How to waste time at work.

How to waste time at work and not get caught

You’re reading this at work, aren’t you? Slacker.

One in three chief financial officers say their employees waste more time surfing the Internet (and Facebook) than doing anything else, according to a survey earlier this year from staffing firm Robert Half. They asked more than 2,100 CFOs — and we bet those lazy bums answered during work hours, too.

Of course, only 11 percent of executives pointed to meetings as the biggest waste of everybody’s time. Here’s what else they blame…

  • Office gossip and socializing (27 percent)
  • Personal calls or emails (20 percent)
  • Work-related email (7 percent)
  • Something else (3 percent)

Robert Half senior executive director Paul McDonald admits life basically requires a certain level of goofing off. But he suggests bosses may be to blame when it gets out of hand.

“If employees are spending too much time on non-work related tasks, identify why,” McDonald says. “They may have too little or too much on their plates. Find the right mix of assignments, and if they’re feeling disengaged, give staff more exciting or challenging projects.”

Based on McDonald’s comments, here are some office pick-me-ups to try the next time your attention is waning…

Work-safe fun

1. Excit

Once upon a time, you could play with a flight simulator in Microsoft Excel and pinball in Microsoft Word. (Sorry if you missed out.) Nowadays, you have to find your own discreet fun.

How-to-waste-time lists are a dime-a-dozen — here’s a recent one from Mashable — but most people don’t bother to consider that things that change colors a lot and require rapid clicking might seem kind of suspicious to passing bosses and neighboring cubicle-dwellers.

 So, for starters, here’s a puzzle game designed to look like a spreadsheet. The object is to bounce the cursor into the green cell using blacked-out clusters that look like Tetris pieces or the unused part of a crossword.

If you register for a free account on the games site that hosts it, you can enter “cinematic mode” which darkens the background and makes the illusion work a little better for people walking past and glancing at your screen.

With a good password identity theft is more rare, but we can make you more secure.


2. GeoGuessr

Google Maps looks harmless enough, right? So try out GeoGuessr, a geography guessing game.

When you load it up, you’ll be placed in a random location. Your goal is to figure out where you are. You can navigate the area just like Google Maps Street View, and can roam around looking at license plates, road signs, business names, and the topography for clues.

In the bottom right you’ll see a minimap of the world, which you can click on to guess where you are. (Zoom in so you can make more accurate guesses.) The game will then show you the right location and the distance you were off by, and move you on to a new area.

3. Reddit

Reddit is the weird uncle of social networks — your family doesn’t really talk about him and he looks permanently disheveled, but he’s actually really clever and fun to hang out with.

While there’s plenty of definitely not-safe-for-work content on Reddit, much of the site is plain black text (and blue links) on a plain white background, and an 18-plus warning will wall you off from the risky stuff you stumble into. There’s a stunning variety of interesting (and creepy, and funny, and stupid) people on the site talking about everything you can imagine. You just have to learn to find and navigate subreddits, the categories dedicated to whatever particular idea you’re interested in.

For starters, check out /r/IAmA — a schedule and archive of interviews with notable people who are either famous or who have had interesting experiences. Some recent classics include Bill Gates and Bill Murray. Robin Williams did one last year, and Barack Obama in 2012.

IAmA is short for “I am (a) ________. Ask me anything.” And that’s basically the format. You can ask anything, and people will vote for the questions they want answered most. The host gets to pick what deserves a response, but part of the IAmA culture is acting in good faith and responding to even quirky or thorny questions with honest or funny answers.

Other work-safe, general-interest subreddits include  /r/todayilearned, r/lifeprotips, and r/science.

The anti-time-wasters

Sure, taking a break for some mindless fun can clear your mind and boost your productivity. But when you start feeling guilty about playing games and learning not-work-related stuff, maybe check out these productivity boosters…

1. Focus plug-ins

If your work computer allows it, install a browser add-on like StayFocusd (for Google Chrome), LeechBlock (for Mozilla’s Firefox), or Mindful Browsing (Apple’s Safari). These plug-ins help keep you from wasting time online. You can block yourself from, or limit the time you can spend on, any website.

2. Maybe later apps

Sometimes we don’t set out to waste time at work, but then somebody who does sends us a cool link. Know what you do with those? Save ’em for later. There are plenty of options here for whatever your viewing preference or operating system. Pocket, Instapaper, and Readability are among the most popular.

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