SMOKE: How To Look Busy

Originally published: 30 July 2004

Chances are you're reading this story at work, keeping your peripheral vision clear in order to detect oncoming Bosses and Telltales, desperately wishing we'd do something about the bloody purple background of this site, which is a dead giveaway.

The bad news is that we're not going to be doing a damn thing about the purple, but the good news is that you're not alone in your furtive, underhanded behaviour. Most other folks reading this site are going through exactly the same thing as you.

(Note: this article was originally published on a purple site. Don't ask.)

It's a symptom of people who are working in jobs that bore them, or which are not particularly challenging. Doing the same thing day in and day out (as most folks do) leaves us craving extra stimulation, and there isn't too much extra stimulation to be found behind a desk, which is no doubt where you are.

Well...I shouldn't really lie - there is plenty of stimulation to be had behind a desk, but to go into that is another whole story on its own, and not really appropriate for a kiddies' website.

I've been in those jobs before, as you know - endless days spent doing the same thing over and over and over again. When you start a job you're all into it and learning stuff and working hard, but once you've done the same thing so many times you can do it in your sleep - at pace - you are left with vast tracts of day with nothing to do.

But you can't just sit around browsing the web, can you? You're being paid, and should be working. Ha. Yeah. Right.

Hence the purple site.

Once you've crossed over into the realm of employee whose fear of the IT Manager is less than the desire to be entertained, you tread a fine line of not being caught by the powers that be.

Time and again we've seen regular, dedicated members of this site disappear into the void as they cross the line, only for the IT blokes to work it out and block their access.

Let's see how those same IT guys get by without their Quake, or Slashdot. Bloody hypocrites.

But this isn't a tirade about how bosses should allow their workers to exploit the company resources and cost them thousands in terms of bandwidth, lost productivity and virus management - they need to look to their own souls on that score.

No - this is about ways to avoid being caught exploiting said company resources, in order to have a long and fruitful working career goofing off on The Daily Smoke.

I read a story on ABC yesterday about a French electricity company employee who is in hot water with the French government after she published a book called Hello Laziness - a definitive manual on how to do as little work as possible but still advance your career.

It comes with titillating chapter headings like "The cretins who sit next to you", "Business culture my arse" and "Why you lose nothing by resigning", and gives all sorts of advice on how to give off the impression that you are the hardest worker around, when in fact you do as little as is humanly possible.

I haven't read the book so I have no idea how good it is, but you can imagine it wouldn't have gone down too well with either her employers nor the cretins who sit next to her. Apparently she has a disciplinary hearing next month. I imagine she'll have some explaining to do.

Whatever the case she's bound to arrive at it with a bunch of files under one arm - the best way to avoid awkward questions about what she has been doing all day, according to her book.

I would think her book should do pretty well, however, and if it's worth its salt we could well be witnessing the start of the fall of the French Empire.

Not that there is one, but you know what I mean - her book is to France what lead in the aqueducts was to Rome, or conversation and coffee was to the Greeks.

I would certainly have bought her book a few years ago, although I doubt she could teach me much. I've had a working career filled with shitty jobs I've hated and had our French lass not written her book I could well have written the bible on how to appear busy while doing absolutely nothing.

Your first stop is desk position, and hence screen position. Not everyone can move their desks around without inviting suspicion, but those that can are well advised to make sure that as few people as possible can see their screen. Preferably have your back to a wall, and a corner seat is first prize.

If you can't move your desk or screen then you can always put ledger files next to your monitor, or your computer tower case. This can form a protection from the person sitting next to you, but won't save you if someone comes up from behind.

If you have two people who can possibly see your monitor then turn it so that only the one without career dreams and ambition can see it.

There are plenty of free little apps you can download, called Boss Keys - little utilities that allows you to assign a key on your keyboard as a panic button of sorts. When someone is coming you can hit the Boss Key and any unauthorised windows will close, and your specified work application brought forward to be the active window.

If you can't download Boss Keys then be sure you have your routine figured out in case of emergencies. Plan your escape route. You don't want to be trying to madly click windows to close them, missing the close button in your haste and generally appearing flustered - you want to know what you are doing, and have the minimum amount of work to do in case of an unexpected visit.

If you're allowed to you may want to try using a tabbed browser, which allows all your windows to be open in one page, essentially. That way you can view multiple pages at once, and if someone arrives you only have to close one window for them all to close.

If you have a telephone nearby, and it's normal for you to be using it - be sure to use it in an emergency. Not only is it really easy to fake a conversation with a client, but it gives you the appearance of one who is doing some honest work, while at the same time making conversation with lurking bosses impossible (they wouldn't want you to hang up on a client, would they?).

If you're going to be spending a couple of hours browsing then be sure to break your pattern every so often. Grab an armful of official documents or files, and stride purposefully (all business) through the office. Lose yourself in the toilets or something for a couple of minutes, then return with slightly less purpose (your mission is accomplished) and get right back to browsing.

Think of a couple of work-related questions you can ask a boss or colleagues (even if you know the answers), and occasionally look up and ask one. Chat around the answer a little if you like, make a scribbled note or two in Notepad, nod vigorously in understanding, utter an incomprehensible grunt or two, and get back to your favourite site pronto.

Those are some tips - I'm sure you'll have even more.

If you're a boss and reading this - there's no reason why you should be left out of the fun (providing it's not your company). You need to appear all boss-like and dedicated and worthy of your generous salary, but we all know you fancy your bit of Daily Smoke of a morning, don't we?

Be sure to follow all the advice above, to keep your staff from panicking and to make them feel bad for not working as hard as you.

And when all else fails - and you get caught red-handed, with a purple screen staring at you accusingly as your irate boss stares in disbelief - claim you are simply on a tea break, but didn't feel like tea and thought you'd browse a bit instead.

Be sure to work hard for the rest of the day, and your honesty and integrity will not be in doubt.

As a final alternative to all this - you could just simply work, you know. Far less stressful. But nowhere near as much fun.

Now back to work, you crazy kids.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
Spending time online does bad things to a person, but I'm OK.

Look at me now - all the way from Uitenhage to the bright lights of the big internet.

Find out more using the handy links provided.

Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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