How do I avoid slacking off at work?
July 13, 2011 8:46 PM   Subscribe

How do I avoid slacking off at work?

I have a desk job with very little supervision. When I first started, I was always busy and would always find something to do. Sure, I’d check Facebook or Twitter once in a while, but most of the time I was legitimately working. Lately, it feels like the pendulum has swung the other way: when I’m not browsing MeFi or my various social networks, I’ll find the time to squeeze in enough work that my boss doesn’t think I’m totally useless.

Partly, I think this may be due to the lack of supervision. I don’t want to be treated like a child at work, but because I can get away with quite a bit without much in the way of consequences, I may be more apt to slack off than I otherwise would be. Mostly, though, I think that it’s because I find my job painfully dull.

This is a problem that I tend to encounter with my jobs: pretty much every job that I’ve had since completing university has bored me to the point that I was looking for new jobs practically from day one (though, never with a great level of seriousness; I didn't need a new job, so I was very selective in what I actually applied for). My current job held my interest for a lot longer than previous jobs, but I’m starting to get to that point again.

I am currently enrolled in graduate school and will begin classes in the fall, but I’ll be continuing to work full time while I’m in school (it’s a part-time, online program). The degree I’m working towards will open a lot of doors for me, professionally, but it’s going to take me about 5 - 6 years to complete, since I’m doing it part time (and I can’t really afford to quit working and study full time). Once I have this degree, I’ll be able to find work that I want to do, rather than just taking the first thing that comes along and is vaguely related to my areas of expertise (which have very little to do with my undergraduate degree).

In the meantime, I need to keep working. If I keep slacking off, someone is bound to catch on eventually and I’ll be screwed. What can I do to maintain some level of discipline and work ethic so that I can keep my job? Should I look for other, more meaningful work even as I work toward my new degree?

(Posting anonymously in case anyone I work with is on MeFi.)
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (24 answers total) 84 users marked this as a favorite
Are you smart? Do people like you? Do you get your work done on time?

Trust me, you can keep on slacking off. And until someone tells you you're spending too much time on the Internet, you can probably spend it on the Internet. When someone does mention something, then you can keep on slacking off (you might just not need to spend less time on the Internet ).

To answer your question: You can spend time figuring out how to slack off at work (i.e. water breaks every hour, doing random spreadsheets of analyzing your friends and every place you've been, etc), reading books that are pasted into Word, the ideas are limitless.

Or you can ask for more work and not be bored.
posted by sandmanwv at 8:51 PM on July 13, 2011 [16 favorites]

If possible with your job, take time to work away from the computer. I know the internet is a HUGE distraction for me and sometimes an unavoidable one - sometimes I need the internet, let alone a computer, to do work. But if possible, when you find yourself super distracted, take a pad of paper into the break room and just write out whatever you would be typing. If anyone comments on it, be honest - say you were getting distracted (actually, say "sidetracked" since that makes it sound like there was just too much interesting work!) at the computer and needed to focus.
posted by maryr at 8:55 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you tried something like Leechblock?

I have also found that if I'm doing boring work (data entry, etc) listening to upbeat music in my headphones helps a lot.

There's also the Pomodoro technique, which makes a big difference for some people.
posted by lollusc at 9:05 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

set a timer and decide you're going to work straight through until the timer goes off. Then you get a break to slack off, but it has to be shorter than the timer. Like work 15 minutes, break 5 minutes. Then proceed as usual for an hour or so. Set the timer again.

I honestly don't believe we're meant to sit and concentrate for eight hours at a time day in day out, except possibly in the rare cases that we're really absorbed in the "flow" of a project, but even that doesn't happen day in day out at a full time job, I don't care what you do. Success means planning for your own shortcomings in this regard.
posted by sweetkid at 9:05 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

On fully failing to preview, the Pomodoro technique suggested by lollusc is also timer based.
posted by sweetkid at 9:06 PM on July 13, 2011

Find a project that interests you and that makes things better for you and your coworkers. Tell your coworkers about your idea and keep them posted on your progress, this way they feel included. And you might get a raise/promotion out of it.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 9:07 PM on July 13, 2011

Do one thing. Get it done. Then do one thing. Get it done. Etc.

This is how I deal with that, when I choose to.
posted by Danf at 9:11 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

If your boss is someone it is easy to talk to, start including them more in your work. It will help your boss understand what you are up to, give you incentive to have good updates (beyond, "I did my job this week), and also help focus and motivate you to pick up interesting or needed work as you move along. You don't need your boss to hold your hand, but you should keep him in the loop and when you have downtime, see if there are new projects he or someone in the group needs.
posted by occidental at 9:12 PM on July 13, 2011

The sad thing about office jobs is you're expected to be at your desk during x number of hours, whether there's work to do or not. The usual response to this affront to human decency is you should be grateful to be working, and they own your ass, so suck it up. But it's your life going by during "their" hours, so you have to find a way that you can manage doing what you have to without ending up on the news, holed up in your building with a Kalashnikov.

What you didn't mention is whether there's actually anything to do during those times. Especially something of interest or consequence, and not some lame busy work the manager uses to kid himself you're being productive constantly.

Like any other vice, it becomes a problem when it's a hindrance to your functioning. If you're essentially wasting downtime, then don't feel bad about it, and just don't get caught. Buy a pair of aviators, and keep them on your desk like a security mirror. Train yourself to swap windows back and forth on your computer. Write a small script or macro to put something useful looking on screen.
posted by evil holiday magic at 9:13 PM on July 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

Can you turn your desk so that anyone who walks by will easily see what you're doing? All the better if you can do this *and* get a bigger monitor.
posted by Ashley801 at 9:21 PM on July 13, 2011

Oh hi, I'm you. Down to the online degree program and the searching for new & more engaging jobs.

One thing I've been trying to do lately is to create a hierarchy of things I'm allowed to be doing at work. More entertaining pursuits can't be attended to for any length of time until I've addressed all specific requests that any of my project managers have made of me me are done. All specific requests covered (or, more often, no one's given me anything besides vague objectives)? Ok, time to spend 30 minutes on the project I've touched least-recently. That done? Okay, now to the next-most-recent. If I've made some progress on all my ongoing projects (and I usually have 4 or 5, each with their own objectives and bosses), then I let myself do schoolwork. If schoolwork's done, then I can try to kill things off my personal task list. If I've taken a look at the current chore list and there's nothing urgent, okay, then and only then can I slack off by perusing the internet at large.

I haven't quite got this priority system implemented properly, but the mindset is helping.
posted by deludingmyself at 9:41 PM on July 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you've got something urgent with a deadline to work on, that requires focus, you'd do it, right? I think where you run into a problem is when you have a lot of boring crap with no deadline to work on. Sounds like you're both bored and not working on anything with any urgency.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:13 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I have also found that if I'm doing boring work (data entry, etc) listening to upbeat music in my headphones helps a lot.

This works, when its allowed.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:14 PM on July 13, 2011

I think it's fine and even beneficial to slack off at work- I'm convinced that most of us don't have more than an hour or two of actual work to get done in a day.

Your problem- which is the problem I have- is that this kind of atmosphere leaves you feeling drained and stupid and angry. Mu solution was to really rigorously schedule my day: From like 9-11, answer e-mail and code a website or whatever your duties are.
11-11:30: Slack off!
12-1:Filing! Write some copy for that new thing. On and on.

I have no idea what your job is but building a routine helped it be less agonizing and helped me to keep on task and generate a sorely-lacking sense of productivity and pride. Feel free to build some breathing room into that schedule (I always took at least an hour for some variety of personal project), but it may be more helpful than WELL ILL JUST FIGURE IT OUT because if you're like me that means you sit there and read the same websites over and over.
posted by GilloD at 10:42 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Cell phone off. Constant supply of caffeine. Internet sites that are not work related blocked by IT. Work for 50 minutes, break for 10. Break is talking to other people or reading a paper or journal, not computer jerk-around time. Lunch is away from the computer.

Productive as all hell.
posted by squorch at 10:45 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah - tell your boss "I have time for another task if you can think of any that need doing" - they will obviously be able to think of something. It makes you look good too.

But don't be so hard on yourself for slacking off. EVERYONE does it. Even the people who look super busy and stressed all the time. They do it too. How else would you cope?

At a seminar on productivity I once went to, the presenter talked about how procrastination that leads to eustress (positive stress) can often be a good thing, because that sort of stress can lead to higher quality work. I was somewhat skeptical, but it's a point of view.

I try to organise my day in this way: Cross off two things off the to-do list, then take a break. Then another two things on the list, then take a break. If you've got a routine going, the tooling-around-on-the-internet part of your day seems less sprawling and aimless and more like something you're actively controlling.
posted by Ziggy500 at 1:57 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would also like to suggest leechblock. It is easy to override, but everytime I got to one of the sites I have listed to block it is a nice reminder - "Shouldn't you be working?" Then I find myself going back to work and not overriding the website setting.

Also, I have a work notebook which I keep my daily notes in. Every morning I start a new section, place the date on the page and write underneath - "Goals for Today" and focus what my plans are for the day. This notebook also goes to meetings with me. If I have a conversation with someone about a project, the notes would go in here as well.

Although you believe you are getting away with slacking - you may not be fooling everyone as you think. I recall a student of ours who felt they were getting away with the slacking because we were so stupid. In reality no one wanted to work with him because he was useless.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 6:03 AM on July 14, 2011

I think you're looking at this wrong.

You have a desk job, and very little supervision, and yet you say you get all of your work done, or at least you "find the time to squeeze in enough work that my boss doesn’t think I’m totally useless." As long as you are getting your work done, you are doing fine.

Your duty in this job market is to work so as you are meeting or exceeding the output requirements of your job. Even if you're not salaried, think of it like a salary: You work on your projects fully until you complete them, or complete your part in them. The rest of the time is yours. They will pay someone your pay if it takes them a full eight hours of working fitfully to get the work done, or they will pay you your pay for it to take you three hours plus sit at your desk for another five. It doesn't matter to them, as long as the work gets done, and they'd probably rather have someone laid-back and smart enough to do the work in less time. While not exclusive to Millennials, this is a typical Millennial workplace conundrum.

Slacking is neglecting the work at hand. It doesn't sound like you're doing that.

Once your graduate program starts, I strongly recommend that you replace your web surfing habit with a reading or studying habit. But still... put work first. The sooner you get your tasks completed, the sooner you can study, or surf the web, or marinate on a problem that has you vexed, or whatever.
posted by juniperesque at 6:26 AM on July 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

Sounds like you are not being challenged at work. You show good awareness here. Being liked and doing those things that you ARE assigned will help you survive, but it's not the greatest long term strategy (tactically, though, it will work).

Try to use the time to work on your skills or find a more challenging/engaging/lucrative gig.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:32 AM on July 14, 2011

Hi, I'm also you. I leave my job in two weeks and will increase the amount of study I'm doing. Unfortunately for me the jerking around habit I cultivated in my day job spilled over into my self structured study time and last semester my grades were pathetic. I don't want to work like that anymore. I'm hoping approaching one demand frankly and cheerfully will set up a habit of approaching all tasks the same way. I'm lucky to be able to housesit for a semester so rent isn't a factor, but I am trying to reset this habit.
posted by Trivia Newton John at 7:48 AM on July 14, 2011

From a similar experience with grad school/work, I can say that you will have PLENTY to do once you start your graduate degree. Cherish the extra time you have at work to complete assignments and study. You'll be hearing stories of all of your classmates staying up until the wee hours of the morning, and you have the luxury of finishing schoolwork in your 9-to-5.
posted by JacksonEsquire at 7:54 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Music helps, along with Danf's idea. Other than that, I just wanted to say I'm sorry I don't have any real advice. After all, I'm here when I should be focused on my work.
posted by mitzyjalapeno at 9:06 AM on July 14, 2011

You say you're doing enough work not to be noticed, but if (1) you're in a job/position where the output's quantitave or in someway measurable and (2) there are other people doing the same/similar job, make sure you're doing "more" than they are in the event restructuring becomes necessary. If Boss looks at a graph and you're the bottom performer at ax-time, that's that.
posted by resurrexit at 9:39 AM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I couldn't favourite hard enough what JacksonEsquire said. If you find an interesting job you may even find you're putting extra hours to complete projects you love, doing grad school at the same time could suck pretty hard. You'd rather be like my mate who does most of his work in the first 3 days of the month (I figured that's why his music promo emails always go out, suspiciously, during working hours. Your taxes at work!)
posted by yoHighness at 11:49 AM on July 20, 2011

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