How to Look Busy: Top 10 Ways to Look Busy at Work

October 13, 2005 - Get free updates of new posts here

I was thinking how to look busy at work while not actually working and came up with these:

1- Walk really fast when you are going anywhere as to appear something important is going to happen

2- Carry a notebook with you at all times. seems like you are suppose to be somewhere taking notes. if at your desk keep it open with a pen on it

3- Keep your headset on if you are in your cubicle

4- Actually do work but that defeats the purpose. okay more later. any suggestions?

5- Shuffle papers (thanks shivani)

6- Look pissed off (thanks shivani)

7- Put up a do not disturb sign when you are browsing the web

8- Continually click on a pen

9- Walk around with your laptop open, side note: take your laptop home and say you are WFH (working from home)

10- Open up Microsoft Word and write blog entries to post later

Bonus: Book up every minutes of your Outlook calendar with something (thanks Mindy).

Bonus 2: This guy opens up a file, takes a print screen of it and makes it his background. So when he minimizes everything it looks like stuff is happening on his computer.

Bonus 3: If you are tired of looking busy, here are the 10 best ways to quit job in style.

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35 responses to “How to Look Busy: Top 10 Ways to Look Busy at Work

  1. Jeffrey Ng Reply

    hey, “carry a notebook with you at all times. seems like you are suppose to be somewhere taking notes. if at your desk keep it open with a pen on it” is so right on me haha.

    1. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      It’s a FACT, it worls every time…it’s almost impossible for it not to – what’re they gonna say? Why aren’t you at work?!!!

    2. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      I once covertly slid one of those metal rulers under the receiver of my phone taking it off the hook; so that it could never wring so I could plausibly say, sorry, my desk is crowded b/c I work so hard. heh heh heh..idiots.

  2. Gautch Reply

    I use Firefox so this works for me.
    The Set Up:
    1. Take a screen shot of any open document
    (one that wont look qestionable being open)
    2. Create a short cut to this file and and make it your
    homepage. (Right click on the file and->Open with->Firefox.
    Then go to preferences and set it as your home page.)
    3. Turn on tabed browsing.

    So every time you launch your Browser that image
    will show.
    Now hit Comand+T (CTRL+T on a PC) and surf till your
    harts content.

    “Oh crap my boss is coming� Fret not little one.
    Hit Comand+1 (CTRL+1 on a PC). Your browser will
    jump right to that first Tab with your image displayed.

    Tip:To be safe, just as the boss turns his back. Hit Comand+H
    To hide your browser, but not loose your current

    1. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      Sometimes I like to leave an open document containing the most insane manifesto about something so stupid no one would even believe I was wasting my time even writing about it [kind of like THIS forum]

  3. Shivani Reply

    i got the idea for looking pissed off from seinfeld. good call Nate, you must be a Seinfeld fan like myself 🙂 It does work…either look pissed off, or complain about “how much you work,” sighing when you talk about work also makes people think you work hard. people think you are really busy if you complain (sad but true).

  4. John Morton Reply

    I worked with this amazing software engineer who did about 5x more programming work in quality and quantity than the brightest guy in the company. And that was despite the fact that he worked about a third of the day. Around noon he would vanish.

    He always had tricks, like (in the winter) he would leave a spare coat on the coat rack, brought in a desk lamp for his desk which he left on all the time, would leave books open next to his keyboard, leave some food out… He would often leave a cup of coffee steaming on a small hot plate (it had an auto-shutoff so it wasn’t a fire hazard).

    The best one was: he disabled his screensaver. He knew that when you see a screensaver at someone’s desk, you instantly knew they had been gone for a while. Not only did he disable his, but he even left a few terminal windows open with debugging output running constantly.

  5. Cap Reply

    lol. number 2.

    I do something similiar when I use to work at Bank of America.

    I’ll walk around purposefully through the hallway, as if I’m heading somewhere I should go.. while I’m just actually avoiding work at my station.

    kills about 3-5 minute depending on how far you get.

    “Hey what department are you in?”

    “ah. I’m just looking for the restroom on this floor..”

  6. Kathy Reply

    Do a little work. Then revise it. Make sure the option to see all corrections is on. This doesn’t have to be an actual document, but you could steal one from a co-worker just to make it more fun.

    Make notes about his funky hairstyle and question his motives in the document. Then keep it up in the background and then (in Mac OS X) select F9 and click on the document when someone comes in.

  7. Noah Kagan Reply

    George Costanza’s 10 commandments for “working hard”:

    1. Never walk without a document in your hands. People with documents in their hands look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they’re heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.
    2. Use computers to look busy. Any time you use a computer, it looks like “work” to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal e-mail, chat and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren’t exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they’re not bad either. When you get caught by your boss – and you *will* get caught — your best defense is to claim you’re teaching yourself to use new software, thus saving valuable training dollars.
    3. Messy desk. Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us, it looks like we’re not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer, last year’s work looks the same as today’s work; it’s volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your cubicle, bury the document you’ll need halfway down in an existing stack and rummage for it when he/she arrives.
    4. Voice Mail. Never answer your phone if you have voice mail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing – they call because they want YOU to do work for THEM. That’s no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they’re not there – it looks like you’re hardworking and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel.
    5. Looking Impatient and Annoyed. According to George Costanza, one should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.
    6. Leave the office late. Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important emails at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35pm, 7:05am, etc.) and during public holidays.
    7. Creative Sighing for Effect. Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.
    8. Stacking Strategy. It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc. (thick computer manuals are the best).
    9. Build Vocabulary. Read up on some computer magazines and pick out all the jargon and new products. Use the phrases freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember: They don’t have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.
    10. MOST IMPORTANT: DON’T forward this to your boss by mistake!!! Words to live by!

    thanks Jen!

  8. Jill Reply

    Ever since I got my office job in March, I have been seeking ways to look busy. To my excitement and to your potential benefit, I have found ways to look, seem, and even kind of BE busy (without actually working) for an extended period of time. Here is what I found out: The easiest way to look busy without your boss getting suspicious is if you do only one thing at a time. By that I mean: if I have letters to mail out (which usually come in the amount of 50 or 60 letters), I only do one thing at a time. For example, if there are cover sheets that need to be printed out, I will print those and instead of getting the envelopes while they are printing, I will wait until they are finished printing. My printer here is fairly slow so to print 50 copies, I usually get about 5 minutes of freedom time (especially since I do not have to retrieve the copies as soon as I make them). This works for everything. If you are going to get the envelopes after printing your copies and you have something on your desk that needs to be brought to the same general area, make two trips. There’s no reason why you need to rush to get things done if your business is as slow and as boring as mine. I have also found out that wasting time is especially easy if my boss is on the phone with a client. Since his office is to my back & when he is seated (& on the telephone) his back is to me, it is very easy to just do nothing. Why keep busy when your boss is on the telephone and totally unaware of your presence? You can do your job when he gets off the telephone and starts paying attention to what you are doing in his subconscious. Remember folks, this really only works if your business runs slow like the one I work at. Do not attempt this if you could potentially be swamped with work.

    I agree with most of the people who left comments on this website, but I find that looking impatient and/or annoyed rarely works. If anything, it will just dig you into an even deeper hole since your boss, upon finding out you are (or seem) impatient or annoyed, will almost certainly ask you what the matter is. What are you going to say, “Oh nothing, I’m just trying to look annoyed so you think I’m keeping busy”? And you certainly can’t say, “Oh, business XYZ just called up and they said they wouldn’t be able to deliver the laminates for the job tomorrow!” because that would be lying, wouldn’t it? Only the actors, actresses, and adrenaline lovers should attempt this one.

    Lastly, clean your desk!! If you have nothing to do, I’m sure there’s yesterday’s coffee cup or an old muffin wrapper that could be disposed of. If not, straighten up some papers. Check the stapler. Are you low on paper clips? Post-its? Why don’t you go to the closet and get more? Open a new pack if that wastes more time.

    If all else fails, empty the garbage at everyone’s cubicles. It’s a dirty job but it’s better than doing paperwork!

    1. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      I used to use photocopying b/c what’re they gonna say? Hey you’re not photocopying ANYTHING?-Why is ecery page blank?

      1. Mr_Cryptic Reply

        or keep all your “PENSKE” files in the most overflowing-desk crammed, idiotic, mentally disturbed, way imaginable…Hey..wait a second, they’ll never notice that b/c THEY’RE all just drones. Am I right?, or what?

    2. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      Shit..that is disturbingly detailed…you’ve obviously thought alot about this should add it to your resume, maybe? No scratch that…leave it off. If you’re feigning annoyance never admit it is fake..u need to be able to think on your feet..there’s always someone to blame..when in doubt blame the “higher ups”or the government-everyone can relate THAT; you’ll never be questioned on it b/c everyone hates their boss. IF caught in an obvious lie, just say, “Oh I’m sorry, I guess I misunderstood!” and walk away like you own the place.

  9. Charlie Reply

    I have two suggestions. First, you should attend meetings. Few things are as unproductive as meetings. Second, go on business trips. I’ve seen plenty of people who take one trip after another to avoid work. Plus you have the added benefits that you build up frequent flyer miles and you can complain about having to take the trip and about how much email and other work you have when you get back.

  10. Serg Reply

    Very funny websiteh ttp:// offers you a deceptive interface that looks like a Word and keep out nosy people who are trying to trace what you are doing or browsing while online.

  11. Joe Porter Reply

    This reminds me years ago of the computer game “battle chess” where your chess pieces actually attacked their opponents. Lots of fun to play and watch. The game had an emergency hot key called “boss mode” that immediately brought up a boring spread sheet. So there you go — set up some numbers in excell. That looks like work.

  12. Note Reply

    This is an insane treasure trove of good things
    I will do.. I work around 3 women and 1 old male (80 yrs) who loves to gossip..I recently got promoted and the name of the game is LOOK busy… And frankly… I’m just not that creative. Thank you all so much for this.. You all might have saved my career

    1. Mr_Cryptic Reply

      Please do NOT do everything the internet tells you to do. The internet cannot be held responsible for negative outcomes.

  13. Ronnie Christopher Reply

    Always carry a piece of paper with you when you leave your desk. Also, keep a set of key’s on your desk and a jacket on your chair. When you leave it still looks like your there.

  14. Brian Reply

    Blue Collar bonus tip: grab an extension chord, power splitter, or something equally ambiguous, so no one asks what you’re working on. Walk fast across the work site.

  15. Mr_Cryptic Reply

    If you career permits it – disappear unsupervised for extended periods of time…they will never check on you, unless of course they already have you under surveillance.
    After viewing video of yourself comitting the actual crime…exhale and slouch back in your chair, both feet up on your desk, and say, both bath hands interlaced across the back on your head and say triumphantly, “Well that sure LOOKS like me…but it’s NOT!”…

  16. Mr_Cryptic Reply

    This thing is still monitored?…kind of proves how doomed all of society is with made-up jobs like comment monitor. NO offence, you do VERY important work.