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How to Be Productively Lazy

By Laura Milligan

We’ve all had good days and bad days at the office: days when we’re feeling particularly ambitious and can work our way down a to-do list before lunchtime, but also days when we can’t stop looking out the window (if we have one) and dreaming about life on the outside. On the bad days, it’s not just a challenge to make ourselves do some actual work. We’re also stuck trying to come up with ways that make us look busy so we won’t get caught wasting time. If we can get by with as little effort as possible, but still have something to show for the eight hours we’ve been at the office, we know we’ve made it. Below is a little guide that includes some of our favorite tips for being productively lazy at work.

Make to-do lists: Just because you don’t feel like doing any of your work doesn’t mean you aren’t well aware of your responsibilities. To give your productivity a valid but painless boost, make to-do lists to get yourself organized. If you really want to waste time, make several lists that are extremely detailed. Consider using a Web-based system like Remember The Milk or Ta-da List to avoid cluttering up your desk with more paperwork. When you come into the office the next day on a hopefully brighter note, you’ll be able to get more work done than if you hadn’t made any lists.

Conduct research: Block out a chunk of time and devote it to doing research on your biggest project. You’ll look extremely busy shuffling around papers, going through your files and browsing websites for information. The best part is that all you really have to do is bookmark pages that look interesting and tab a few key file folders to come back to later and you’re all set. Whenever a coworker or supervisor walks by to ask what you’re doing, just mumble something about really getting into your research. With any luck, you’ll be left alone.

Answer e-mails: Go through your e-mail inbox and respond to messages that have been staring out at you for the past week. Pass up e-mails that require you to do any real thinking and go straight to the ones that have to do with scheduling meetings, need only a yes or no answer or simply want your opinion. All that typing will make you look busy, but you won’t be wasting your energy on any actual work.

Organize your file cabinets: Organizing your file cabinets shows others that you care about your work and are willing to sacrifice precious work time to sort through your documents and refresh your memory on older projects. Or, in some cases, your coworkers will catch on to your lazy procrastination, but only because they’ve probably used the same tactic to avoid doing their work. If you really want to impress your boss, order colored file folders and make new labels to give your cabinet a professional, coordinated look.

Organize computer files: Once you’ve organized the hard copies of your files, jump back onto the computer and set up an online filing system. You can scan documents onto your computer, rename folders, send files to clients or coworkers and other organizational tasks. Transferring your files onto the computer will also help you save time in the future. Instead of having to fax, make copies or mail a particular document, you can just e-mail files to colleagues with only a few clicks.

Outline a proposal or project: Outlines are easy and they really give the impression that you’ve been busy all day. Plus, once you do get around to doing the real work, you’ll be glad you have some sort of organization in place. All you have to do is develop a basic outline that includes the project’s title, a tentative timeline for each stage of the assignment, contact information for coworkers and vendors with whom you need to collaborate and set up meetings and plenty of brainstorming ideas. You can turn it into your boss at the end of the day to prove that you actually got something done during the day — even if it only took you half an hour.

Check over your work: Proofread every e-mail, memo and outline you send out to look productive. You’ll appear conscientious and detail-oriented, characteristics that supervisors treasure in their employees.

Go ahead, read the list again. You’ll look busy and focused and can buy yourself an extra twenty minutes or so of procrastination.