N is for Neville who died of ennui while working a $10/hr temp job
August 29, 2012 11:54 AM   Subscribe

How can I entertain myself at a super boring temp job?

I just agreed to take a short temp assignment that's kind of unusual. It involves a whole lot of downtime and nothing to do during it. The temp agency lady said they needed someone who could "remain professional" during that downtime. I'm guessing she doesn't mean "refrain from performing an impromptu striptease on the table" but more like "no reading or using your smartphone".

There will be no computers for web surfing and I'm not sure if I'll be working with anyone else, so I may not even have anyone to converse with. I'm also assuming there won't be any extra work to do since it's not liking I'm filling in for someone in an ongoing role.

Assuming my assumptions are correct, how am I going to keep from going crazy? I can entertain myself with my own thoughts for about an hour or so but I have five days to fill. How do people like security guards do this kind of stuff day in and day out? Are there games you can play in your head?
posted by Jess the Mess to Work & Money (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: When you say "no computers for web surfing," do you mean "no computers at all," or just "no computers connected to the internet"? If it's the latter, you could always get a pdf of a book or something and read that way.

If it's the former, a lot of people listen to the radio. Even my secretary usually has it on very quietly.

Barring that, there's always meditation...
posted by valkyryn at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Get a pad of paper or a notebook and start writing. Anything that comes to mind, be it poems or stories or your memoirs. Keep writing, even if it's not making sense, and even if you think it's no fun. Eventually, you'll have something you didn't even know you could write.
posted by xingcat at 12:01 PM on August 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

When I was a security guard, it was okay if we read books - I went through stacks of books every week.
posted by rmd1023 at 12:04 PM on August 29, 2012

I think you're overthinking the "remain professional" part. The fact of the matter is that they have acknowledged that there will be downtime. Professional during downtime means that you remain available to actually do your job when it manifests, not that you enter a state of suspended animation. A little more detail about what you'll be doing could help us suggest things that you can do that wont actually interfere with your job duties.
posted by jph at 12:05 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

You should probably wait until you start, and see what options are actually available. It might be a lot less dire than you think. You also could actually ask your recruiter what "remain professional" means to them. It's probably fine to read. Have a bag with you on your first day with a couple of books, your smartphone, and a magazine or two. Ask whoever you report to what they're ok with.
posted by clone boulevard at 12:06 PM on August 29, 2012

I asked a similar question a few years ago! My job involved standing outside, but some of the suggestions might help.
posted by showbiz_liz at 12:09 PM on August 29, 2012

Best answer: I like crossword puzzles, they can be folded easily on your desk and worked quietly.

Reading trade magazines or publications might be okay, the newspaper, Barrons, any business publication.

An e-reader could be considered professional. It's not a lurid paperback that anyone who pops in on you can see. You could read 50 Shades of Gray and no one would be the wiser.

Here are things I did at jobs I had before there was an internet:

1. Compile lists. Lists of things I needed to do around the house. Lists of outfit combinations. Lists of things to toss in the next spring cleaning. Lists of my bills, and how I planned to pay them. Christmas gift lists. Lists of things I wanted to accomplish. I like lists.

2. Wrote and re-wrote my resume.

3. Journaling.

4. Paper clip sculptures.

Seriously, I think an e-reader would be fine.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:10 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you really can't have anything in front of you, could you try audiobooks on an iPod or similar device? It's very easy to conceal one earbud (if you have longish hair, at least) and it might help keep you sane. Also, one earbud = you remain cognizant of your surroundings, which might be important.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:13 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

For 8 years I wrote educational essays for the school outreach program for a theater company in Scranton. Every single one of those essays (about 150 in all) was written during down time at a desk at one temp job or another.

Even if you're just writing for yourself, try that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on August 29, 2012

To me, anything that you're hiding (e.g. earbuds) reads as much less professional than, say, having an issue of the New Yorker or an e-reader on the desk in front of you. If you're at a desk. If you *are* allowed to read, make sure you don't pick anything too absorbing - when I used to supervise work-study students in a customer service situation I actually preferred the ones that screwed around on TMZ to the ones that did their homework... the ones doing their homework got too into it!

Otherwise, yeah, writing and lists. You can even make up arithmetic problems or something. If you can't even write, try running through the plots of favorite novels and movies in as much detail as possible. But they ought to let you have *something* - what's "professional" about sitting at an empty table and staring into the distance?
posted by mskyle at 12:25 PM on August 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

I used to write stories in my head when I was a receptionist, then spend my lunchtimes hurriedly jotting down my ideas. I got some rather interesting plot lines going and it became a bit like a rolling movie behind my eyes.
posted by wwax at 12:42 PM on August 29, 2012

Do you have access to a computer at all (just not for web surfing)? At temp jobs where I've had to "look professional" (this was in the days pre-Kindle) I would go to Word, Excel or Powerpoint and teach myself new skills. Some places had tutorials included in their MS Office or other software package and I'd take my downtime to brush up on my admin skills.

Otherwise, I'd bring my e-reader and look at books.

(Incidentally, I do remember a job - years ago - where I was expected to remain in "suspended animation" when there was nothing to do. I mean, just sit at the desk, hands folded, staring into space. I didn't last a day on that job and I later learned that they went through a LOT of temps. I can't think why!)
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:02 PM on August 29, 2012

It's easier for supervisors to start strict and then be flexible. Apparently someone actually gave my supervisor grief over expecting them to work when they were toooooooold there would be lots of dooooooowntiiiiiiime. Now it's a favor from her (given to everyone) rather than an expectation from her temps that she provide reading/homework time.

Be prepared with reading material for slow times, but definitely ask if there's anything else you can help with first, then ask about books/etc.
posted by BigJen at 1:56 PM on August 29, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, all. To answer a few questions:

It is a customer-facing position but the customers are few and far between.

I'm pretty sure there is no computer at all.

I'll definitely come prepared with some books, logic puzzles, pen and paper and my iphone in the hopes that their definition of professionalism is less strict than I originally interpreted but, like Rosie, I've had some crazy temp jobs before where they don't have anything for you to do and really just expect you to sit around and stare all day on the off chance the phone rings. I don't remember what I did in those situations, apart from hate every interminable minute of it.
posted by Jess the Mess at 2:16 PM on August 29, 2012

Are you allowed to get up and move about? When I had job like this I had a nice routine:
1. Walk to water fountain with water, fill bottle, walk back to desk. (kills up to 5 minutes)
2. Drink water. (Kills another 5 minutes)
3. Wait 20 minutes.
4. Pee and then return to desk. (Kills 5 minutes)
posted by croutonsupafreak at 4:31 PM on August 29, 2012

Print out a list of facts and memorize them. Sometimes I just wrote whatever it was on a sticky note and posted it in front of me. After a stint as a receptionist, I had worked my way through: digits of Pi (as many as you can). The NATO phonetic alphabet. Keyboard shortcuts for commonly used ASCII characters, or MS Office. The Greek alphabet. Hiragana. Hanggul.

Next on my list: Morse code. Braille. Capitals, states, countries. Scrabble 2- and 3- letter words. Element names. Favorite poems. etc.
posted by pimli at 2:45 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

I studied a language.
posted by spec80 at 6:10 AM on August 30, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any update?
posted by jph at 12:11 PM on September 10, 2012

Response by poster: I just saw your request, jph...as it turns out I was able to get away with reading blogs on my phone the whole time.
posted by Jess the Mess at 3:58 PM on September 21, 2012

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