Can Looking Busy Get You Ahead at Work?

Looking busy is an art form and one that can potentially be very useful around the office. Sit there twiddling your thumbs or playing Angry Birds on your phone and you'll find that your colleagues and employers very quickly swarm on you to give you things to do. Look busy though and you'll a) give the impression that you're integral to the business and b) avoid getting given more work that you probably don't want.

But can you really get ahead by simply learning to look like you're busy?

The Pros of Looking Busy

As mentioned, looking busy can be useful for creating the impression that you're a key asset while at the same time avoiding being given more work. There are some instances where this is actually a very useful skill. Some examples include:

  • When the 'big boss' comes to visit and takes a stroll around the office
  • When you're waiting to hear back from someone/for something too load and really can't take on more work despite having nothing currently to do
  • When you've perfected your workflow to the point where you're able to finish large amounts of work in no time at all
  • When you really are busy but you want to look even busier so that people know not to disturb you and you get the credit for the hard work you're putting in

Books like The Four Hour Workweek show us that using the right mental hacks and productivity tools, it's possible to complete a 'day's work' in no time at all. If you're capable of doing that, then why should you take on double the work of everyone else and end up stressed as a result?

The Dangers of 'Looking Busy'

That said though, looking busy when you aren't is also a dangerous game and it can backfire.

For instance, pretending to be busy can get you into a lot of trouble if you get rumbled and you might even find yourself receiving disciplinary action. At the same time, looking too busy can make you appear to be overwhelmed by your work – and if your employers know the workload you have then this can make you look inefficient or bad at your job.

Finally, you need to have something to show for all of your 'work' at the end of the day. Otherwise again your employers will be left wondering what exactly it was that you were doing.

How to Look Busy at Work

Looking busy has its uses then but must be used sparingly. When you do want to create the impression that you're 'snowed under', how do you go about doing it? Here are a few tips:

  • Don't go out for lunch
  • Go home late/come in early
  • Take multiple calls at once
  • Be seen to be typing (you could just be typing a 'to-do list' or writing long e-mails)
  • Work on multiple monitors
  • Don't chat to your colleagues

The real trick is to look busy while looking like you're trying not to look busy (read it over a few times). Tell people you're fine but send subtle signals that you're working your nuts off and then let the praise and potential rewards rain down!