Time Enough At Last?
September 18, 2014 11:52 AM   Subscribe

What are jobs that would allow for nearly unlimited downtime? How do you go about finding one?

I have a weird workplace fantasy of having a job that would essentially pay me to do nothing. "Nothing" meaning surfing the internet, watching TV or movies, or reading books and magazines. Maybe occasionally there would be someone to help or some button to push, but 90% of the job time would be downtime. You wouldn't even have to look busy, just as long as whatever the job is gets done. Do such jobs even exist? Toll collector at a non-busy road springs to mind, but maybe I'm underestimating how much time they really spend interacting with people. Receptionist at a very non-busy firm might also fit the bill. What other jobs can I fantasize about running off to?

(FYI--I do like my job, just sometimes I feel like I don't have enough time to mindlessly look at the internet or read and it would be nice to earn a paycheck just for doing such things.)
posted by Fuego to Work & Money (94 answers total) 154 users marked this as a favorite
 
Night clerk at a hotel. Brandon Sanderson took that job in college and would use the time to write novels. I think he says that he wrote multiple novels working the overnight desk.
posted by bove at 11:53 AM on September 18, 2014 [25 favorites]


Network Operations Center monitor, basically monitor network uptime and swing into action when something goes down. Since that rarely happens you typically do nothing all day.

Coworker used to do map correction for Google Maps. He said he had loads of downtime.
posted by hellojed at 11:55 AM on September 18, 2014 [5 favorites]


Night shift at an academic library open late or overnight.
posted by pullayup at 11:56 AM on September 18, 2014 [16 favorites]


Depending on the community, moderation can be like that. The counterbalance is those times when you get to soak up a firehose of emotion and not let it affect you at all, and you're run off your fingers dealing with it. Also, with few exceptions (and no, you can't have my job) it tends to pay relatively poorly.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


There's a currency exchange desk at a local mall (Burlington, MA), which is not near any airport or international anything. In ten years, I've never once seen the young employee with a customer.
posted by Melismata at 12:09 PM on September 18, 2014 [9 favorites]


Security desk/receptionist at a small office or office building.
posted by bleep at 12:13 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


There are a lot of security jobs that are like this (although of course many who are not), particularly security jobs where your role is to man a rarely used gate.
posted by anastasiav at 12:17 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Night shift may be key here. My husband used to have that kind of freedom doing overnight network operation center monitoring (like hellojed says) but when he moved to days the rules were way different. The work was just as mindless but during the day they weren't allowed to play games or watch any videos because "a customer may come in."
posted by cabingirl at 12:21 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm an executive assistant to high level people and my job has been like that at times - once when I worked for a guy who had never had an assistant before and didn't know what to do with me, sometimes in my current role when everybody I work for is traveling, etc.

Just an FYI, it ain't all it's cracked up to be. It gets mind-numbing pretty quick.
posted by something something at 12:24 PM on September 18, 2014 [16 favorites]


Night security guard at an office.

I once was part of liquidating a regulated bankrupt firm and there were days, lots of them where we sat around waiting for a court ruling before we could push a few buttons and move cash here or there.
posted by 724A at 12:26 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I worked night shift through college at a museum. I was the only one in the building, locked in with motion alarms on the doors and windows. I read, watched movies, did internet stuff, slept, threw a tennis ball up in the air and caught it again and threw it again and caught it again, ordered 3am pizza to be delivered through an unalarmed window, ate pizza, tried to re-learn how to do cartwheels, watched more movies, slept, occasionally did some homework.

It was pretty great.
posted by phunniemee at 12:29 PM on September 18, 2014 [65 favorites]


Coworker used to do map correction for Google Maps.

Family member got fired for working too slowly doing map correction for google maps...
posted by arnicae at 12:32 PM on September 18, 2014 [7 favorites]


Lighthouse keeper?
posted by janey47 at 12:34 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Overnight parking lot attendant at a parking garage (i.e., where one pays to park). You get a nice warm little booth and very little business.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:35 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, contract security. My brother in law once worked at an account and his only post order was to watch a door via CCTV. If that door opened for any reason, call so-and-so. He worked there for six years and never had to make that call.

His time was spent 100% watching TV and reading books, for six years. Then one day the management realized they didn't need him to watch the door anymore once the building was sold.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2014 [6 favorites]


The economy may be tight enough now that these jobs are hard to get, but when I was in college I worked for a temp agency and specified short term (1-5 day) receptionist gigs. You had to answer the phone and talk to the people who came to the desk, but they didn't bother to train you with any of the receptionist's other jobs because you were there for such a short amount of time.
posted by MsMolly at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


P.S. It paid him well, too, for the industry. $16/hr.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:36 PM on September 18, 2014


2nding night shift in an academic library. Holy shit is there nothing to do.
posted by jabes at 12:37 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Um, as someone who's volunteered to help a lighthouse keeper, I'm always Thrilled to come rest in my cubicle at work after volunteering out there - it's hard work. It should be noted that there aren't any more coast guard lighthouse keeper jobs (well, one, but she's the busy one I help). And even at less busy lighthouses, they can often get people to help for no pay, and I'm sure there's still a lot of the maintenance work that we do. So I'd recommend security, NOC, or night work before I'd recommend lighthouse keeper.
posted by ldthomps at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


I had a summer job at a gift-wrap counter in a small department store. There was a whole lotta downtime, although not 90%, and I was allowed to sit and read. I loved that job.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:46 PM on September 18, 2014


I worked at a school-run computer help/repair facility in college. We were pretty busy repairing computers and rescuing user data around midterms and finals. But the rest of the time, 85-90% of the time, people would just watch Netflix or do homework. Occasionally you had to go out front and help someone set up their wireless account or install Word or something.
posted by topoisomerase at 12:49 PM on September 18, 2014


One of my favorite jobs was working in a well-staffed independent bookstore during college, where I had plenty of time to read entire novels during a shift.
posted by three_red_balloons at 1:03 PM on September 18, 2014


Piano store in a mall. I got maybe 7 customers in a week. It was nominally commission work - I got paid minimum wage, but got a fat bonus if I sold a piano. I sold about three a month, which turns out to be quite good. At the time, it meant I had roughly 3 hours of work out of 120 I was on the clock.
posted by stoneweaver at 1:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [8 favorites]


Being at an organisation in it's first year can be like that, ironically - you'd think there'd be shit loads to do.
posted by tanktop at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2014 [4 favorites]


I once met an electrician for an auto manufacturing plant that described his job as 'babysitting robots,' and said there was generally nothing to do unless something went wrong.
posted by jon1270 at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2014


I have a friend who works IT at an insurance company. They had a network go down once at night, got incessant calls about it, and now they staff night shift network monitors. My friend has a paint set he brings in.
posted by aggyface at 1:20 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


RE security jobs: One kind of security job where this happens is when a new plant is being set up and they need round-the-clock security but the manufacturing plant isn't yet up and running. A friend of the family got paid to basically sleep at a place like that overnight. I think she walked the grounds once an hour or something and otherwise just tried to stay warm. (I would go with my parents sometimes to bring her coffee and hot soup or whatever -- the place was pretty barren and my dad knew the guy setting up the company. This was before Internet. Nowadays, I imagine she would be sitting there with a tablet for parts of her shift.)

There is also the not-quite-kosher "build your own" option:

I knew someone who took a job at a big library putting away books. She found out how many books, on average, most people with the job put away in a day. She learned the library layout super well, spent about an hour or two putting away a little more than the average number of books, and then sat in the stacks and read for the rest of the day.

I have also read stories of hackers who came up with a way to automate their job by writing a bit of code and spent like an hour a week working while getting paid for the whole week.

Of course, this approach can sometimes get people fired.
posted by Michele in California at 1:23 PM on September 18, 2014 [14 favorites]


Night shift at a small group home was like this for my partner. Will nth that it's not as much fun as you think...the fun gets old, the staying awake sucks, and you're ruined the next day. Night shift is hard on your body, and it was hard on our relationship. But yeah... He got paid (extra!) to mostly do nothing.

I've also had retail jobs where there was genuinely nothing to do, but culturally there was always pressure to "find something" (they are paying you!) and a fear that a customer would see me reading (ha. We'd have had to have one in the first place!). The two of us cleaned the clean store over and over; occasionally took turns goofing while the other kept a look out. Anyway, this too sucked and is something to watch out for!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:24 PM on September 18, 2014 [2 favorites]


Only job I had like this was night security. It was a local public pool and essentially all the job entailed was having good enough hearing to hear the splash of the water when teenagers broke in to attempt to swim. Then you'd have to go yell at them and case them off.

It was profoundly boring. Lots of time to read and watch movies, but that gets old very fast (for me).

If I were you I'd aim for a security job that let's you be in one place to observe the whole area you're securing.
posted by beep-bop-robot at 1:29 PM on September 18, 2014


Depending on the industry, working for a non-profit/private corporation as a grant writer or proposal writer can mean lots of paid downtime, particularly if the proposals are written in response to government agency requests.
posted by LOLAttorney2009 at 2:08 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Waking night shift in a small care home is pretty cruisy, as jrobin276 says. I wrote my Honours thesis while doing so, and you get penalty rates for working nights. Great gig.
posted by goo at 2:17 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I sold tickets at a local theatre. After the ticket selling was done, I had to sit at the desk during the performance and monitor the building security. Then, after the show was over, I said "Thank you, good night" to everyone and then locked the doors and went home. I got a lot of homework done!
posted by chainsofreedom at 3:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [3 favorites]


Sales in a "model house" type of thing, someone is expected to be there if a client comes along, and you'd have to be good at it in order to keep the job, but there's a lot of down time in those types of places.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 3:20 PM on September 18, 2014


Forest ranger? Y'know, the kind who lives atop one of those really tall platforms occasionally looking through binoculars for fires?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:22 PM on September 18, 2014


I always thought being a firefighter at an airport would be really cool, I don't know much about it at all, but the impression I get is that there's a lot of down time, some training that looks really fun, and a very small chance of anything going wrong (though obviously you'd have to be ready if it did).
posted by Ned G at 4:34 PM on September 18, 2014


Overnight babysitting. Once the kids are in bed, and parents often do that part, you're usually done.
posted by metasarah at 6:16 PM on September 18, 2014


House sitter?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:21 PM on September 18, 2014


Forest ranger? Y'know, the kind who lives atop one of those really tall platforms occasionally looking through binoculars for fires?

The Forest Service and other land management organizations still have a few seasonally-manned lookouts, but during fire season you will be spending a lot of time intensely looking for smokes and coordinating with local resources (e.g. helping people triangulate the fire on the ground).

Other lookouts have part or full-time staff that are mostly focused on visitor engagement, so that would also be another busy job.
posted by arnicae at 7:07 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


I LOVE this question. Clearly there are many more options than I had ever dreamed of.
One I've seen is a 1-man job running a small warehouse or distribution center, e.g. auto parts. You do a little work -- you do it well, of course -- and you have hours of downtime.
posted by LonnieK at 7:24 PM on September 18, 2014


Evening babysitting.
posted by kjs4 at 7:34 PM on September 18, 2014 [1 favorite]


Homeless shelter night shift.

24/7 gym night shift.
posted by aniola at 7:36 PM on September 18, 2014


I know someone who worked for the national swine flu hotline (UK) when swine flu was a big thing, and they got so few calls that apparently they just sat around all day reading and playing cards. So, hotline operator for an unpopular line might do the trick.
posted by terretu at 7:14 AM on September 19, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the answers, everyone! There's a lot here that I hadn't even considered. However, being a somewhat petite female, I am pretty sure being a security guard or working a night shift alone will probably remain a fantasy. :(

But manning a hotline or being a firefighter or working at an unpopular store or service sounds pretty great. Someday...
posted by Fuego at 7:39 AM on September 19, 2014


Security guard is more realistic than firefighter for a petite female. Women firefighters have to lift weights regularly in order to be capable of doing a fireman's carry as part of their job. A big guy can do a fireman's carry without necessarily working out to maintain his strength. The primary value in a security guard is simply their presence. I have known more than one woman who took a night shift security guard. That kind of thing is a little like overnight babysitting, just for a building rather than a child.
posted by Michele in California at 9:56 AM on September 19, 2014 [5 favorites]


Yeah. About half of the security guards are petite females at the large corporation where I work. Their jobs seem to consist of greeting people at the entrance for about an hour as people come into work, and calling cabs at the end of the day, while surfing the internet, or watching the security cams, also while probably surfing the internet. If something did go wrong, their job would be to call the police. And that's the day shift.
posted by catatethebird at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2014 [2 favorites]


Thanks for the answers, everyone! There's a lot here that I hadn't even considered. However, being a somewhat petite female, I am pretty sure being a security guard or working a night shift alone will probably remain a fantasy. :(

Much security is not big, burly dudes. My manager in contract security was 5'5", 85 pounds soaking wet, fake blond hair, and lots of make-up. Before management, when she was 18-21 years old, she worked overnight, empty construction sites, in the dark. She loved it. Security is all about observe and report, not take-downs and bringing someone into a holding cell...
posted by TinWhistle at 10:33 AM on September 19, 2014 [4 favorites]


In my teens I worked evenings and weekends at an art museum in a small town. The job involved selling tickets and postcards, and walking through the whole building every now and again. There were always two of us working together, but you only needed one to sell tickets. So there was 50% downtime right there. And when I sat at the front, most days very few people came, so I could just sit there with a book and read most of the time. Or chat with the other one working if both were feeling social.

I guess this is sort of in the realm of the currency exchange desk or hotel night clerk mentioned above. I've also heard from a friend who worked nights at a gas station that he basically just sat watching TV all the time.
posted by bjrn at 10:39 AM on September 19, 2014


I used to work night shift in a train depot warehouse. Things I did at work:

Build a sit of Roman armour out of packing materials (and red train paint)

Ran laps of the warehouse

Build a gym out of train parts and worked out

Watched all of the wire

Played dwarf fortress for 11 straight hours

Made a flying hammock out of a body bag and a street crane (I'd nap in it and if anyone came for parts of fly myself over to where they were)

Taught myself to drive a forklift (until I crashed into, and destroyed, a set of stairs)

Learned the skills I needed for my next job.

It also paid really well. I had petite girl colleagues also. And no qualifications needed.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 8:23 AM on September 20, 2014 [42 favorites]


Hm, I thought security guard was a bit more active in terms of defending the property but guess not. So that could still be in the running! And firefighter--well, let's just say I work out and lift enough that when I looked at the physical requirements for NYC I said to myself, "That's it? Really?"

If anyone in New York needs an overnight security guard, memail me. :)
posted by Fuego at 10:31 AM on September 20, 2014 [3 favorites]


One summer in university my job was bomb thrower. Well, it probably had a less 1930s-anarchist title that I have forgotten, but I worked in a steel mill, one floor above the big furnaces. I had a little air-conditioned shack with a table and bench (instant bed), a water fountain and a PA.

Once every hour or two, the PA would squawk to life: "Bomb in number three, please." I would walk along to the the designated hatch above one of the three furnaces -- the lid on a telephone-pole-caliber chute hollow tube that ended at chest height -- plug in the bomb (this was a temperature sensor the size of a grapefruit on fifty feet of cord, the other end of which got plugged into a jack) and drop the bomb down the chute so it could register the temperature in the furnace. The PA would warble, "Good bomb, thank you," or maybe one time in twenty, "Bad bomb. Give us another, please." Once the control station gave me the verdict, I would unplug the bomb and drop the cord into the furnace after it. My duty thus dispatched, I would return to my air-conditioned shack and read or nap or whatever. Something like fifteen minutes' work in an eight hour shift.

It is embarrassing to think how well I was paid for this that one summer. I looked at an inflation calculator, plugged in my wages from then when I was eighteen and learned that adjusted for inflation, it was about twice what my decent middle-class white-collar job now pays.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:04 AM on September 20, 2014 [36 favorites]


I suspect this job isn't easy to get but I worked overnight customer support for a failing company that was terrified to give us any tools to actually solve things. We had a script of things we could do along the lines of "Reboot" and "Try updating your drivers" but otherwise we just bumped it up the chain to them and they'd periodically close out all those tickets because "Looking at them was so depressing." The rest of the time we read, watched movies, played games, whatever. I wrote novels, plural, while doing that job. It was great and I miss it a lot.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:00 PM on September 20, 2014


A friend of my brother's was a graveyard shift security guard at a warehouse. His nominal responsibility was to sit at a desk watching a camera and make rounds once in a while. He tried to game the gig by coming, clocking in, setting an alarm and going to sleep, waking up with the alarm and clocking out when he was relieved. This worked well until he slept through the alarm and was woken by the next shift. So don't do that.
posted by plinth at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2014


Security guard is more realistic than firefighter for a petite female.

FWIW, I'm an extremely petite female and have made my living working as a firefighter since the 90s. Smaller women in fire is more common than you think, on the municipal/structural side and particularly on the wildland side of the fence.
posted by arnicae at 2:08 PM on September 20, 2014 [14 favorites]


My dad is a stationary engineer at a pharmaceutical plant.

I like to make cracks about how he's always stationary, but what it means is that he walks around the factory at night, make sure all the boilers and everything are still good, and then he has a few hours to goof off.

He gets a lot of reading done. He also spends a lot of time on the Internet - not too much, because they check it, but it gives him a chance to send me messages or check baseball stats or something similar.
posted by Katemonkey at 2:18 PM on September 20, 2014


Oh and one more word for weekend/overnight security guard: our security guard for our building is ALWAYS goofing off/hanging out/getting Subway across the street/dozing during overnight and weekend shifts. I have frequently scared the heck out of him startling him out of a doze at 4:00 p.m. on a Saturday. This is definitely a position in which you can hang out.
posted by arnicae at 4:05 PM on September 20, 2014


Custodian at the Earth Room.
posted by progosk at 3:29 AM on September 21, 2014


Night shift at a small group home was like this for my partner.

A friend in college had a job like that, but he was allowed to sleep on the job. He just had to be on the premises and able to wake up and handle emergencies. About once a month someone would go off their meds and he'd have to be up all night dealing with the ambulance and the police and a bunch of paperwork, but otherwise he got paid to do his homework and then sleep. He rented a place because of the two nights/week he didn't work, but it probably would have been cheaper for him to just stay in a motel for those two nights.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:21 AM on September 21, 2014


Being a temp office worker frequently put me in situations with nothing to do for hours on end; either because I was the receptionist in a remote office full of researchers or engineers so no guests ever arrived, or because the staff were wary of giving any work to the replacement who wasn't going to be around for long enough to justify the effort of teaching anything.

The lesser downside was the occasional plummeting sensation when being demanded to do things according to office customs I didn't understand. The greater downside was trying not to be bored out my wits: despite having nothing to do, for most assignments I could't do anything that didn't look like work for the client. Bringing my own books or homework would have cost me the gig and made it harder to get future jobs from the agency.

On the other hand, at least once I (and about a dozen other people) were hired to make an office look occuped for a corporate investor visit or similar reason. The stated premise of our assignment -- to keep their own books looking legitimate I guess, even if it had little to do with reality -- was to do a specific set of tasks we were going to be trained on and then perform. After a couple days of not getting trained on the task, even when we asked, we established our daily routines of interpersonal gossip and alone time for reading and homework. None of us ever encountered any of the company's permanent staff other than the receptionist and whomever was in the break room or rest rooms when one of us were. We were allowed to bring our own reading materials but had to put them away when asked. We were even dismissed before the assigned two weeks were up but paid for the full period anyway. Best job.
posted by at by at 5:50 AM on September 21, 2014


I'll answer this when I get into work.
posted by fullerine at 8:30 AM on September 21, 2014 [19 favorites]


On the continuing theme of overnight work, in college we had a "dorm attendant" who sat at a desk at the one door you could enter the dorm through at night, and basically her job was to call 911 when someone had alcohol poisoning, call housekeeping when someone puked in the common areas, and to glare at drunken frat-boy types trying to make trouble. 99% of bad college-student behavior is opportunistic and deterred by there just being an adult there watching, so she didn't really have to do anything. She had a radio for campus security and the local cops, and a phone for calling on-site dorm staff; her responsibility was literally to sit there and be a deterrent, not take charge of any situations at all.

The weekday lady painted elaborate landscapes or read books; the weekend lady alternated between knitting and needlepointing. (They were both grandmothers, actually.) The boredom was broken up by chatting with students as they came and went, and as it was a smallish dorm (280?) they knew all of us and we knew them and if you were really restless trying to finish a paper late at night they were always up for some complaining.

It didn't pay terrifically well, but it did come with benefits, including reduced tuition for family members, and I believe they were in the campus custodial/secretarial union.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:20 AM on September 21, 2014 [5 favorites]


This obviously has some risks, but I worked as a lifeguard during college at our university pool as well as at several apartment pools and was always free to read as much as I wanted.

I never really felt completely comfortable with not watching the swimmers, but read and read anyway.

The only scare I had was once when a swimmer interrupted me asking , alarmed, 'is that what I think it is at the bottom of the pool?'

I ran to the edge of the pool expecting to see a drowned customer and imagining the investigation and subsequent jail time, but the women was only concerned about what she suspected was a turd laying on the bottom. Relieved, I poked it with our rescue hook (the only time, in my entire life guard career, that I ever used any life saving equipment at all) and determined that the object of concern was a lost hair scrunchy.
posted by jazh at 11:49 AM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


A friend in college had a job like that, but he was allowed to sleep on the job

It's unusual for that type of shift (known as a sleep-in shift) to be well paid though. It's usually two shifts with a sleep-in in between, and you'll get like £30 for the whole sleep-in part, not an hourly rate. Waking night is where the money's at.
posted by goo at 12:47 PM on September 21, 2014


As other people have indicated, night shift jobs are very good for this. I was a "dispatch clerk" at a grocery warehouse for about a year and this job fits your criteria to the T. 90% of the time I sat around in front of a large bank of computer printers reading books, working on my laptop, etc.

The other 10% of the time when the printers went off I took the resulting paperwork (which represented the inventory of a truck heading out to supermarkets around the region), checked it quickly and then put said paperwork into an envelope, and said envelope into the correct mail slot where someone would come and pick it up.

Pay was lousy and the effort involved was next to none but I had copious free time to do whatever I wanted. I worked both the night shift and day shift and the thing to keep in mind is that if you are working for *any* company larger than say 50 employees, you will likely have less freedom during the day shift for appearances sake.
posted by jeremias at 1:31 PM on September 21, 2014


Typically, considering my comment above, I've actually been quite busy tonight.

From my long years at these types of jobs (I hate the 9-5 grind) I've found there's a sweet spot between simple warm-body jobs where you just have to be there but the pay isn't usually great, and better paid but less down-time jobs where you are the same as day staff but just working at night.

That sweet spot usually has the word operations in the title.

Those machines of loving grace actually need some watching over themselves and this is where operations come in.

They have many different names; Operations Centre, Command Centre, Bridge, Hub but they're where the nocturnal or the anti-social among us read Metafilter, watch films, play games or read/write books. From my experience the the determining factor of how good a job you can get is less to do with the size of a company than how well they are run. Good processes, good infrastructure and good tools will create an environment where even when you are called on to work it is without the frustration and annoyance that can spoil a good thing.

Unfortunately I haven't heard of one that's well-run yet but if I do I'll let you know ;)
posted by fullerine at 5:56 PM on September 21, 2014 [9 favorites]


As a projectionist in a multiplex I did do about twenty minutes of work over a 45-60 minute start cycle, but after that there would be about a 60-90 minute block of down time. I had this job in college. I did all of my studying in those blocks. Getting the shift to make up or break down the incoming / outgoing films did require that I work most of my shift that week.
posted by safetyfork at 6:33 PM on September 21, 2014


I used to have a summer job flame-packing, that is, walking along natural gas lines with a detector checking for gas leaks. A two person operation, walking about half a kilometer apart. I would always volunteer to be in the rear, holding a device that sent a signal along the line for the detector in the lead. That way all I had to do was hang back and follow the lead person's footsteps. I would walk 10-15 km a day through open farmers' fields, with nothing to do but look at the scenery (and fend off the odd dog or cow.) Over the summer we would maybe find two or three leaks. It was so peaceful and you got some good exercise as well.
posted by brappi at 11:31 PM on September 21, 2014 [2 favorites]


I work overnight security now. It can be an extremely low-stress job if you're at the right place. And the first thing they tell you during your one day of training is that it is primarily a customer service job, and that most of the purpose of security guards is to be seen.

Lots of petite women do this job; one former co-worker of mine was, in her own words, "almost four-eleven." If you work the evening or overnight shift, you're less likely to see a lot of people. On a larger site, you're probably not the only guard, and you'll have a radio. In a small building, you might not even have to do rounds, and you'll probably be locked inside.

The pay rate is all over the place, at least for the company I work for; the owner of the building, or the management company, contracts with the security company, and you may get paid minimum wage, or you may get paid several dollars over that. If you can afford to, you could do a lot worse for 90% down-time jobs.

I did NaNoWriMo last year, and did 99% of the writing at work.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 1:38 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


I once worked nights as a human scarecrow. My job was to prevent auto theft by standing tall under a streetlight - nothing more, nothing less. It was a quite nice gig, I read a lot of books and I like to think that my presence at least averted one break-in.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 4:51 AM on September 22, 2014


During high school and college, I worked at my local airport as a lineman/front desk guy/general gofer and despite the many hats there was a lot of downtime, especially if the weather was bad. We had a lot of amenities that I had to be in charge of (not only the incoming aircraft, but tenants' hangars, a pool I had to take admission charges for, a motel, a little gift shop...), but most small airports don't have all that stuff. So, I spent most of my time sitting around until someone asked for fuel and occasionally I would ring up a bill for someone.

Bad weather meant no one was flying or at the pool or doing anything else I might need to be involved in, so I spent all day watching the Weather Channel and drinking coffee. I brought books in to read and played a lot of solitaire on the computer.

Ironically, the busiest day I ever had at that job was due to bad weather. We had some really bad rains the night before and a levy at the head of this chain of man-made lakes burst, causing a cascading failure of all the levies down this whole network of lakes and streams. There was flooding everywhere, and I was the only person who was able to actually make it to work that day. All the news helicopters for the local TV stations were out reporting on it, and I spent all morning refueling helicopters nonstop.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:27 AM on September 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


Seasonal jobs during the slow season. Like a bike shop in the winter, or a retail shop at a summer destination national park in the winter. Usually you get these jobs by being the person who sticks around after the busy season.
posted by aniola at 7:46 AM on September 22, 2014


a bike shop in the winter...you get these jobs by being the person who sticks around after the busy season

As a seasonal bike shop employee, my experience has been the opposite. I work as a part-time tech from May through late September, and take winters off (I also work full-time in an IT-ish position in an academic library). I've done it for three years now and expect to go back for a fourth.

The staff that works all year are the lead techs, the ones who have put ten or more full time years at our shop. These are the people who I defer to when I run into an iffy judgement call or a super-uncommon procedure--they're like walking Sutherland's Handbooks. We do it like this because there is *no way* that we could attract and retain techs with this level of skill and experience if we expected them to take winters off--bike mechanics are underpaid anyway, and asking them to scrabble for a job at UPS or Crate & Barrel over the winter or maintain a second part-time job year-round would be bonkers. Or, really, we would just wind up having a rotating staff of inexperienced techs.

The major exception is the kind of shop where the skilled mechanic is also the owner--but then she's the one who works all winter.
posted by pullayup at 1:20 PM on September 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


For about 18 months I had a job where I oversaw the testing of computer repair technicians. When a new spec would be released they would have to take and pass a test. They got three tries. If they failed the online test three times, they had to send an e-mail to a mailbox that I staffed. I would then click a button and unlock three more tries for them. At the end of the week I was to run a report and show how many of each test were attempted, passed, failed, etc.

My service level agreement for this job was 24 hours.

That means that I had 24 hours to reset a test for a field rep. If they sent me an email at 3pm on Friday, it had to be reset by 3pm on Monday. Also, I discovered that you could get the online tool to reset the test to spit out the results in a CSV format, so you could do a quick copy/paste into Excel, make a pivot table, and then deliver a report (with graphs! and charts!) in like 5 minutes.

The first month of this job was murder. I would see an email come in, click the button to reset the test, and then go back to looking busy at my desk.

Then my boss got fired.

I went without a boss for about 3 months, and then finally my department was merged with another department, and when I had a 1x1 meeting with my new boss, she asked me "So what do you like most about your position?" and I said "The thing I like most about it is that it gives me the flexibility to work from home. That means I can always meet my service level."

For the next 14 months I worked from home.

I would wake up, make breakfast for my wife, clean the house, do a little laundry, walk the dog, then I would go for a 5-hour bike ride. I'd come home, shower, nap, and then work for about an hour to empty the mailbox of requests that were approaching 24 hours.

It was amazing.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 2:21 PM on September 23, 2014 [78 favorites]


Once I was seasonal check-in clerk at a State Park campground. During the summer, all week, I'd show up at noon, do nothing* all day, and then check folks in when they showed up (usually from 4-8) and go home. If someone came in late, I'd check them in when I first showed up.** Weekends and holidays were kind of busy, but weekdays were slow and since my primary job was to be there for the campers, I'd bring a guitar or a book and be visible on the front porch of the check-in station in case anything happened.***

I still miss that job. Partially because I did nothing, but partially because most of my campers during the week were archeologists and archeology college students working and researching at the state park, and they are the best people in the world to hang with when you're a bored teenager.

*Only valid for certain non-zero values of nothing. I did also have to clean the bathrooms, and pick up trash, but I could do that in a leisurely hour or two. Some days I'd come in and the cleaner would still be in the toilets from the day before, and so I merely had to go look in all the stalls to satisfy myself that the bathroom was still clean.

**See, not quite nothing.

***It never did.

posted by 1f2frfbf at 3:03 PM on September 23, 2014 [5 favorites]


A friend of mine got his Masters' in Mechanical Engineering (so, yeah, expensive degree) then got hired straight out of school to go to San Diego to do quality control audit/monitoring for pool robot installations. Oh and the fact that he was fluent in both German and English I think was part of the requirements for the deal, since the parent company was based in like Switzerland or something.

so (wait for it) he got paid an insane amount of money, like solid six figures, just to lie around customer's pools all day to make sure the robots worked properly. And work on his tan.

of course it goes without saying these sorts of jobs are insanely rare.

anyhow, he's in his mid 40s now and retired. dude totally won at the GenX Slacker gig for life and I adore him for it, well that and I'm insanely jealous, mind.
posted by lonefrontranger at 5:05 PM on September 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


In 2001 I worked for BP in London, moving office equipment like chairs between their three offices. I worked about 50% of the time, the rest of the time I sat with my coworker in a van in a carpark and read the Guardian cover to cover every day. Even the sports section and I have no interest in sport.

I hated it but the guy I worked with loved it. It was fairly well paid and we got a free lunch at the very well appointed staff canteen every day.
posted by deadwax at 9:43 PM on September 23, 2014


Sometimes the code takes reeaaalllyyyy long to compile. Or that SQL query, damn. It's just massive, ya know? Gonna be awhile before it's done...
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:28 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


A friend had a job where he had to babysit servers overnight. He had no technical skills, he just had to make sure nothing went catastrophically wrong and call a number to rouse whatever poor engineer was on call that evening if something did go wrong.

Nothing ever went wrong.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:44 AM on September 24, 2014 [3 favorites]


Home alarm monitor/dispatcher. (I mean that you monitor residential alarms, not that you do it from home.) It's not totally event-free, since sometimes thunderstorms can set off glass-break alarms (at least that was the case twenty-five or so years ago, when I last did this; the state of the art may have changed since then), people can come home drunk and forget their codes or not be able to key them in and then get angry when you call them to ask for their password or passcode, they can't set the alarm and demand a maintenance guy immediately or even insist that you come out to do the call yourself, etc. But 95% of the time it's the usual night watch routine. Of course, if you do have to call the police, take copious notes on the situation in case you have to justify it to the boss.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:25 PM on September 24, 2014


A job with about a 50% downtime is working at a movie theater. You'll basically get two big "rushes" of folks filing into the theater, and shifts are generally the two matinee shows or the two (or three) evening shows. The rushes happen about 30-45 minutes before the movie starts, and then after all the movies are playing is another 30-45 minutes of cleanup and prep for the next show. So in between the shows you'll have a good hour of downtime or more--though it depends. If you have really popular movies playing, your downtime will obviously suffer, but if the movies all suck, there's usually plenty of time.
posted by zardoz at 9:07 PM on September 24, 2014


My brother was an on-site electrician for a uranium enrichment plant. He went to work, walked the floor, then went back to the break room where they'd make breakfast. Then he'd read until just before lunch, then walk the floor again. Then lunch. Then they walked the floor again. Then they read until time to go.

Downside #1: you have to put in serious time as a union electrician before you can snag a gig like this. Downside #2: if you spot something that needs your help on the floor, it can be a very big deal. Like, fix it or 3 Mile Island bad. Downside #3: they laid him off because they closed his plant.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:14 PM on September 24, 2014 [1 favorite]


One of the best jobs I ever had was working at a combination IT Help Desk / Network Operations Center (NOC) at a regional bank. My particular schedule as Fri-Mon 12:30-23:00.

Fridays and Mondays until 5:00 were always busy because both branches and corporate offices were open, but after 5:00 on weekdays, and 9:00-15:00 on weekends, only the branches were open. They had very little that they could actually do with their computers, so it was mostly troubleshooting printer problems for them.

The rest of the time was spent monitoring ATMs for trouble and calling service for them when needed, and watching the network for outages, which mostly meant calling AT&T.

I actually went out and bought a DVD drive and cheap video card for my work PC (this was back around 2002) so I could watch movies and play games. My and the other night guy had some epic 1-on-1 Unreal Tournament sessions. Operations would occasionally call us from the other end of the floor to tell us we were getting a little loud. It was great.

The pay was actually decent, but unfortunately, decent wasn't enough to support a family on, so I have to do actual work nowadays.
posted by Ickster at 8:53 AM on September 25, 2014


During the 1970s I was a hotel night auditor. In addition to manning the front desk and phones 11pm-7am, this involved some very light bookkeeping. Generally, I was done with everything but answering phones w/i three hours. From roughly 2am to 6am, my time was my own.

On Sunday nights, I could often wrap up the audit even earlier. Some nights I did not see or speak to a soul during the entire shift other than the evening clerk at 11 and the morning clerk at 7.

There were no cellphones, laptops, or interwebs in the 1970s; I played a lot of guitar and read a lot of trashy SF.

I was also robbed at gunpoint more than once. Pick your venue carefully.

The audit is probably even easier nowadays, but they probably still pay a skilz premium on top of the shift premium. Cursory googoling indicates the current salary range is about $20-30k.

The bigger the hotel, the higher the pay, but the greater activity and likelihood of coworkers on-shift. You're less likely to be left alone for hours. The smaller the hotel -- chain motels near the expressway -- the lower the pay, but you're more likely to be the only employee on-site for most of your shft, there's less traffic, and less that needs doing.

There's pretty high turnover, and next to no barrier to starting. You have to be somewhat presentable, literate, and enumate.

I could tell you stories . . . but I won't.

= = = =

A harder-to-find job I had once was a remote transmitter technician for a radio station. Basically, this station had a nighttime transmitter at the studio site and a daytime transmitter at a remote site. The FCC required that this remote box be maintained (baby-sat) by a live tech on-site.

I'd arrive just before sunrise (before 6am in summer, but much much later in winter) warm up the tubes, phone the other tech, and at the count of 3 -- switch on the remote transmitter. Once an hour, I had to log some meter readings and until noon -- that was it.

At noon -- the other remote tech arrived to do the noon to sundown shift -- and I went home.

If I recall correctly, this job required my presence on-site about 30 hours per week and I had maybe 30 minutes of actual duties on each shift for the equivalent of about $30k in today's dollars.

I don't know that anyone does business this way anymore.

Good luck.
 
posted by Herodios at 9:15 AM on September 25, 2014 [3 favorites]


I've done the writing a script to automate all your work thing for a few jobs now.

My previous job boiled down to taking an Excel file that gets sent to me via email, which could be in any format, converting it into a specified CSV format, uploading it to an FTP site, and confirming that the data loaded correctly. I scripted this to the point where I just had to open the initial Excel file and paste the data into the correct columns in a data grid of a program that I had written. I got about four to six requests a day, each taking a few minutes of copy/pasting work.

The job before that ended up being running SQL queries. I'd get sent a list of items to look up in the database, and I would put them into a tool I built that would pull whatever information they wanted. I'd paste the results into an Excel file and send it off. This lasted for two years. I got maybe two requests a day, which would take about 30 seconds to do. Every time someone sent me a novel request I would just build a new SQL query in the tool so that I would have it in the future. Eventually I set up an rule in Outlook that would monitor my inbox and complete any request that came in without any intervention on my part.

I wasn't trying to mislead anyone about how little work I was doing. My bosses knew what was going on. For some reason, they didn't really care that much. They also sent me adhoc tasks every once in a while. I guess that's why they kept me around.
posted by zixyer at 12:11 PM on September 25, 2014 [4 favorites]


I worked in the listening room at my college library. I had long stretches of alone time for reading, web surfing, writing, et cetera. Every hour or so a music student would show up to check out Bitches Brew. 75% of our patrons just wanted Bitches Brew.

The pay was for shit, obviously.
posted by brundlefly at 10:10 AM on September 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


A friend of mine monitors patients for sleep studies. He works three nights a week, and spends his shifts occasionally checking EEG signals on a monitor while watching movies and television on his laptop. He got a community college degree to qualify for that position. Seems to pay pretty ok, too. Ironically he has to mess up his sleep schedule every week to help others improve their sleep.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:03 AM on September 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I know this is really late, but I had to say something.

I'm a former sleep tech, and judging by the labs where I worked it is NOT a job where you get paid to do nothing. It's physically and mentally exhausting work for the first 6 hours of your shift, then the next six hours CAN be pretty chill if all goes well, but then as the sun's coming up you're scurrying around like a maniac waking everybody up, getting all of the gear taken off and put away, cleaning the damn paste off of everything, making beds. I'm a night owl, naturally prone to going to bed around sunrise, and even so the schedule absolutely killed me.

It is a damn hard job, and every tech I ever met would strongly agree.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:41 AM on September 30, 2014


Defense Department contractor - you can't do anything until your clearance comes in, and that can be up to 2 years. A former colleague went that route and got paid a ridiculous sum to watch netflix for about 15 months. She did complain about the traffic and having to be dressed for work though.
posted by headnsouth at 11:19 AM on October 2, 2014 [1 favorite]


Booth attendant at a garbage dump. The guy who works in the one in my town is always, always playing Mahjong on his computer when I pull up.
posted by davey_darling at 8:37 PM on October 3, 2014


I was the radio "headquarters" for my community's neighborhood watch. Aside from occasional check-ins, I had no real contact with anyone for six hours or so. Never any disturbance ever. My freecell game got pretty tight, yo.
posted by klangklangston at 12:08 AM on October 14, 2014


I once had a job selling lift tickets at a major ski resort. Most of the time, that meant selling tickets until about 10:30 a.m. and then snowboarding the rest of the day. But then for a month or so, because I was apparently a responsible person, they sent me to be the only guy selling tickets in a little hut in the middle of the ski town, away from the resort itself. I had to work the entire day during operating hours, I was the only person in the hut, and sold maybe 10 tickets a day, which amounts to about 20 minutes of actual work. I got a lot of reading done and played a lot of guitar.
posted by The World Famous at 10:12 AM on October 16, 2014


I worked security at a fertilizer plant on the night shift. When 4:00 a.m. hit, it was very hard to stay awake or do anything.
posted by mecran01 at 10:11 AM on October 27, 2014


I know this is an old thread, but I'm a receptionist at a place that has a ton of down time. I have been completely alone in the building for most of the last month, and will be for another two weeks. I have to be here to answer phones, take care of small problems that may crop up, etc. Occasionally someone stops in for something so I have to be dressed & ready to take care of things at any time. But today the phone has rung twice, and I am thanking god I had some work for part of the day to do. It is so boring sometimes I dread coming in at all. But I do try to make plans so I stay somewhat busy every day, or at least have things to do. I read books, surf the net, bring craft projects in, call friends, do shopping on extended lunch hours, maybe even visit a friend who lives close by. I exercise. I bring DVD's & watch movies. I always make sure to take my breaks/lunches at the normal times or the day really seems to drag.

The strange thing is, my last job I was so busy & worked so much OT, I used to wish I had more free time, or just enough time to get caught up on my workload. Now it's the opposite, I often wish I had more to do. The main problem with a slow paced job is there is very little satisfaction, you have to be happy with your life as it is, because you don't get much happiness from sitting on your ass all day drawing a paycheck. So I try to do my best at what little work I have to do, and keep on an even keel emotionally since it can get depressing at such a dull job if I let it.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 1:03 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Whatever you do, don't become a software developer. That's the mistake I made when I was 18. Now I'm 36 and have only one published novel to my credit. Even if you get a job doing contract work for local and state governments and get to work a standard eight-hour day with an hour for lunch, programming still isn't the ideal day job for writers for the following reasons:
  • It's mentally demanding, and can easily leave you too tired to write.
  • It can encourage perfectionist tendencies that will carry over into your writing.
  • It's an office job, subject to frequent interruptions that hamper your ability to concentrate on a single task.
I manage, barely, by getting out of the office and writing on my lunch breaks. However, you might want to aim at a minimum daily word count higher than 500, depending on how badly you want to publish.
posted by starbreaker at 12:44 PM on November 3, 2014 [2 favorites]


Ex-tech here. Even worse when you have hardass bosses that make you work alone, with no TV or radio or games, and watch you on camera afterwards so you can't even sneak a book. Oh, and you'd better be silent too.
posted by Samizdata at 2:40 PM on November 3, 2014 [1 favorite]


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