I've run out of tiles to count
August 24, 2012 11:55 AM   Subscribe

What kinds of mental games can you play to soak up time? You're in a meeting or sitting through a presentation. You don't need to pay attention, but you can't leave. What do you do?
posted by leotrotsky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (61 answers total) 93 users marked this as a favorite
Count the number of blinks per minute for everyone in the meeting. Rank them. If there are two people with the same blink count, extend their time to two minutes. Have a blink off. Next meeting, see if they keep their previous ranking or move. Hold a medal ceremony in your head celebrating the top blinkers. Make a mental note to purchase your low-blinking coworkers some eyedrops.
posted by phunniemee at 11:58 AM on August 24, 2012 [34 favorites]

Tally business jargon usage that makes you want to dole out pencil lobotomies
posted by ijoyner at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Depending on your industry, count the buzzwords/jargon.
posted by radioamy at 12:05 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Count how many times people interrupt each other. Once you see how often this happens it'll drive you insane.
posted by bondcliff at 12:06 PM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

Corporate speak drinking game? Or, alternatively, "really stupid concept that comes up a lot in this particular matter or group" drinking game? Get a couple of like minded people and pick the words or phrases that require you to drink. Of course, this also leads to excessive need to take breaks.
posted by Cocodrillo at 12:06 PM on August 24, 2012

On reread, I see this doesn't ask for menstrual games. Phew.

I used to count the ceiling tiles during school assemblies. Then I started counting the holes, getting an average for X tiles and speculating them out to the whole ceiling.

Doodling? Inventing? Haiku? Limericks?
posted by tilde at 12:09 PM on August 24, 2012

My go-to answer for this kind of situation: Teach yourself the Method of Loci (or other mnemonic methods). Practice with items in the room, people's names, points in the presentation, etc.
posted by The Deej at 12:10 PM on August 24, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm sure that the presenter will have a verbal tic (usually saying "Uhm .." or "like" or something similar).

Count the instances of that.
posted by dotgirl at 12:11 PM on August 24, 2012

A girl I sat next to in library school used to play a game called "Sid vs. the rest of the class," where Sid was the guy who felt like he knew everything and had to answer every question. He got a tally mark every time he spoke. He usually beat the rest of the class (combined) about 3-to-1.

Or think about sex.
posted by jabes at 12:11 PM on August 24, 2012 [11 favorites]


Seriously, if you don't need to pay attention then you shouldn't be there wasting time. Ask to be excused.

Failing that, bring something to work on.
posted by trinity8-director at 12:12 PM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Can you draw? I like to draw cartoons of the person talking. The bonus, I feel, is that the people next to me have something to watch if they want.

Seconding counting buzzwords. "But at the end of the day..." was a big one for me.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 12:15 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I taught myself the alphabet backwards - to the tune.

When I go on long runs, I also try to do long division in my head.
posted by jillithd at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I look for the alphabet in people's speech. First I wait for someone to say a word with an 'a' in it, then 'b', etc. If they say a word like "scab" that counts for both 'a' and 'b', but not 'c' since by the time we were looking for a 'c' it had already passed. You end up zipping through the alphabet pretty fast with some small hangups like 'j' but the last few can take a while.
posted by dfan at 12:17 PM on August 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

Everyone in every meeting I go to brings their laptop to meetings. I've seen people - from VPs to QA testers - post on Facebook, shop on Amazon, order Buckyballs, and gChat with 4 or 5 people at a time.
posted by bendy at 12:23 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bring stacks of paperwork that need to be sorted, if it's the sort of meeting where you can have paperwork. Most of it gets recycled, some of it I enter dates or whatever into my phone and then can recycle. Not much of it needs to be kept.

If I need to look like I'm paying attention and it's boring, I'll take notes longhand, which actually does make me pay attention, but makes the time go faster too.

Sometimes I write thank-you notes or longhand letters to people I know will appreciate real mail. Nobody can tell if you're writing a letter rather than taking copious notes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:24 PM on August 24, 2012

Mentally compose a short story, poem, blog post, or letter.
Try to meditate and empty your brain. Think about nothing. It's hard.
Look at something for a few seconds, then try to remember every detail you can about it without looking.
posted by chickenmagazine at 12:27 PM on August 24, 2012

I make up math problems. Just dividing and multiplying six figure numbers is challenging enough for me. I do it on paper, but do them in your head if it would be inappropriate to be scribbling away. Bonus: someone glancing at your paper will just see numbers and not find it interesting at all, as opposed to doodles or writing ideas down, and might even think you are crunching important numbers.
posted by peacrow at 12:30 PM on August 24, 2012

I used to doodle, but I got fired. For doodling.
posted by scratch at 12:34 PM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

You might try Ulillillia's Mind Game.
posted by Greg Nog at 12:37 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I look at the time in digital clocks and try to figure out if the number being shown is prime before the minute is over. Since every other moment is an even number, you also get an extra minute, if needed.
posted by jasper411 at 12:40 PM on August 24, 2012

Also, trying to remember all the lyrics to specific songs is always good. Either in your head or write them down. I used to do this in high school study hall to pass the time.
posted by jabes at 12:44 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is when I find the game of Doublets (or Word Ladders) indispensible. Changing one letter at a time, always making sure you have a real word, turn MOON into STAR. Or CAT into DOG.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:46 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Relax, close your eyes for a moment, and turn on a movie or album from memory that you know well. Your mind will just take over, and it is a tremendously fun way to pass an hour. Works especially well with things you've known from childhood (Beatles albums, Star Wars, that sort of thing).
posted by susanvance at 12:51 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I usually rank everyone based upon the order in which I would be willing to have sex with them if the rest of the planet were destroyed and it was left to those of us in the room to repopulate the earth.
posted by something something at 12:57 PM on August 24, 2012 [13 favorites]

I read Askmefi on my iPhone.
posted by tamitang at 1:15 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Think about what your favorite movies would have been like had they been directed by a different director.

The Sound of Music...directed by John Woo?
The Shawshank Redemption...directed by Quentin Tarantino?
The Lord of the Rings Trilogy...directed by Joss Whedon?

The possibilities are endless.
posted by Elly Vortex at 1:24 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I carry a notepad. On the first page I write any relevant notes related to the meeting. Under the first page, I write something on the project I am working on. I concentrate on the project and work out sections mentally, then write down the pithy results. I get a quite of lot done this way. The meeting forces me to spend long stretches thinking things out.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:25 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

Draw an an outline of the US. Put in the state names, with rough accuracy. Get all 50.
posted by LonnieK at 1:31 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I try to remember to print out a poem I like before the meeting, then spend the meeting memorizing it, line-by-line. If I've forgotten to print one out, I can mentally run through the ones I've already memorized.
posted by Bardolph at 1:45 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I don't have pen & paper, I factor four- or five-digit numbers in my head. If I do have pen and paper, I run Game of Life generations.
posted by Johnny Assay at 1:50 PM on August 24, 2012

I do the nine letter word game. Start with any nine letter word (BLESSINGS). Take the first and last letters and put them together (BS). Now try to find another nine letter word that contains those two letters, adjacent, in order (OBSESSION). Then repeat until you can't find a word that fits your latest letter pair. If you want, you can score yourself based on number of words in the chain, or you can just play until you stall, remove your last word from the list and start again from there.
posted by marginaliana at 1:59 PM on August 24, 2012 [7 favorites]

I chose a letter of the alphabet and then list every word I can think of that starts with that. Usually I start with A and then move through the alphabet. It's surprisingly difficult once you get past the first few obvious words!
posted by itsamermaid at 2:12 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pick a word, then try to come up with ingredients for a recipe that start with each letter in the word. E.g., SOAP => sausage, orzo, apple, pine nuts. Yum. Longer words are harder, of course.
posted by Xalf at 2:34 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm surprised no one has said anagrams. Use names, phrases said at the meeting, objects in the room, etc.
posted by Xalf at 2:37 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I used to decide what food everyone in a meeting would be if they were a food, and why. Or what kind of music, or specific song.

I also used to make meeting couples or teams, based on who sat by whom, who dressed similarly, finished each others' sentences, etc.

I am so glad I don't have to go to meetings any more.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 2:44 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

When "work" meetings have nothing to do with me or any project I have on my plate, I make that fact absolutely, unambiguously clear to the facilitator / presenter. If they still insist I stick around, I open a laptop and read vaguely tech-related websites (think "Slashdot").

Only once has anyone actually said anything, and he seemed honestly surprised that, despite telling him directly that the meeting had nothing relevant to me and I had nothing to offer the meeting, I didn't still have an interest in paying attention for some unknown reason. You know that look that dogs give you when you do something strange, the one that with a single cocked-headed glance tells you that your dog worries about your sanity? Yep. I do a pretty good version of it.

That said, it also depends who called the meeting... If someone directly in your chain-of-command, you may not want to make your disinterest too blunt - perhaps sit in the back and try to do actual work (even though the conference room laptops suck for doing anything real) rather than surfing the web.
posted by pla at 3:06 PM on August 24, 2012

Think of song titles that would be improved by replacing one of the words with "fart".

may cause giggling.
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:33 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

While I think trinity8-director's answer is ideal (Work. Seriously, if you don't need to pay attention then you shouldn't be there wasting time. Ask to be excused.), sometimes your warm body just has to be there, even if your mind isn't needed.

At one job several years ago I played a math game - Four 4s - which requires using the number 4 four times to create each whole number between 1 and 100, e.g., 44/44 = 1; 4/4 + 4/4 = 2, etc. I carried the same 4 x 6 index card to a couple of dozen of meetings, but never completed the entire series.
posted by she's not there at 4:23 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has said anagrams. Use names, phrases said at the meeting, objects in the room, etc.
This is what I came in here to suggest.

There's almost always something that I can write out longhand that needs doing. Sometimes it's work related and sometimes it's not.
posted by sm1tten at 5:59 PM on August 24, 2012

I usually recite in my head all the poetry I had to memorize during my English degree. I can do all of Act 1, Scene 2 from Twelfth Night without missing a beat.

Just asked the boyfriend over in the next room, and his answer was that he tries to remove every layer of sound, one by one, until his head is totally quiet. So, he filters out the AC and then people's typing or whatever. A bit cerebral for me :)
posted by JoannaC at 6:17 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

Bring something to memorize. Maybe you have a favorite comedy skit, stand-up routine, monologue, poem...
posted by Green With You at 6:19 PM on August 24, 2012

Play Hangman with the person sitting next to you.
posted by deborah at 7:01 PM on August 24, 2012

I look at any printed material and look to make words out of consecutive letters. Extra points for making a word from the consecutive letters of two printed words. When I've exhausted consecutive letters, I try every other letter.

For example, from above:

consecutive letters. Extra

Con, cons, cut, I've (that's a cheat), el, let, letter, sex (bonus:jumped two words. Plus, SEX),...

If someone's presenting a PowerPoint, this makes me look like I'm really paying attention.
posted by vitabellosi at 7:03 PM on August 24, 2012 [3 favorites]

I pick a long word from the presentation, such as "development", and make little words out of it, and try to get as many words as I can:
Dope, dome, demote, deep, dole, doe, ...
Pee, pole, plot...
Meet, mope, melt, melon...
Tee, teen, tepee, teem, top, toe, told...
Vet, vee, vend, vole...

My rules are:
- 3 or more letters in a word.
- if the word has an s in it, I can't make plural words, because that's really not any more creative than the single word. Same with putting verbs in the past tense. For example, "melt" and "melted" don't count as two words.
- Also, I don't use words that are in the parent word already.. For example "eve" and "men" would not count.
- no proper nouns

This is the only thing that keeps me awake at meetings.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 7:55 PM on August 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

Look for a number, longer is better. Add up the digits. Subtract the sum from the original number. The result will be divisible by 9. Divide by 9, repeat as necessary.

(I don't know why or how, but I discovered this as a kid and it's something that I do all the time when I'm stuck in a situation where I'm bored, but can't read, write, speak, or leave.)
posted by kagredon at 7:59 PM on August 24, 2012

Seconding making smaller words out of one long word.

Also: making lists. Check Sporcle for some ideas.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:32 PM on August 24, 2012

I translate Classical Greek into English. Looks like I am busy taking notes. Does not work too well when you have someone nosy sitting next to you. BTW, For this reason I never have meetings in department I manage.
posted by wandering_not_lost at 9:35 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's to be expected that the corporation will try to waste your time, but there's no need for you to capitulate by playing mindless games. Learn some poetry and recite it in your head. Use your phone, laptop, or paper notebook to keep the original texts to refer to if you get stuck. You can look at it as a game -- the poetry memorization game -- if that helps you, but in the end you'll have memorized poetry instead of just killed an hour of your life. I sometimes sit and write poems I've memorized so it looks like I'm taking copious notes about some network monitoring app when I'm really thinking about a damsel with a dulcimer and the milk of paradise.
posted by pracowity at 11:15 PM on August 24, 2012

I do mental origami.

I mentally fold or try to refold origami patterns I have learnt. For more complex patterns it is quite a challenge and it embeds them in my memory and significantly improves my visuospatial cognition.
posted by inbetweener at 12:22 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding imagining you have to repopulate the earth with someone(s) in the room. Rank your picks. (So glad I'm not the only one who does this.)

Nthing anagrams. Usually with the names of those at the meeting. (Irresistable if there are actual name plates). Secondary advantage: you look like you're taking notes.

Imagine the FBI determines a crime was committed during the meeting. You are asked two days later to describe where everyone was sitting, what they were wearing, etc. How much can you recall about people when not actually looking at them?

Math problems in your head. Write poetry or children's book rhymes. Make to-do lists.

Play Bullshit Bingo. A little advance preparation produces a 5x5 matrix populated with obnoxious jargon and meaningless buzzwords. Check them off as you hear them. Pretend that when you get 5 across, down or diagonally you are entitled to stand up and yell "Bullshit!" at the top of your voice. (Disclaimer: actually doing so does not enable user to stay employed.)
posted by wjm at 3:31 AM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I think about sex and food. Then when I go home, I usually know what to make for dinner.
posted by stoneandstar at 4:26 AM on August 25, 2012

re wjm ...
I encountered Bullshit Bingo in the auto industry ~97 or so. Well do I remember the first time I saw one completed. It was in a mtg of about 20, and the speaker said 'paradigm shift', and my friend Dinesh said in a low voice, 'Bing-oooo.' He had crossed off all 25 (no, not in that one meeting). Fun game and well-suited to the OP's need, IMO.
posted by LonnieK at 6:29 AM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Make up and solve Fermi estimation problems
posted by jpdoane at 1:56 PM on August 25, 2012

When I am in particularly boring meetings or situations, my favorite way to keep myself occupied is by mentally going through an entire deck of cards. I always begin with the two of hearts and visualize myself placing the card on a table. Three of hearts, four of hearts, five of hearts, etc. It's remarkably relaxing. This technique also works when I'm having trouble falling asleep.
posted by WaspEnterprises at 1:57 PM on August 25, 2012

Look at all the people around the table, around the room, imagine them as third graders.

See the women in little plaid shift dresses, and white ankle socks turned down, and their hair woven into braids down their back, and ribbons that their mother put into their hair that morning, their eyes bright as they raised their hand to present the answer to that one math problem.

Picture the men as little boys, what would they have looked like, maybe their hair slicked down but sticking up in back, wearing shined shoes and a white shirt and little ties and a sports jacket, freckled, maybe poking the kid next to them with a ruler, and sticking out his tongue, or laughing irrepressibly about a fart joke that someone had written down and passed to them.

Try in your mind to get into that third grade classroom, and determine who was the solemn girl, or the quiet eyed boy, which kid came from the real nice neighborhood and only later would everyone find out the violence in the home there, or the sexual abuse maybe. Try in your mind to see these people in your meeting as innocents, just stumbling through, another day at school.

This really helped me when I had to go to those meetings.

It kept me -- sometimes -- from hating Mike, wondering instead what'd happened to turn him into such a dickbrain, so manipulative, so desperately unhappy; you could easy see it in his eyes that he'd been a really gentle boy. It kept me from hating Jeanine, hating her even when I kind of loved her, and admired her strengths, which were awesome; seeing her in that third grade chair kept me from hating her, wondering just what in the hell happened -- you can easy see that she had bad skin in her past, in fact ravaged skin, did that hurt her so, then, was it maybe four years after third grade that acned pustules took over her face and shoulders no matter she gave up sugared foods and greasy foods and washed religiously and now she's on the outside, looking in at the cool kids, was it something as simple yet painful as that?

Seeing her as a third grader kept me -- sometimes -- from despising Lois, her phony Christianity, the religious leaning crap on her walls belying the fact that she'd shove a knife into people and then look out of her fat fucking face blandly, eyes clear, like "Whatever are you talking about?"

And how did Dennis, fun, fun Dennis, where did he get that irrepressible laugh, that outlandish optimism, that unbelievable style of happiness, or even joy maybe, the twinkle in his eye, taking on more work than the next three and always bringing it in on time and being hated for it by Mike and Jeanine, so busy were they at trying to destroy him that they couldn't do their own work.

Maybe seeing the third graders can help understand what drove Dennis and Jeanine to that doomed love affair, and how is it that Dennis ever possibly imagined to have found love or warmth in Jeanine's cold, embittered heart.

So try that maybe.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:34 PM on August 25, 2012 [18 favorites]

I bring paper, and use it to think with. Make lists of things I need to do at home, work out some conceptual problem for work, design a lid for the sandbox I built, list goals that I need to keep track of--there's always something going on in my head that I could use to get on paper temporarily to 'see' better.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 3:14 PM on August 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Excuse yourself to go to the bathroom.

Return and get your things after the meeting is over.

See if anyone notices.
posted by softlord at 3:52 PM on August 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

Meditation with the eyes open. Focus on your breath; air in, air out. Cooler as it goes in. Warmer as it goes out. Focus on how the chair feels. On how your feet feel touching the ground. Back to the chair. Back to the breath. Repeat.

Or claim "big deadline", and just skip most meetings. You'll either appear as an enormous slacker, or possibly as the hardest worker they know, depending on how you spin it.
posted by talldean at 6:04 AM on August 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I had to stop and comment before I read every answer because--where the hell does everyone else work that they can bring their phone or laptop to meetings?!? Or can ask to be excused?! I guess this says more about me than anyone else here, but at my work I am expected to either be participating, or at least actively listening. I can take notes, but there are certainly no cell phones (unless you're the CEO) or laptops, and there is no excuse for not being present, save for being absent that day.

That said--I occasionally doodle. Mostly I take sarcastic-ass notes in really illegible handwriting, like, "Oh cool you guys! New policy in accounting! It makes TOTAL SENSE to do it that way! Only not at all! Whee!" It makes me look like I'm listening, and since it makes me smile, I am masking my true contempt!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 11:25 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like to review disaster scenarios in my head and determine what I would do if those various scenarios happened RIGHT NOW while I am sitting in the meeting.

For example:

The "Fallout" Scenario: Crippling nuclear attack hits my country as I am sitting in the meeting, effectively ending modern civilization. Assuming my office building is relatively intact- what do I do? Where do I go? Who will I take with me? Which people probably have important survival skills for my team? (Jan used to be an EMT, Ronald grew up on a farm, etc...) Who would be a liability? (Doug has terrible asthma). What resources can I pilfer from my purse/my desk/the office building? Which of my coworkers would have a mental breakdown and which ones would be surprisingly resilient?

The "Zombie" Scenario: Zombies are swarming the city and my office building. Questions same as above, plus: how would I escape the building? Who would most likely be first to die? Who is the fastest runner? Who would be the most skilled with a weapon?

The "Snowed In" Scenario: What would I do if the office building was suddenly cut off due to a major blizzard? How long would the food in the office last? Where would the most comfortable sleeping surface be? What could we burn for fuel?

And yes, this fits in nicely with "who in this room/the company would I most likely have sex with if we had to repopulate the planet?"
posted by castlebravo at 2:33 PM on August 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Took me a while to re-find this, but Daily Corporate Meeting Challenge.
posted by inigo2 at 1:21 PM on August 28, 2012

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