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Quora Question of the Week: What Are Your Favorite Methods for Looking Busy at Work?


Even if you’re excellent at your job, you’re probably not fully immersed in your work every second of the day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. It’s in your best interests, however, to look like you’re busy, even when you’re just catching up on your Facebook feed. PayScale turned to the Quora community for some tricks that will help you look like you’re working hard, even when you’re hardly working.

What are your favorite methods for looking busy at work?

Question originally posted on Quora by Career Advice, and answered by user Rajat Goyal.

1. Never walk without a document in your hand – “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.” We couldn’t have said it better.

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2. Use computers to look busy – When a passerby sees you using a computer, he or she assumes you’re “working,” regardless if you are or not. So, use the device as a prop when you’re caught in the act, and if you’re questioned as to why you’re looking at a non-related site on the internet, relate it back it helping you be a better employee in some way, shape, or form.

3. Keep a messy desk – Again, Goyal says it best, “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.” That’s genius.

4. Use voicemail – The purpose of voicemail isn’t to store messages until you’re ready to listen to them, it’s there to make people believe that you’re way too busy working when you’re actually scanning your Facebook news feed. Don’t be an eager beaver when it comes to responding to your messages. People will assume you don’t have enough work if you can respond to voicemails right away.

5. Look impatient and annoyed – If you’re truly busy, then you’re probably so bogged down that you don’t have time for miniscule things like small talk. Therefore, when someone comes over to chat at your desk and the boss is eavesdropping, sound extremely annoyed and as if you really have to get back to your work.

6. Leave the office late – First one in, last one out — because hard workers don’t show up late and leave early.

7. Use sighing for effect – Sighing gives others the impression that you’re extremely busy and under immense pressure, so small talk cannot fit into your schedule … ever.

8. Opt for the 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 best).”

9. Build your vocabulary – Big, fancy words throw people off and make you seem well-educated, especially when the people you’re talking to don’t have a clue what some of the words mean. Goyal says, “[T]hey don’t have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.” Educate yourself on some jargon that applies to your industry and astonish your boss and co-workers with your vast knowledge.

10. Don’t get caught – If you’re going to master the art of looking busy, then it’s essential that you don’t get caught, especially by your boss. Cover your tracks and never break character.

Tell Us What You Think

Do you have some clever ways of looking busy at work? If so, share them on Twitter or in the comments section below.

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(Photo Credit: dogbomb/Flickr)

Leah Arnold-Smeets
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