conversation on a conference phone = a work call. Oh, and keep your feet on the ground: if you prop your feet on a table or chair in the conference room, all of your other planning will be wasted because it will be obvious to people walking by that you aren’t working. Remember, your goal is to LOOK like you are working even when you’re not.
- Always, always carry a backup prop. If you’re going to be away from your desk doing something other than work, carry a document you might have been reading with you. It’s best if it’s a “long term project” that you can convincingly say you were finally getting to. If you are planning to sneak out of the office for an errand that requires your car, your backup prop should be a folder or large envelope. Why? So you can surreptitiously carry your car keys out of the office. Your best bet is to plan ahead on this one: when you get to work, immediately place your car keys in a folder/envelope, along with other papers. Then, when you are ready to sneak out of the office, just grab the folder and go. If you have to dig for your keys, the tell-tale jingle will give you away.
- Sending a package to yourself for special days will give the appearance of work. Opening mail that was sent to you by you can help waste many minutes as you open, inspect and read the contents. If you feel that money is not an issue, a FedEx overnight envelope with signature required (pad it) will allow you the opportunity to open an “important” document and spend hours reviewing (and of course package more fun stuff and sending out). Be sure to double envelope the “documents” and mark “confidential” on the inner envelope.
- Keep it simple. If you’re called on your whereabouts, have a nearly-true, simple, work-related answer ready for any situation.
- The more time you spend typing, the busier you look. But, control your typing speed. Fast typing usually denotes email writing. Report writing or other work-related typing requires reflection and much more care; unless you are a professional typist.
- If you’re in a job that requires you to make a quota of phone calls per day/week/month, call up your bank or a customer service line and just let them put you on hold. Sometimes you can get up to 20 minutes of hold time before you get to speak to someone, at which point you simply hang up. You’re eating up your time, and on the computer that tracks call time, it will appear as though you’re busy pushing clients to buy. But this probably won’t work when your calls are monitored.
- Windows+M/Windows+D is the shortcut to show the desktop instantly. Use this quickly to hide whatever it was that you shouldn’t have been doing while giving the impression that you’re buried in work.
- Open several applications that cover your desktop. Depending on your job, these can include Outlook, Excel, or some type of online program. Using Alt+Tab will allow you to switch from window to window, so you can be surfing the web one minute and appear to be working on some data entry the next.
- In a less technical field (e.g. retail) you can get away with a lot if you just look intense and walk fast, especially if you have that back-up prop. When you look like you have an urgent mission, it’s unlikely a boss will stop you to ask what you’re really doing.
- Disable your screensaver, or set the timeout for a really long time, so that it isn’t so obvious that you haven’t been at your desk for a while.
- Never brag about how you cut corners at work to other people—they may be interviewing at your company soon or know someone there.
- These tips work best if used sparingly. If you end up getting little or no work done, you’re bound to get caught at some point. Even if you don’t get caught, you’ll have nothing to show for the time you’ve spent at the office. Use these techniques just to break up the day and make it go by faster, but then get back to work or risk losing your job.
- Stay away from doing external paying work on company time. Sure, it seems like a great idea to work on your side job while you’ve got some time to kill at your main job, but it’s a bad idea. If you’re caught, you’ll almost certainly be fired, and in some jurisdictions your company can sue you for your wages and damages.
- If you do decide to download programs to help you not get caught, make sure you do it while your computer’s not being spied on. Some office networks have a program installed that allows an administrator to view live screenshots of all of the monitors on a network.
- You may be inclined to disable your screen saver to leave the impression that you haven’t been away for too long, however, disabling your screen saver gives other employees easy access to your machine. If someone accesses your computer, you will be held responsible for the actions performed on your computer because someone else will essentially have access to your accounts. Alternatively, you can lock your screen by pressing Windows+L.
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