No work today
November 20, 2007 3:12 PM   Subscribe

how to explain the lack of... uhm work... at work?

so my boss has been away for a few weeks and in that time i didn't do much work. i did some work but definitely not enough for all the time i had. the problem is that i am completely uninspired and somewhat unqualified for the task at hand (commenting on some really bad papers + a plethora of random tasks) and by this work in general.

at this point, i feel that the job is pointless, oscillating between little value-added and useless, and generally neverending. i am not sure if i care about keeping this job - i obviously can't stay motivated or interested in what i'm doing or focused on anything for longer than half an hour. my circumstances, other than my sentiments, dictate for me to stay here for the next four months. for the record, i have performed outstandingly in the past and only recently feel/behave as described above. generally, i feel like an ass and fully expect my boss to ask - what have you been doing all this time? i don't know what to say to this. i feel guilty but also annoyed and a bit hopeless. i don't want to make any stupid excuses, so no dying grandmas or personal health problems. tell me people, what do i say?

also, anyone who'd like to pitch in with strategies for motivating oneself to do completely uninspiring jobs, please do so. (this is not about personal effectiveness GTD type stuff - this is about making yourself do things even though you have no interest in them)
posted by barrakuda to Work & Money (14 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
quit. if he needs to keep you, you can leverage more money from him.
posted by knowles at 3:14 PM on November 20, 2007

what are you using the money from the job for? what would you have to give up if you didn't have that paycheck?
posted by desjardins at 3:18 PM on November 20, 2007

I bet this won't be a problem. Say nothing and do nothing.

In the past, I have fully expected my boss to ask me what I have been doing with my time on many occasions. It has never happened. If you are, as you say, a stellar performer that had some sub-par weeks, I would lay odds that your boss won't ask you any questions.

In the white collar jobs that I've had, I could vacation at my desk doing 2 hours a day of work for quite some time before being compelled to either re-engage in my job or find a new one. Certainly, I could have skated under the radar for 4 months. Most of the bosses I've met were non-confrontational pansies that didn't have the balls to call me out on my behaviour. Laziness on its own is not usually a compelling enough reason to make a stink. As long as you don't make problems for your boss, you're fine.

I wouldn't bother with the motivational stuff unless (a) you really aren't leaving after 4 months or (b) your boss calls you out for performance.
posted by crazycanuck at 3:35 PM on November 20, 2007

In response to your question, I would like to reproduce a poem by an everything2 member named igloowhite:
You have been paroled from participation in the Capitalist Project.
It seems that we made a terrible mistake.
Clearly, these schedules were never meant to apply to you.
Before you go, there are some questions of intellectual property.
For starters, we have patented the process you developed for bypassing the department code on the photocopier. That's brilliant.
We have also copyrighted the way you slip out for lunch through the loading dock, so that nobody knows when you left.
A white paper has been published on the corporate website, using a 40 page flowchart to describe the workflow strategy you employed to pass the buck between different departments. The ergonomics consultants we brought in from KPMG noted that no work item was on your desk for longer than 15 minutes before you managed to "laterally transfer" it elsewhere.
I wanted you to know that this process schema was so revolutionary
That it triggered at top-to-bottom audit of our entire enterprise practice
And we have discovered that in fact, out of the whole building,
Nobody, and we mean nobody, is doing anything
other than going to the Chinese buffet
At 12:30.

As part of your exit interview process, we are taking your herman miller workstation chair, and through the use of an industrial sprayguy, we are candy coating it like a gobstopper, with the candy colors corresponding to the spectrum of visible light: Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet.

This sugar coating will eventually impregnate the materials of the chair, replacing plastic and nylon with sugar, in a process similar to fossilization.

This sugar encrusted chair will be bolted to the concrete partition in the center of the freeway, where, exposed to the elements, it will eventually weather and dissolve.
posted by nasreddin at 3:46 PM on November 20, 2007 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Most times when I stop doing something that I need to do it gets progressively harder to start again. The longer I wait the worse it gets (I can name a couple college courses where I had zero interest and skipped about 3 weeks). Seems like you've gone down this same route.

Be honest with your boss. You don't think your qualified... ask him if he thinks you are. I would think he would have fired you the first week if he thought you couldn't handle it.

I would go back in and just put your head down and do what you need to do. Tell your boss you got stressed out and overwhelmed... maybe he won't ask till you've already started working hard again.
posted by pwally at 3:50 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: there's is no chance for a raise and to be quite honest, i am very happy with the money. while i do not necessarily need this paycheck, there are other very good reasons to stay in this job.

crazycanuck, my boss happens to be confrontational and very upfront - that's why i'm scratching my head and thinking about what i should say to him.
posted by barrakuda at 3:52 PM on November 20, 2007

Hey, you must work where I do! I sit at my desk 8 hrs a day and do nothing. Talk about making you bleary eyed and slack jawed. Say nothing and you'll probably fly under the radar, as suggested. Start the search for a new job if at all possible but wait til you've got something in hand to quit. I've still got 2 more yrs to go at mine before my gf finishes school and we move so I can totally understand no motivation at what you're doing. Good luck and mefi mail me if you want to commiserate.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:54 PM on November 20, 2007

Does your boss like you? Do you work in a place that cares about career development? If both of those are true, you could try honesty. Wait for a direct question about what you have been up to. Answer with a "I've been thinking about my career" and then tell him about the not-good-fit parts of your job. See if your boss can help you out.

If they don't like you, then duck and cover while looking for a new job. Avoid the boss and try to get a work from home situation.
posted by crazycanuck at 4:05 PM on November 20, 2007

What could your boss do to "make" you motivated?

Not really an answer to your question, but maybe a way to prevent a recurrence of the same problem next time?
posted by rokusan at 4:39 PM on November 20, 2007

at this point, i feel that the job is pointless, oscillating between little value-added and useless, and generally neverending.

I once had a job that was similar to what you have described --- I sat around, most of the day, doing nothing but checking my favorite websites.

I concluded that it's an inefficiency in the the white-collar economy that leads to some jobs just not requiring much work.

It sucks --- I found sitting there with nothing to do, far more stressful than the high-energy, "stressful" jobs I have had.
posted by jayder at 4:44 PM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: Have you considered honestly telling him what you're telling us? I'd have a hard time getting mad at you after hearing the above, even if I was your boss. Plus, he's got to know that this stuff is low value-added, if he's at all perceptive.

Maybe couch it in terms of "Frankly, I've been having a very hard time making myself do this work. I don't feel like it's really adding much of value to anyone's world. I'm definitely not quitting on your here, but I'd like to hear it if you have any thoughts, either about how to get motivated, or even just how to make myself do it even though I don't really care about it." If you make it more like you're being honest about your problem and asking his advice, how could anyone be so callous as to say "you're fired, go get motivated somewhere else"?
posted by evariste at 5:55 PM on November 20, 2007

Best answer: Maybe his answer will be in part, "yeah, I know, this work is a drag. Sucks to be you, but someone's gotta do it." I mean, if it's so dull, that fact can't have escaped him if he's a bright guy, right? Maybe he'll have something helpful to tell you. Just because he's confrontational doesn't mean he's inhuman.

Get your fear of the confrontation out of your head, by the way. Just accept it will happen instead of dreading it, and that you're going to redirect it from a "I suck and deserve to be shitcanned" situation into a "Maybe I suck or maybe the work itself sucks, either way can you help me? I do want to get my shit straight" one.

If he's going to fire you over this, then he's going to fire you. Dreading it is not going to change anything, but it will make you miserable for the rest of the time until it happens.
posted by evariste at 6:00 PM on November 20, 2007

Get the OK to spend some time learning to backfill other people's jobs. When they go on holidays, which they eventually will, you get a change of scene for a while. You also get to have new skills to make yourself less fireable and more employable.

Write a novel, or bring in ebooks converted to .doc format to read. MS Word always looks like work even when it isn't.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:17 PM on November 20, 2007

I had a job as a student with a similar situation. I would write down everything I did for every hour I claimed I worked. Sure, sometimes it was a bit of a stretch, but I could point to any hour chunk and claim, somewhat legitimitly, that I had done something.
posted by jeffamaphone at 8:30 PM on November 20, 2007

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