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How to Look Really Busy at Work

Updated on February 3, 2013
Jeannieinabottle profile image

Jeannie has been writing for HubPages for over 7 years. She covers a wide variety of topics—anything from hamsters to office work.


Stay Employed!

Do you have this really annoying place you have to go to everyday called a "job"? Are you expected to actually work once you show up? Has anyone given the whole "there is no I in team" speech to you? Man, what is up with that? Looks like you are going to have to look extremely busy at work.

What happens when you are not really busy at work? What happens if there are a few blissful moments in your day when you might want to, oh, I don't know, stop and breathe for a moment? Of course, you are not allowed to do that! You need to keep that job! You have to look really busy at all times.

In today's economy, managers are looking to squeeze as much productivity out of all workers as humanly possible. More work and less pay - that is just the way it is now. If you are like me and get your job done quickly and efficiently, you are in trouble. A manager will just come along, see you are not pulling your hair out from being overwhelmed, and dump more work on you. So I am here to help you with some advice on how to look extremely busy even if you are only just plain busy.

Stop Working So Fast

Are you going in and getting all the work done correctly the first time you do it? Well, you'd better stop. Plenty of your co-workers are working late and looking busy, but it is because they are making mistakes on a regular basis and spending most of their time fixing issues. You know who is looking impressive now? THEM! They look like they are working like crazy over in their cubicles. It is time for you to do the same.

Instead of working efficiently, allow yourself to get distracted here and there. Also, just simply pace yourself. You might even find you enjoy the task more since you are allowing yourself more time.

Fix Other People's Mistakes

You know what kills a lot of time? Fixing mistakes. If you are not making enough mistakes of your own, start fixing other mistakes you might find. I am sure if you look, you will have no problem finding them. Your customers and co-workers are probably making plenty of mistakes. It is a thankless job, but hey, someone's got to do it.

Talk to Yourself

If you are at a job that only acknowledges people that seem to be overworked and freaking out all the time, well, you can do the same. The best way to look crazed and overworked is to start talking to yourself. I will give you an example:

You are sitting at your desk updating a fairly boring spreadsheet. Nosy Suzy from down the hall keeps peeking at you everytime she walks by your cubicle. There is no doubt she is thinking about approaching your supervisor and asking if you can help her with a nightmare project that she should have completed weeks ago. After all, she had to take off 3 days for a number of different reasons (and she happened to come back with a tan after one "sick" day), so why shouldn't you be a team player and do her work for her?

Now is the time to start mumbling things to yourself while working. You should start looking pretty aggravated at the spreadsheet. If you begin saying things to yourself like, "these numbers just aren't adding up," or "how am I expected to get all this done by the end of the week," it is a sure bet Nosy Suzy will just poke her nose somewhere else and you will be left alone to finish your spreadsheet. As a matter of fact, your supervisor might even suggest you visit a nice, friendly therapist in the near future. Hey, what a great idea!


Thoughtful Nods

You may not realize this, but thoughtful nods go a long way. It says that you are truly engaged in your activity. Basically, you should nod slowly while lifting one eyebrow. That says, "Hmmm... interesting." If you can place your hand under your chin or lay your finger on the side of your head, that totally takes it to a new level.

Now that you have your nod down, here are some moments when you can use it:

  • At a meeting when a manager is talking. Sure, you are thinking about what you need to buy at the grocery store later, but it looks like you are listening.
  • When you are "researching" something on the internet. Perhaps you are only reading an email from Grandma, but look serious while you are doing it.
  • If you are looking through your notes from a meeting; maybe you are simply admiring some of the artwork you drew while trying to stay awake, but it looks like you are putting some of your important thoughts in order.
  • While staring out a window or just checking out the wall. No one has to know you are trying to remember the names of all the seven dwarves. They think you are pondering deep thoughts.
  • If you are having a phone conversation; it doesn't matter who you are talking to on the phone, make it seem important with some thoughtful nods.

Review Documents

If part of your job includes going through periodicals, books, or something along those lines, you can always sneak something fun to read into the pile. Certainly it is important to get the job done, but isn't it equally important to find out what Garfield and Odie have been up to lately? If you add a thoughtful nod into the equation, everyone is going to think you are really busy.

Pretend You're On the Phone

If all else fails, one way to appear busy is to pretend you are on the phone. This works on many different levels. Yes, you will seem very busy when anyone walks by, but also, it can get rid of a nuisance co-worker. Sometimes Mildred just wants to stop and tell you for the 5th time that day why her cat is the cutest cat on the planet. You can save yourself from that story if you start talking to a pretend irate customer.

When faking people out with a phone call, remember to pause at all the appropriate times when another person should be speaking. Make sure to look frustrated or shocked at times. It helps to even point at the phone a time or two, and shake your head. If you can even start a sentence and then abruptly stop as if you are being interrupted, you will have no worries making this call believable.

You just need to keep the fake conversation going after the person leaves your view. You never know when someone is just waiting a minute around the corner just to start a new conversation with you. Also, end the conversation as you normally would with a "thank you and have a nice day." You don't want to appear suspicious!

Actually Be Busy!

If all else fails, you can opt just to be busy. Yes, I know! What a crazy idea! If you are actually bored at work and don't have a lot to do, maybe you should ask for more work. We all have different situations in life and we all have times when we are busier than other times. If you sincerely are not busy at all (dude, where do you work?), then it is probably ethical to ask for more assignments.

Just remember, there is no "I" in team. Sometimes helping out your co-workers is actually the right thing to do, but only you can determine that, my friend. Good luck to you!

Copyright ©2013 Jeannieinabottle


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  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    It was nice that they tried to keep everyone employed at your job. I think that happened at a lot of companies. We have a lot of boring work they claim is important, but I am kind of skeptical about it. We go through periods of extremely busy times and periods of boring busy work. I've just learned to appreciate the boring times now since they do not come around as often. Thanks for your comment!

  • Sherry Hewins profile image

    Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

    The job I used to work at, they knew there wasn't enough work for us to do. To their credit, they kept everyone employed as long as they could. They still wanted everyone to be busy doing something, so they had us do a bunch of boring stuff that didn't really need to be done. Eventually though, when work didn't pick up they couldn't keep paying people to work on useless stuff.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    I would never have the nerve to try to read a book, but I am guilty of typing away at personal emails. Even though my job can be demanding, I still find the tasks to be annoying or dull. My mind wanders! Thanks for your comment!

  • StellaSee profile image

    StellaSee 5 years ago from California

    I'm guilty of a few of these...when I worked at an office I've pretended to look really busy by furiously typing on my keyboard (but I was just brainstorming for a future hub) or I would be reading a book and cover it up really quick when I hear someone walking over. It's so hard to sit still when you're bored.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Ah, some people are experts at looking busy when they are not... you just never know because they are so good at it. I've worked with people that always appeared busy and no one realized how little work they were doing until they were either fired or quit. Amazing! Thanks for your comment!

  • MissJamieD profile image

    MissJamieD 5 years ago from Minnes-O-ta

    This is a really fun and funny idea for a hub, great job! Just like someone else stated, I've seen these people, I can spot them because they're apparently not that good at "pretending" to work. I'm sure there are some that have fooled me, but some people are not good liars. And yes, It's no fun to be working somewhere that there's a lot of down time, but like you said, ask for more tasks or in all reality look for another job if you're not busy enough.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    tammyswallow - Yes, I think bosses do this, too. Sometimes they just need to look busy so they won't look guilty when dumping all that work on employees.

    Sherry Hewins - I think there is one in every office. One of my former co-workers used to watch Netflix and play Family Feud on his iPhone while he looked busy.

    Matthew Kirk - I feel the same way, too. I was trying to be funny, but at the same time, there are people that really do this... there are sure enough Google searches on this topic!

    Paul Maplesden - Yes, you'd better be on the lookout for that behavior from your employee. :-)

    Thanks everyone for the comments!

  • Paul Maplesden profile image

    Paul Maplesden 5 years ago from Asheville, NC

    Great tongue-in-cheek hub! I work for myself, so I'll certainly be watching out for these activities.

  • Matthew Kirk profile image

    Matthew Kirk 5 years ago from Liverpool

    As someone who is a genuine worker I find this hub a mix of annoying and admirable haha! In all seriousness it is a bit sad that the people who do this kind of thing (and I'm guessing there are a lot) would appear to have no ambition!

  • Sherry Hewins profile image

    Sherry Hewins 5 years ago from Sierra Foothills, CA

    Ha ha, there's one in every office. When I worked nights at the local newspaper, there was and assistant editor who used to come in at all hours and sit in front of his computer. It was a long time before I realized that he was not toiling away, but playing solitaire. I think he just wanted to get away from his wife, she probably thought he was working too.

  • tammyswallow profile image

    Tammy 5 years ago from North Carolina

    LOL.. This is really funny. I have worked with many of these people before. I think all those times a boss was on the phone nodding, he was probably pretending.. hmmm... Great hub!

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    There is someone that truly is not busy but looks it in every office. It is very frustrating. I mean, if someone spends that much time working on looking busy, they may as well geniunely do work and be busy. I think a lot of people got laid off during the recession once companies figured out who was really busy and who was faking it. Thanks for your comment! And yes, filing is a winner!

  • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

    Glimmer Twin Fan 5 years ago

    The really sad thing is I worked with a guy who was the king of looking busy. It really burned me up, but his boss did not notice a thing. A couple of years later after I left someone finally figured it out and he was demoted. Fun hub. Filing is a good way to look really busy!

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Yes, those techniques do really work. I also find that yelling at the printer helps, too. As a matter of fact, I ended up getting my own printer because of it! Now I don't yell at that one since it actually works, but I will keep that technique in mind if I start a new job. Thanks for your comment!

  • Redberry Sky profile image

    Redberry Sky 5 years ago

    Very wise words, jeannieinabottle. I always use the insanity method (mumbling to myself and talkig outright to my computer in an aggravated tone) as soon as I can when I start any new job - helps to let everyone know that I'm strictly there for the paycheck, not the work.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    The "pretend you're on the phone" method works so well when you don't want to talk to someone. Sometimes I am just not feeling that friendly or someone comes by that I have no desire to talk to, so it is helpful. Thanks for checking out my hub!

  • Efficient Admin profile image

    Efficient Admin 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

    These are hilarious and the "Pretend You're On the Phone" really does work!! A few times I was manning the front switchboard when known annoying people would walk by, see me up there, and before they could come my way to blow hot air about nothing, I would pick up the phone and dial my cell phone. They would walk away. It works like a charm.

    Also, I so agree if you are not busy it's good to ask for work. It makes the day go by faster to have something to do and it makes you look good to take the initiative like that.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    twoseven - Now you know that mumbling can work for you. Sometimes I like to read things just under my breath when working. It shows others not to interrupt me. :-)

    lambservant - Ah yes, the cleaning the counter technique. I used to work at clothing stores and the steamer was another great job one could do while talking to co-workers. You could just steam out the wrinkles while someone else pretended to fold clothes. Good times.

    Thank you both for your comments!

  • lambservant profile image

    Lori Colbo 5 years ago from Pacific Northwest

    OMG so funny. I have worked in food service a lot in the past. There is this terrible,universal rule in food service that says "If you got time to lean, you got time to clean." So like you say, I'd get my work all done, no customers around, cleaned everything there is to clean, and a co-worker tells you she's got a date tonight, the manager freaks out and spews that dandy little mantra. The thing is, usually the manager has been goofing off somewhere or legitimately busy working and has failed to see that you have been cleaning your butt off and all the other duties are done. So what I used to do is just rub the counter over and over while I chat for 30 seconds with a co-worker. Sometimes there is a lull and you get it all done. I have a good work ethic and don't mess around. But sometimes, the boss gets crazy.

    In the future, whatever job I am doing I am going to implement your ideas. I love your ideas. Thanks, I will pass this on.

  • twoseven profile image

    twoseven 5 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

    Very funny! Some of these hit a little close to home - I am such a mumbler and I know it looks odd but I can't help it! At least now I can pretend I'm doing it for a reason :) voted up!

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Snurre - That is so true... if some people went any slower, they may as well not even get out of bed. Thanks for your comment!

    PaisleeGal - You don't require a phone at your desk?!?!?! You must have the greatest job ever! I would love to have that. One day, my dream will come true and the phone will break. Until that day, I am forced to answer it no matter what. Thanks for the vote up!

  • PaisleeGal profile image

    Pat Materna 5 years ago from Memphis, Tennessee, USA

    Jeanie... another great article!! I could identify with this since my job has ups/downs .. the lack of work times can be tough, especially when the big bosses come around or clients in the office. Unfortunately my job does not require a phone at my desk .. but if I had one I would for sure employ the pretend phone conversation. Voted up.

  • Snurre profile image

    Snurre 5 years ago

    LOL LOVED this!!!! The fixing mistakes idea is great and stopping working too fast will help most office workers. Although I think if they start working any slower they would drop dead. LOL

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Oh yes, that sounds like a good idea. I have never tried that myself, but I will do that sometime this week. Thanks for the idea!

  • Disappearinghead profile image

    Disappearinghead 5 years ago from Wales, UK

    I've also found walking between offices at a fast pace clutching a document is good for looking busy and important.

  • Jeannieinabottle profile image

    Jeannie InABottle 5 years ago from Baltimore, MD

    Alecia Murphy - Thanks so much! As you can tell, that familiar "it's Sunday and I am unhappy about the upcoming work week" dread is in the air today.

    spartucusjones - I understand exactly what you are saying. A good portion of my job is phone work and I hate being on the phone, too. Sigh. Got to take whatever job you can get in this economy! Thanks for your comment!

    drbj - Hahaha... you are so right. I would never be so lucky for the phones to stop working at my job. In our other location, their phones stop working all the time... or so they claim! They are so lucky! Thanks for the good advice.

    Pavlo Badovskyy - I live with that fear, too. I hope they never can install cameras.... Although it would solve the mystery about the theft of all the snacks from the kitchen. :-) Thanks for your comment!

  • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

    Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

    I have often the same problem: how to pretend that I am working. Glad they did not install cameras everywhere. Anyway I like the idea of slow working :))

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 5 years ago from south Florida

    Love the 'pretend you are on the phone' pretense, Jeannie. Just be sure that the repairman from the phone company isn't in the office for a service call because the phone lines are out of order. Just sayin'.

  • spartucusjones profile image

    CJ Baker 5 years ago from Parts Unknown

    I got a kicked out of this! I agree that being busy is your best bet. I prefer to be busy than having to try to look busy.

    That being said in the past when I had a job where I was given a task that have required to spend a lot of time on the phone, because I hate talking on the phone and I needed a bit of the break, I would occasionally pretend to be on the phone if management was passing by. It generally works, but I do feel extremely guilty about it.

  • Alecia Murphy profile image

    Alecia Murphy 5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

    Jeannie, I love your hubs like this! Voted up, funny, and awesome!