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Looking Busy

Bow down to the Great and extremely Busy-Looking One.

Looking busy is critical for success in today's world of business. Nobody rises to the top or even gets within shouting distance of the top without mastering this key skill.

Looking busy needs to be differentiated from being busy. You can be busy without looking busy and that's wasted effort, as far as anyone's concerned. In many cases, actually being busy inhibits your ability to look busy, so watch out for such pitfalls!

To look busy, you need to first cultivate the "busy appearance." Show up to work looking immaculate. Make sure you make the rounds and are seen looking fresh and clean. Spend perhaps the first 30 minutes of your day meeting people and looking sharp. If you have a meeting scheduled first thing in the morning, you'll have to show up early to get your face time.

As the day progresses, dishevel yourself. Mess up your hair a bit. Loosen your tie and top button. Take off your coat. Roll up your sleeves. Rub your eyes and add a little vacancy to your stare. By the end of the day, you should look significantly worse off than you did when you showed up.

"The Bonus of the Working Lunch"

Make sure people see you at the end, positive yet haggard. You will look like you worked harder than anyone else around you, unless they've read this article, too. Don't be afraid if they did. In fact, rejoice! Looking busy is not a zero-sum game. Everyone can win and teamwork makes attaining victory that much easier!

When your entire department looks disheveled at the end of the day, people think "crisis team" and "dedicated professionals" instead of "conniving slackers" or "lying toadies". And with a team of people who want to look busy, you can "work" wonders.

If your group is in on looking busy, you get the bonus of the working lunch. When you're planning the next project or gearing up for a software deployment, the working lunch is wonderful for looking busy.

"If you need to hit the bottle, there's another way to get that done..."

Basically, you leave for lunch earlier than usual. Make sure everyone sees you carry out lots of paper and pencils when you head out. You will get bonus points if they see you carry out a calculator. Be sure you discuss vagaries of the project as you walk past everyone.

As soon as you're in the car, forget about work. Go to a really nice restaurant far away from your business and enjoy a leisurely meal with plenty of conversation and enough time to digest so you can order dessert. Return later in the day, but save talk of business until you walk in the door. Make sure you all look disheveled from the working lunch's pressures.

It's important to note that if anyone smells liquor on you after a working lunch, you'll be identified as a lush and nobody will ever believe you again. Therefore, be sure to not get boozed up at lunch. If you need to hit the bottle, there's another way to get that done:

Work from home. To do this, show up to work as normal, but get disheveled extra early. After a long working lunch, decide you need to stop by the office to pick up a few things so you can work from home, away from all the distractions of the office. People will see you leave the office, full of purpose and big issues. For better cover, take some of your group with you so you can have an emergency session or planning retreat or some such. Once you're out of the office, you're a free agent. Do as you please. It won't matter what you do, because people back at the office think you're sweating long into the night over the minutiae of the current crisis.

"Only a Calculator Will Save the Day!"

There will be days when you can't take a working lunch or take your work home. You can still look busy those days. Make sure your work area is set up properly, and you'll be the busiest guy on your block of cubicles! Your work area's underlying structure must be immaculately neat. That tells the world you're an organized guy. On top of that neatness, spread all kinds of printouts. The more charts and emails you have out there, the better. That tells the world you're working so hard, you had to suspend your normal organized neatness to deal with the monster load of work you're tackling.

Keep at least one calculator at your desk in plain sight. When people walk by, start using it and jot down figures on some of that printed-out email. When you use a calculator, it tells the world you're too busy to be slowed down by a computer. Your work is so important and difficult, only a calculator and scratch paper will save the day!

Open up reference books and glance at them. It's very important to not read them, but to only glance at them. Reading is a leisure activity. You do that on your own time, if at all. Glancing implies you already read the book in your leisure time and you're so busy you can't afford to read it again.

"Keep the Taskbar Hidden..."

While you do most of your "work" on paper, you need to keep your computer going so it will lend the appearance of busy-ness. Learn to minimize all windows and keep the taskbar hidden so nobody will see what websites you're surfing. Keep a computer-related chart running at all times so you can pore over it and run a few numbers through the calculator.

Windows NT/2000 Performance Monitor is ideal for this sort of thing. Start up a chart to monitor a server with lots of activity, such as a mail server or database server, and pick out lots of values that change wildly from second to second. Experiment until you find what looks busiest for you. Then, when a boss walks up to you, you can be seen to study that chart with deep intent. Semi-ignore your boss until he says, "It's not that important. I'll come back later when you're not so busy."

These pointers should get you started. I'm sure the clever ones among my readership already have more strategies for looking busy. Just always keep in mind that the more you look like a serious commercial for some business product, the busier you look to everyone around you. Once you look busy, it won't matter what you actually do because the rewards go to whoever looks the busiest.


Great Cthulhu Jones
CEO, R'lyeh Consulting

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