How to Look Busy at Work – Tips & Tricks
Doing nothing is very hard to do…you never know when you’re finished – Leslie Nielsen
It’s never easy doing nothing though when you’re stuck at the office. Prying eyes, network activity logs and a never-ending pile of work means the pressure is rarely off. But hey, even the most conscientious office worker needs an occasional time out. If only all bosses were understanding…
This article is for those who don’t want to get caught slacking off. For the occasional idler, bored clock-watchers and outright office malingerers. Useful tips and tricks on how to look busy at work without alerting the boss.
Keyboard Tricks to hide your computer screen at work
- Windows within windows – An oldie, but a goodie.
- Open up Outlook (or whatever email client you use)
- Open up your website and minimise it so it fits neatly within the reading pane of your email. Now you’re just checking your email.
- Overlapping windows
- Open up multiple windows, including your worktime distraction and some actual work applications.
- Keep the worktime distraction small. It will be hard to see what you’re doing from a distance and when the boss gets too close, you can easily jump into an actual work application in the background.
- One for Reddit fans. A Reddit Outlook skin – Go down endless Reddit rabbit holes while it looks like you’re simply checking your email. The 2003 version is here, if your office is behind the times.
- Top tip – Keep an actual work email open in your toolbar. Useful to if the boss suddenly rocks up to your desk
Boss heading your way?
Anyone who has worked in offices knows that reaching for the mouse and clicking furiously when the boss approaches can only mean one thing. You’re browsing, not working.
To be an expert on how to look busy at work, you should master these essential keyboard shortcuts:
- The emergency shutdown
- Alt + Tab = Switch to another window (always the last window used, so make sure that spreadsheet is the last thing you looked at)
- Windows (Logo) + M or D = Minimise all windows (just in case you’ve got multiple sites open and can’t remember what you last looked at).
- Also Win + D = Show Desktop
- Win + Shift + M = Restores your windows
Worried you won’t hit the right keys? You might need a ‘Boss Button’. (or practice extensively until you’ve nailed it)
- Magic Boss Key – Temperamental, but the idea is good. You can set the hotkey and decide which windows should close. If you can get it to work.
- Boss Key – More reliable, but you have to pay for this one. Plenty of useful features for full-on slacking, such as instant sound muting or instant switch to an application you should actually be working on
Smart tricks for an extended break
Buried distractions – Another unoriginal but smart way to read anything but another damn business report
- Take 1 actual business report/piece of work in Word format
- Take 1 piece of extended reading material (see here where to find free reading material, including many classic, out of copyright novels)
- Insert into the real report, read at leisure
Stories by email
- Have short stories, long reads etc sent by email. If they’re too colourful, edit and re-send them to yourself.
Need to get away from the desk and clear your head?
Here’s how to look busy at work when you’re not at your desk.
- Check your sleep settings are set to ‘Never’ – A sleeping screen is a giveaway that you’re in the toilet, checking your phone. Although you might find your IT dept have set a ‘lock screen’ setting you cannot override. A sensible precaution to protect data (and stop the office joker sending a rude email to the boss from your account)
- Smart Screensaver – Again, this might not be an option, but if you can set your screensaver, why not capture a screen grab (PrtSc) image of an active desktop. Then when your PC sleeps, it will look like your screen is active.
Looking to take some serious liberties with a super-long break?
- Overbook that important meeting. An extra 30 minutes on the end might not get noticed, especially if your fellow attendees are on board.
- On that subject, make sure your Outlook calendar is bursting at the seams with important ‘work’ stuff – if your calendar is shared, block visibility.
Worried nobody thinks you have a good reason to be away from your desk?
Here’s a few more tips for looking busy at work, when you’re not at your desk:
- Walk with purpose wherever you go.
- Remember your ABCS – Always Be Carrying Something. Preferably a pile of important papers that nobody else will understand
- Never smile. Look Harried. Give off a ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed, I might bite your head off’ vibe.
- Use your mobile to call your work phone. Then get animated on that phone call. Chuck in a few choice phrases, like “I’m snowed under” or “if I can find time”, etc, etc
- Keep your desk messy. Lots of post-it notes and half-drunk coffee is a sure sign you are beavering away like the office MVP.
How to hide your computer screen from others
At the end of the day though, the ultimate way to look busy at work and not get attention from the boss, is to hide your screen. It won’t help you beat the network activity log, but nobody looks at those unless they think you’ve spent the whole day surfing the web.
- Computer Privacy Screen – If you can convince your employers you need one, these do a great job of hiding your computer screen from busybodies. Your boss basically needs to be sitting in your chair to see what you see. Very popular with anyone who can claim their work is sensitive, however flimsy that claim is.
- Visual Hacking is the phrase that pays here – basically translated as prying eyes can steal info, without the high-tech hacking.
- Boss still not relenting? Try explaining that you need anti-glare protection because your eyes are hurting (just don’t mention it’s because you spend all your time on YouTube…)
- If you hot-desk, get in early and grab any desk the boss can’t see. You won’t be the only one though!
- Get promoted – Then you can have the desk that nobody can spy on. Of course, if you spend the whole slacking off, you probably won’t get promoted…
Well, now you’ve got a few tricks up your sleeve on how to look busy at work, you might be wondering what to actually do with your hard-won leisure time.
We have a few ideas for what to do at work when bored here. All the ideas have the added advantage of being fairly stealthy, ideal for combining with some of the tips in this article.
Good luck winding that clock down!