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That Guy’s Tips for Faking It: Plan Lunch Carefully April 30, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success, Tips for Faking It, Wasting Time.
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This is the fourth entry in “That Guy’s Tips for Faking It”, a week’s worth of useful tricks to get out of working too hard while also looking like you’re worth keeping around.

Plan Lunch Carefully

While your boss is doing this, you could be surfing the net with impunity. (Photo by Tim Schapker)

While your boss is doing this, you could be surfing the net with impunity. (Photo by Tim Schapker)

When it comes right down to it, you report to one boss. Maybe two. But you’re not a manager. You’re a peon. Managers go out to lunch for more than an hour, pay on their corporate cards, stroll back in, and take half an hour to get back up to speed from all the e-mail accumulated in their inboxes. You, on the other hand, eat at your desk, in the break room, or (if you’re lucky) out on the patio, or you zip out to Wendy’s for a burger that you know you’ll regret later. But if you plan your lunch carefully, you can gain almost a full hour of down-time and still get paid for it.

First and foremost, keep a granola bar or two in your desk; you may end up going to lunch far later than you’d like to pull this off. Don’t forget that.

Now… watch your boss. Watch what time he* leaves for lunch. Watch what time he comes back. Figure out where he goes — is he more likely to eat fast food, medium food, or a real restaurant meal? Does he go by himself, or with the same crew, or with different people each day? Does he go early or late? Notice and record all of these things.

Then start planning.

The key here is to either leave within five minutes of your boss’s return to the office or vice versa. When your boss isn’t around, it becomes exponentially easier to goof off; all you have to do if a co-worker drops by is have a tab with Cute Overload or CNN open and flip to it. If the co-worker asks what you’re doing, show a cute picture of a kitten or a news story about the President**. Other managers probably don’t care as long as you look like you’re working, so as long as there’s not nudity or YouTube on your screen, you should be fine.

One more thing: bosses are known to change things up. Don’t lose track of your boss’s habits, or you could find him over your shoulder when you least expect it, and that defeats the purpose of faking it.

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* Or she, but typing s/he always takes so long. Just go with me here.

** Whether the target is a Republican or Democrat, this will instill confidence in you as a peer that you’re taking an interest in world events. This sometimes works on bosses too. As for the kittens… well, cuteness releases serotonin, and most people in offices need to relax anyway.

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That Guy’s Tips for Faking It: Underpromise and Overdeliver April 29, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success, Tips for Faking It, Wasting Time.
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This is the third entry in “That Guy’s Tips for Faking It”, a week’s worth of useful tricks to get out of working too hard while also looking like you’re worth keeping around.

When it Comes to Deadlines, Underpromise and Overdeliver

You’ve probably figured this one out — hell, my boss has made this the watchword of our department — but if you’re not underpromising and overdelivering on your deadlines, then you’re doing it wrong.

See, here’s the thing: you may do great work. You may do fast work. But if you consistently work fast and exceptionally, people are going to set that as the baseline and force you to do even better. You got hired, though, by showing off your very best work. Why should you have to do that all the time? You certainly didn’t do it at your old job.

But you don’t want to do crappy work, either. That’s the fastest way to get canned short of budget cuts or grabbing someone’s ass.

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

James Doohan as Captain Montgomery Scott

You may remember in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Scotty says “but you dinna have eight weeks, so I’ll do it for ye in two” and Admiral Kirk says, “Mr. Scott, have you always multiplied your repair estimates by a factor of four?”

The answer?

“How did ye think I kept my reputation as a miracle worker?”

Around CorporateSpeak, I’m known as the resident miracle worker — if it needs to be designed fast or well, I pull it off. If it needs to be something new that still conforms to our existing workflows, I’m your man. But I never deliver too soon, even when we’re at the last minute. I always know when the last minute is — and you should too — so that you can deliver about an hour before that. Not only does it give you the reputation as the person who gets it done right and gets it done on time, but it also gives management less time to make changes. And hey, if they do, it’s not your fault the project was late, right?

Be the miracle worker. It keeps people happy about you being there in the first place.

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That Guy’s Tips for Faking It: Sweat the Small Stuff April 28, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Tips for Corporate Success, Tips for Faking It, Wasting Time.
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This is the second entry in “That Guy’s Tips for Faking It”, a week’s worth of useful tricks to get out of working too hard while also looking like you’re worth keeping around.

Sweat the Small Stuff

CC-licensed photo by Roshan Vyas

CC-licensed photo by Roshan Vyas

One of the tricks to keeping your job isn’t a trick at all: just be so good at what you do that you make it impossible to fire you. But once you pull that off, you’ll realize that you work too fast and have too much down-time. You don’t want your boss to realize that.

So sweat the small stuff.

When you get a project, go through your usual project tasks. Just don’t finish it. Leave one — or, even better, three or four — small, relatively-easy things to fix up or polish, so that when your boss comes by, it looks like you’re actually working on something. It’s even better if it’s visual, so you can be saving, refreshing, checking, changing and so on. Designers in particular benefit from sweating the small stuff because they really do have to work hard on colors, sizes, and placements. Coders can pretend to be testing out new code, come up with an error, and then say “well, I was testing out this new thing, but it didn’t work, so I’m going to do it the way I did that last project”.

Trust me. There are dozens of ways to sweat the small stuff. Just so long as it looks like you’re actually working when your boss — or anyone else — strolls by. That’s the important part.

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That Guy’s Tips for Faking It: Introduction April 27, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Seen Elsewhere, Tips for Corporate Success, Tips for Faking It, Wasting Time.
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It takes a lot of work to fake it in this economy, but rather than actually working harder, it benefits your huge amount of goof-off time to work smarter. SpikeTV has ten tips; here are some of the best:

9. Plan an Escape Route: This is basically straight out of Office Space. When Peter knows Lumbergh is going to ask him to work the weekend, what is the first thing he does? Plan an elaborate exit strategy. Getting out of work quickly and quietly is more important and more complex than an Iraq exit strategy.

This is vital. Know where the exits are, but better, know the way to walk around the office and stay out of sight. Here at CorporateSpeak, behind the content department’s reception desk is a wall of monitors. I can sneak behind them and get out of here without anyone noticing.

6. CC Ceaselessly and With Impunity: Copying your boss on emails is a good way to let him know you’re active. In Sloane Crosley’s essay The Ursula Cookie, she describes the worst boss imaginable. One of the things Ursula constantly says is that she has no idea what her employee does all day. Well if she got 200 copied emails about the minutia of her day, not only would she know, but she’d likely give her a little space.

The real trick is to make sure your boss is included on every decision you might possibly make. That way, instead of starting your project, you can say “well, I didn’t start because I wanted to make sure you were on board with my plan.” That’ll give you at least half an hour of goof-off time if you play your cards right.

The article also suggests you become a smoker so you can take smoke breaks, but with more and more companies instituting penalties for smoking on the job, that’s likely not your best option. Plus it’s unhealthy, and if you have kids, in some states smoking could be construed as a form of child abuse or (especially in our divorce-crazy country) count against you in custody battles.

For the rest of the week, I’m going to present to you “That Guy’s Tips for Faking It”. Every morning you’ll get a useful tip that will help you — if you’re smart about it — keep your job, look busy, and avoid extra work.

Speaking of mornings, here’s one of my favorite parts of the old Dilbert TV show — which I do own on DVD.

like a boss April 24, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Seen Elsewhere.
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A little something funny for the end of your week. Courtesy NBC/SNL/Hulu.com.

Like a Boss, an SNL Digital Short.

I tried to embed it, but WordPress doesn’t like Hulu’s embed codes. Oh well.

the nodder April 23, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meeting Minutes, Staff.
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The Nodder. No, this isn’t about a person who sleeps through meetings. This is about the person who knows the secret to making it seem like he’s actually paying attention to the meeting.

It’s all about looking interested. Or, as That Guy said in Future Stock, “it’s all… about… appearances.” The Nodder listens with half an ear, perhaps thinking about his kids, or his hobbies, or how much work is piling up while he sits in this meeting and lends half an ear. Every now and then, he nods, says “mmhmm” softly, or engages in some combination of the two. Perhaps he leans forward a bit. Perhaps he leans back a bit. He might scribble something down in his notebook, but no one knows what it is. (It might even be relevant.)

And he does what so many other people don’t when they tune out: he stays aware enough to actually offer suggestions now and then, thus confirming that he is indeed paying attention. At least, he’s confirming it to the meeting leaders. Who, by the way, he addresses by name. You’ll notice he’s the only one who does so.

At the end of the meeting, the Nodder simply goes his merry way, either to his next meeting or back to his desk to nod some more.

It will drive you crazy. Not necessarily because of the nodding and the “mmhmm”ing — which, make no mistake about it, will get on your nerves — but because you didn’t think of it first.

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most adults still haven’t figured it out April 22, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Lessons Learned, Seen Elsewhere.
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In the United States, you are ostensibly an adult when you reach 18, even though you can’t drink until you’re 21 and you can’t rent a car without an under-25 fee until you’re… well, until you’re 25. And, on top of that, most of the “things you ought to know when you turn 18” lists aren’t read by the 18-year-olds they’re intended to help. They’re read by people who are already in the workforce, buried, unable to make changes or go back and do the right thing. So they read them to their kids, who summarily hear only the sound of a muted trumpet.

John Hawkins, who once put me on his “top 20 posts of the year” list when I was another incarnation of myself, posted one of these lists. Here’s some bits that apply quite well to the corporate world:

7) “Don’t have any children or get married until you can support and love yourself first.” — D-Vega

Children are wonderful. I have some. But one of the prospective parents in a committed relationship is likely to be of the “let’s have the kids right now” camp. Just remember that kids are expensive, and even if your medical insurance covers you (or your wife, if you’re the non-pregnant member of the couple), who’s to say you’ll still have that job later? How much will COBRA cost you if you lose your job? And what about all the baby stuff you have to buy — bassinet, clothes, diapers, formula*, car seats, strollers, and that’s all I can think of off the top of my head. And as for the “love” part… if you’re unhappy at your job, why spread that unhappiness to your family too?

10) Start looking for a new job BEFORE you quit your old job.

You should always be looking for a new job. Spend at least two hours a week checking job boards. Maybe you have the ideal job now, but what if the next great job comes along while you’re not looking?

23) When you move, sell, throw away, and give away as much as possible or you’ll just end up moving boxes from one closet, where they have been sitting for five years, to another closet, where they’ll be sitting for the next five years.

When you change desks, throw stuff away. If you take a desk from another person, box up all his/her stuff and deliver it to him/her. If that person was fired or quit, keep the box for a year, then toss it all.

36) If you want to do something exceptional, don’t expect anyone to believe you can do it until you’ve done it. Unless you’re already perceived as exceptional, most people won’t believe in you. That’s doubly true for the people who know you best and have therefore seen you at your most mediocre, like your parents, family, and friends.

Underpromise and overdeliver. Come up with the next great idea, start implementing it, and then tell your boss. Otherwise, you’ll end up having to make good on your promise to make things extra-awesome, and when you can’t… well, there you are.

50) When trying to decide between two closely matched alternatives, always have a bias towards action. In the long run, it’ll lead to your having a lot more experience, great stories, and a richer, fuller life.

Better to take action than to wait for someone else to do it. Or, in the current corporate environment, at least talk about taking action. If you’re lucky, someone else will be assigned to take the action so you won’t have to do it. But if people aren’t doing their jobs, and it’s driving you crazy, volunteer to troubleshoot. It’ll eat some time out of your day but if you’re ultimately making the product better, you should get a little leeway on your other tasks.

I’ve got a post brewing about that last bit, but I’m still pretty pissed off about the way accountability is handled here at CorporateSpeak. When I calm down, I’ll write it.

In any case, there are 45 more things you should know by now, things that 18-year-olds should be taught before they leave home. Here’s hoping you know at least half.

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* No matter how committed you are to breastfeeding, trust me — you’ll need formula at some point. It doesn’t make you a bad parent. I strongly recommend splurging on the liquid; the powdered kind you mix into water always made my kids extra-gassy, which is not something you want.

the most stressful time of the work week April 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Experiences, Seen Elsewhere, Wasting Time.
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This is post 200 of CorporateSpeak.

According to an article in the Telegraph, one of Britain’s leading newspapers, Tuesday at 11:45am is the most stressful time of the week:

Most workers coast through Monday getting their brain in gear and catching up with gossip from the weekend through social networking sites.

But on Tuesday reality sets in and staff spend the first part of the day going through emails they ignored on Monday before planning the week ahead.

And 11.45am is the point when everything comes to a head.

Graham Waters from health supplement Bimuno, which polled 3,000 adults, said: “Traditionally people associate Monday as the worst day of the week, but this doesn’t seem to be the case – coasting through Monday means we’re worse off on Tuesday – both in terms of workloads and stress levels.[…]

“Tuesday at 11:45am seems to be the time in the day when the real workload for the week hits employees and as a result stress levels rise.”

This part, in particular, made me chuckle:

More than 53 per cent of those polled admitted cruising through Monday and one in ten said they further delayed their tasks for the week by logging onto Facebook to view photos from their weekend antics.

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

Checking Facebook: the new smoke break at work. (CC-licensed photo by MarsHillOnline)

It just so happens that yesterday I had to finish a project due today, so for me it was a slightly busier Monday than usual, but I can understand how this happens. Think about it: what do you do on the weekend? Sure, you check Facebook and e-mail, but if you didn’t go out and do something exciting, you’re not on late, posting pictures of your debauchery (unless you’re the Facebook Babe). When you get to your desk and see those 200 e-mails waiting for your attention, what’s the first thing you want to do?

That’s right. You want to see if any of your friends hung out with any hot girls (or guys) over the weekend, and if they did, find out if they posted pictures of it.

Then you hit up Digg, Fark, and whatever other sites you really like to check each day but don’t bother checking on the weekend because you’re too busy trying to decide if you want to do something debaucherous*, or if you’d rather sit on the couch and watch television while avoiding chores**.

By the time you’re caught up on the internet, your e-mail box has swelled to 300 or 400 items, some of which are spam but most of which are things you really need to get around to doing. So you flag those, respond to the easy ones, accept or decline meeting invitations, and at 10:30 or so finally get through it all.

An hour and a half isn’t enough time to really do anything, though, so you putter through the rest of the morning, pretending to work. You take a longer-than-you-should lunch, get back, and are so full that you don’t really feel like doing anything. Throughout the afternoon you make halfhearted starts on your projects — at least, the ones you think might not suck too much to begin — but then it’s time for coffee, a ritual that takes half an hour. And if it doesn’t (it takes me about ten minutes to brew a pot), you can pull it off.

Who wants to ruin a good cup of coffee? Sit at your desk, enjoy it, and check your social networks again — you have people’s “ugh, Monday SUCKS!” messages to comment on, dozens of tweets to read, and hey, maybe someone’s even posted pictures of scantily-clad women (or men) from the weekend beach getaway. Gotta check out all of those (in minute detail!), make your comments, share them with certain work friends, and now it’s almost 4:00. Hell, that’s the end of the day; just play out the string, come back tomorrow, and deal with all of it.

Hence the Tuesday-at-11:45 dilemma.

I wonder if people who work 4×10 schedules (four ten-hour days each week) experience this. My guess is “yes, but less” because they can knock out all their social networking in three or four hours and still have seven to actually accomplish work. Yet another benefit of the 4×10.

My favorite benefit, personally, is being able to schedule all your job interviews on that fifth day.

Anyway, I need to go. It’s almost lunchtime, and that means an hour to not accomplish anything. Awesome.

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* Yes, fine, I made that word up. Got a better one? There’s a nice little comments box down there…

** I find that the best way is to pick a few chores you enjoy doing (or at least don’t hate) and volunteer early to do them. For me, it’s the lawn (I can put on my headphones and tune out the world), the dishes (because I’m better at them than my wife and my kids aren’t old enough), and cooking. Then, at least, when my wife says “you never help out around here” I can point to those three and say “but I did that!”***

*** This never works, unfortunately.

late entry April 21, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Meta.
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Today’s post will be three hours and 45 minutes late. You’ll see why when it drops, in about three hours and 45 minutes.

there are four posters April 20, 2009

Posted by That Guy in Observations.
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Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.

-Mark Twain

My branch of CorporateSpeak leases about 20% of its building to a very well-known company with offices around the world. Everyone who works in this building but for that company is very nice and pleasant to hang around with. They do some of the same things we do, but for some reason they never seem to run around like chickens with their heads cut off in the way that our staff does as deadlines loom.

Maybe it’s because they’re such a big, well-run company, and CorporateSpeak, despite its size, is extremely fractured and no branch of the tree talks to any other branch.

Today when I came in, the other company — let’s call them 164 Studios — had put up posters showing some of their flagship products up in the corner of the big room where I work. They have about a 20% footprint on that room, over by the exit (and the bathrooms). It’s just four posters, but I don’t really see the point. Their local manager has an office he can decorate the way he wants (and has done so). Each person has personalized their desks to a limited extent. They also have offices upstairs which are additionally personalized.

So why put four posters up on the wall? What purpose does it serve? Does it make them more likely to do their work? To promote their products? To remind us how much better they are? Because they are much better than us — their products are better, their writing is better, and their people are much calmer. They don’t do tours — their corporate office is in New York City. They don’t have clients come in here. There are ten employees of 164 Studios in our building, and five of them never even come down to the first floor.

The only thing I can think of is that someone in management at 164 has watched too much Star Trek: The Next Generation.

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