How To Even… Appear Productive At Work
By Michael Gushue and CL Bledsoe
Real talk: Everyone hates their job. If you don’t, well, screw you, job-loving bastard. Where do you get off? Go back to your gold-plated mansion with your puppy-fur carpet and your small army of waitstaff waiting on you 24/7. We don’t want your type around this blog, freshening up the air, feeling things and generally succeeding at life. But at what cost?! Pa-thetic.
For the rest of us, jobs are a means to an end, namely filling the hours until the sweet release of death. Also, they allow us to afford snacks sometimes. It would be a real bummer to lose that, so we grudgingly try to appear to do more than the least possible amount of work at our jobs. But what if the whole time we were actually doing less? Provocative, no?
Let’s be clear about one thing, though. Making other people do your job is slimy ham. (That’s our new term for bad things. We’re workshopping it. What do you think?) The thing about other people is they’re people. Unless they’re jerks, but even jerks are people. Also, we’re not talking about just goofing off. Goofing off certainly has its place in a healthy life, but in this article, we’re more concerned with appearance. We want to look like we’re doing big important things while we’re not actually doing much of anything.
There are many techniques for looking productive at work, such as:
- Rig your rolling chair with a nitrous tank. The construction itself might raise some eyebrows, but you’ll certainly get to meetings faster.
- Hire an actor to sit at your desk and yell at your computer screen (we recommend Jon Hamm depending on his availability). This could backfire if everyone likes the actor more than they do you. Also, it will probably eat into your snack budget.
- Actually do your work. This is just a bad idea all around.
Obviously made-up personal anecdote to give the impression we’re one of you
Our first job was in a meme factory. It was hard work, especially with the lax environmental regulations, but we believed in it. We worked a full shift and would often stay late to finish up our work. We’d go home, eyes burning from the pollution, muscles slowly mutating, and try to sleep, terrified that we’d be fired for lack of productivity. We couldn’t help but notice that, the more we struggled to keep up with our meme quota, the more leisurely the pace of those around us. Yet they never seemed to get in trouble.
What we didn’t realize is that we were working a lot harder than we had to, shoveling those memes into the internet’s fire, crafting new animals-with-silly-speech-impediment images while our coworkers Xeroxed a picture of a cheeseburger and a kitten throwing up and sent it off. We strove for perfection, laboring under the delusion that if we worked harder, we’d be appreciated more. All that happened was we were given more work, scouring thousands of William Shatner reaction GIFs while countless co-workers who didn’t seem to be doing anything retired early, bought islands, and grew magnificent amounts of hair. We sure were naive. And handsome.
We’re older and even handsomer now, and we’ve learned a few things. The key to looking productive is attitude. Look around your office. Notice the hard worker, always appearing to rush everywhere, even snapping at people. Let’s call him “Harry” because he presents such a harried aspect. Now, examine how much work Harry actually does. It’s not actually that much, is it? Sure, there’s talk of a lot of work, but it tends to drag out without actually being completed. When it is completed, it’s often not actually finished, and presented as “in progress.”
In many ways, Harry is a master class in appearing productive, beginning with his appearance. His clothing is often ruffled — not specifically dirty or bad-smelling, but giving the appearance of use. That’s how busy Harry is. Maybe at the beginning of the day, his clothes were pressed and presentable (spoiler: they weren’t), but now he doesn’t have time for tasks like ironing.
Next let’s examine Harry’s attitude. He can often be heard muttering or cursing at his computer screen, which is hidden from casual observance. You may have noticed that, when you have to go to his desk, he quickly minimizes his screen — you can hear the clicks as you approach. (Remember how he lobbied for everyone having to wear bells in the office? Makes sense, now, doesn’t it?)
Remember, Harry wasn’t built in a day.
Or perhaps you’ve noticed that he’s frequently typing at his desk, often loudly. What could he be doing? Perhaps he’s running a successful parody self-help blog and answering copious fan mail (which we can certainly relate to). Perhaps he’s writing unhinged screeds to breakfast cereal manufacturers about his belief that they’re “in it” with Big Chlorine to mind-control children (which we can also certainly relate to).
Harry’s true achievement is his desk placement, which is kept in a corner, back to the wall, so that no one can easily see his computer screen. That kind of desk placement is equivalent to a rent-controlled Manhattan apartment — you’re going to have to wait for somebody to die to get in one.
But Harry wasn’t born a champion. The ability to do nothing is something he achieved over decades of patience, practice, and study. Follow these three principles to begin down the path to Harrydom:
1. Always say yes
This might seem antithetical to our premise, but hear us out. What a boss values more than anything else is having problems go away. Many assignments the boss gives are pointless. They know this, but the assignment has to be given. When a problem comes up, immediately volunteer to fix it. If your boss says “Sure,” then you get to proceed to principle #2.
2. Deliver everything incomplete and early
So, you got roped into actually doing something. No problem! Take a quick stab at it and send it back for approval and advice.
Odds are your boss is going to bring somebody else in to work on it, and it will now be stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future. Your boss is going to be impressed because of your quick turnaround, which in the short term might lead to more work, but in the long term is going to pay off with lots of slacking.
3. Declare victory
Okay, you’ve said yes to whatever your boss asks. You’ve spent the least amount of time possible on it and sent it back, knowing your boss is going to reassign it, probably to you, or maybe just forget it.
To really nail down the illusion of productivity, mark everything that leaves your desk as a “task completed.” It doesn’t matter how half-assed it is, how incomplete, incoherent, or riddled with grammatical errors. That’s all someone else’s problem or — more accurately — someone else’s job. Keep a list of everything you’ve “done,” preferably between word search puzzles you’re finishing. Put your name in for an on-the-spot award.
Remember, Harry wasn’t built in a day. At some point, he probably had to do some work. Even now, he still does something every now and again. But nine days out of 10, he’s living the high life thanks to his slack hustle. Unless you want to go into politics (don’t get us started), it’s hard to beat that kind of free time.