Thursday, September 29, 2016

I wasn't looking and Slack became a bazillion-dollar industry

Holy shit, guys! Look what we started.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Working hard on (hardly working)

If you don't know about someecards, I don't know where you've been. Obviously not slacking. They're firing up a particularly funny batch of stuff for v-day this year...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Just a few days ago my company began mid-year reviews. Like mistletoe during the holidays it hangs over our heads for a few weeks leading up to a potentially stressful few hours punctuated by uncomfortable moments. Here are some helpful strategies that may help you to get you through such periods without substantially increased stress or effort. And without having to pucker up!

  1. Take Credit
    Assuming that you've been doing mostly nothing for a while, you're unlikely to have very much to show for it. But that does not mean that your supervisor knows or understands that. They might be perfectly ready to hear you describe what has been accomplished and think that you've done some important chunk of it. Don't worry. They want to believe that you're a hard working and enthusiastic team member. If you've been sitting in any number of meetings at all, it should be easy enough for you to create a list of stuff that has been done that you can present as being partially, if minimally, responsible for.

  2. Turn the Tables
    Sure this is your mid-year review, but there's no reason that all the conversation needs to be about you. That would be so boring anyway! Remember the pyramid. Talk about the other people in your group. Start off by dishing out glowing praise for some of the people around you in the org chart and work your way down the list confidently until you get to the point where you can say quote-unquote off the record that that one person in your group that you're thinking of but not naming really seems to be unhappy. You might even be worried that this person is on the verge of, well who knows what they are on the verge of but I'll tell you that it can't be good. That sets a stage for you to review your manager's performance and maybe dish out a few glancing blows wrapped in patronage and pity for anyone who would try to get anything accomplished with such a group of clowns.

  3. Sob Story (or SOB story)
    Every system, engineers will tell you, has a bottleneck, a limitation which hinders its performance. A completely valid topic of discussion for your review are those entities outside your group which hinder yours. Certainly these are not problems that your manager can have any direct control over (or they would already know about them, and we would have discussed them in section 2, above). But your focus here is to delineate the boundary between you, your group, and this outside entity which is the source of friction. You should have several instance where you've attempted to address these issues but been rebuffed by those groups not taking responsibility.

And with that, you should be able to fill up the hour allotted for your review. If you haven't you should either work on your rhetorical skills or just work on your, er, work. You should also have taken the care to schedule the review between two meetings which are critically important for your reviewer, thereby ensuring that your review meeting will start late and end promptly. By now you're already paying attention to water fountains and the location of public power outlets. Taking notice of how little details like this can work in your favor should be easy.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We feel ya, Pete.

Fig. 1"Corporate hostage" (his words, not mine) Pete S. sent in this illustration. He said he realized after reading the entry on graphs that some of his useful skills were wasting away because he was spending so much time in alt.bigfoot.research.

"I really started to feel good about myself," Pete said. "I was getting more and more excited about coming in to work every day. I think I even startled one lady because I said 'good afternoon!' to her on my way back from the bathroom. I was becoming somebody that you didn't mess with in the alt.bigfoot arena as a result of all my diligent study of all the information on the Internet concerning sasquatch. People in the newsgroup were starting to accept the things that I said because I said them. It was an incredible rush. I had never felt that way before in my life. And when I realized that my skills were essentially wasting away I was like, 'oh my god, I don't want to fail, I just don't want to work!'"

Well, Pete, you're on your way. It seems like you've got the English skills you need, and a respectable start to an illustrious career as a creator of funny illustrations. And hey, don't let it get you down if not everybody believes you at first about that Yeti business. Dr. Jane Goodall, whose credentials are hardly in doubt, said on NPR in 2002, "I'm sure that they exist!"

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Be Cool: Visual Aids

As we have discussed several times before, one of the key aspects of being busy [sic] is attending meetings. Meetings which almost always include a presentation and those presentations don't just make themselves.

Most of the time these presentations are made in Microsoft Powerpoint, although you can do a respectable presentation on Google's document site but no matter how you create it, you're going to have to include some kind of graph, chart, or visual aid to keep your audience from going to sleep. To create that you're first you're going to need some data. You'll have no trouble with this if you've completed the assignment from the previous post. If you have not, you might find some of the ideas on graphjam a good starting point. Perhaps you need something a bit more serious? In that case, there's nobody like Edward R. Tufte to help you get the most out of your fifteen slides of fame.

Be aware that this might look and feel a lot like "work" and to some extent, that's the point. While editing a presentation you can be relaxing at your desk to some good tunes, passing the time, and remaining seated after all that walking from water fountain to water fountain. And the best part is even though you're having a good time doing it, to the casual passerby the stuff on your screen looks like work and it is a lot less obvious than sitting at your desk browsing the American Apparel website. My. God. And, of course, you're honing your PowerPoint and, perhaps, Excel skills in the off chance that one day you have the opportunity to do work that you actually enjoy and want to do.

Until then, keep your analytical skills as sharp as your wit. Remember: every presentation is a sales presentation. And you're a lot less likely to get the boot if you are liked and respected. There's no better easier path to being liked than by making people smile as they buy your bullshit.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sip Check

One of the key tenets of slack-hacking is no matter what you're actually doing, look busy.

In order to do that, let's examine some features of a busy person's external appearance: they appear to be collecting and distributing information. Some of the trappings of this activity include manila folders, walking quickly, and attending meetings, and trying not to seem lost in unfamiliar parts of the campus.

So it is easy to hack out an exercise where a slacker might pass for a busy, nay an extremely busy person. And all the while be checking out the -- um -- scenery in other parts of the corporate campus. And by scenery I mean water fountains (you thought I meant the chicks in accounting didn't you, pervy?).

See, in the United States the Occupational Health & Safety Administration (OSHA) creates guidelines and laws that govern the working environment that employers create for their workforce. In this case we are particularly interested in the requirement that employers provide potable water for all employees.

What is needed here is an organized task of mapping and checking each water fountain (or, if you are from Massachusetts, bubbler) for flow, taste, and temperature. From this we will be able to assess where on campus we should go on particularly hot days or if we are interested in filling up our canteen with a relative quickness (ha!).

I have created a form for this purpose which I will not share with you here, because any hour you spend tinkering to create your own form in Microsoft Excel (or better, will contribute to the image of busy-ness that is the ultimate goal of slack-hacking to begin with. Besides, you may have other characteristics to consider and compare in your evaluation, like cleanliness.

Once you have prepared your form you need only an important-looking folder before you are ready to go begin your survey. The man pictured at left is obviously from New England and takes this responsibility very seriously.

While you are performing the survey, bear the following things in mind:

1. When you are in an unfamiliar part of the building, it is okay to appear lost. In fact, this is an important part of the reverse-reverse-reverse psychology we are employing here. They think you're busy and looking for a meeting room. They think you're too nervous to ask for directions, so you stop at the drinking fountain for a sip.

2. The folder convinces them that you are on an important mission that is none of their business. If it were their business they would have been informed by their management. Because you are not their management, you don't have time to discuss it with them. Walk quickly, smile like you don't mean it.

3. Sometimes meeting room numbers are hard to read from a distance. Nice skirt.

4. Do not sample fountains in an obvious, shortest-path order. A random or large end-to-end pattern may work best. You might also carry a cellphone to keep you engaged between sites.

Depending on the size of your campus, this exercise might take less than a day or it may be parceled out to become a project that spans weeks. That is up to you. I'll also note how fortunate it is that these water fountains are usually located close to restrooms, because drinking all that water will eventually take its toll.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Gobble this up!

Today, as I was catching up on Pasq242's writings, I learned a new term: Work Turkeys. He defines it as

work turkey - [wurk tur-kee] - n. - a project or activity undertaken at work that appears to be productive but is actually an elaborate means of wasting time (usually with some kind of end product). Derived from the grade school activity of tracing your hand and decorating it like a turkey (thumb is the head, fingers are feathers)--specifically, performing this activity at work.

  • Drawing turkeys during meetings
  • Creating hula skirts for your pens by fraying the edges of post-it notes
  • Changing the "DRAFT" watermark on the document you are working on to various things throughout the day including:
    - "penguin"
    - "bootylicious"
    - "deez nuts"
    - "my anaconda don't want none unless you got buns, hon"
  • Anonymously modifying items in your shared workspace
(click on the link for that last bullet point!)

Footnote: sorry, I'm totally ripping off his post but it is 100% applicable here and also it is freakin' hilarious. Thanks, Pasq. Much, much respect.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Excuses, excuses

Sometimes I miss a meeting. Oops. That means I have to spend more time coming up with an excuse for why I wasn't there. Today, though, a friend at another (international) company told me about the best excuse yet she's heard for missing a meeting...

Sorry about yesterday, things got a little crazy. One of the employees won the lottery proceeded to get drunk and ended up chasing people with machete. We had to lock him up in the locker room, which he trashed ... and call the cops.

Hmm, yeah. I hope that if I ever win the lottery I use the first big chunk of it to bail myself out of jail.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Calendar Crap

I am, by title, a "Senior [blah blah blah] Engineer." Which is pretty impressive to my mom, and might make you think that I drive a train, design hydroelectric power plants, work with calibrated instruments, or solve problems involving lots of numbers using a slide rule or abacus. But I do none of those things.

I attend meetings. And you know what? It isn't so bad. Most of them are conference calls these days, so I can keep my feet on my desk while I listen through my headset to the inane droning from the other end. That part is actually pretty cool.

The hard part, the part that takes up the bulk of my time and mental energy is figuring out when to "go" to a meeting, what meetings to "go" to, and what number to dial to attend. So I spend a lot of time in scheduling a meeting via email and then putting it on my calendar, and often enough forgetting about the meeting until 25 minutes after it started anyway. In most cases the meeting didn't require my presence, or eventually someone will call me to ask the specific question that the group who attended arrived at. In the end, my time has not only been saved to permit me to work on other things, my value as a senior engineer has been illustrated to those who waited on me.

Let me just say right here that I staunchly refuse to use Microsoft Outlook for reasons other than just its storied history of security vulnerabilities. For one thing, I don't want someone to send me an "invite" that automatically assigns my time. I don't care to expose my calendar to the rest of the company (what if sales blow-hards started attending my POWER meetings? shit!). I also can keep a straight face when I tell people that the bulk of my real work gets done when I am not in meetings, so staying out of meetings is an advantage to my productivity.

Still, I must keep a calendar so I can refer to it when someone asks me a question because the inevitable answer is that I will have a better answer for them after some other meeting which is happening later in the week. You want to know if the widget-counter contraption you've been asking me about for three months is complete yet? Yeah, let me get back to you after the engineering meeting Thursday afternoon. Of course, on Friday they are too busy thinking about light beer to remember to ask me about it again, so the cycle can continue for another week. I also need to keep a calendar so I know when to go get my haircut.

What I would hope for, presumably in order to be more efficient, is an easier to use calendar. A way to be automatically gently reminded of upcoming events, and just a little goddamn privacy. Look, efficiency is efficiency. If it could help me be more efficient with working, it will help me be more efficient with slacking.

A colleague has suggested using but I know that using external websites to record sensitive company data is, well, frowned upon in an organization so large that they feel they must do everything themselves or not at all.

In the mean time, a frustratingly large proportion of the time that I'm in my chair, awake, sober, and not unabashedly wasting my time is spent coordinating my schedule instead of solving cool problems that make things work better, faster, cheaper. If you wonder what drives a person to become a slack-hacker, that's a big part of it.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

POWER meetings

One of the things I love most about working in a really huge company is that there is a whole system set up for the reservation of conference rooms.

At a small company, you just go into the conference room. If the company is large enough that a meeting might be occurring without your prior knowledge, it is probably also large enough to have two conference rooms.

But this place? Who knows how many rooms we have set aside just for meetings. If we were more efficient, they wouldn't be empty so often or we would just have fewer of them. And that's probably exactly what some genius MBA was thinking when they started the project to develop the "Conference Room Scheduler" (which, I should note, dethroned the previous application called "Conference-room scheduler" that was totally different). This application runs on the intranet and permits me to reserve a conference room in any of the company's office locations in the country. There is a separate system for international sites for some reason. You can also schedule things like projectors and network hubs (in case everyone attending is not equipped for wireless) and the like. But not, it is important to note, critical meeting aids like coffee or lunch.

Well, like it or not, this is the application what you've gotta use if you want to have any kind of uninterrupted meeting. Imagine the embarrassment of having someone walk in while your arm is above your head as you gesticulate wildly in front of a white board and your right hand is flinging a red dry-erase marker dangerously through random geometrical shapes in an effort to ensure that the other people in the room are on the same page with you. My god, caught in the act! right?

Back to the Conference Room Scheduler. It so happens that there's no level of authority required to orchestrate a meeting, and no minimums or checks or reporting on who has what meetings, which is a good thing. If there were, we would slide even more deeply into a dilbert-esque universe where people were measured on having meetings instead of more concrete evidence of productivity like, oh I dunno, results or maybe the bottom line or just the number of hours that their ass is in their veal fattening pen. So, with no requisite for need or authority, I have taken to having a meeting each day at around 2:20 pm that lasts for about 20-25 minutes in which I and all my reports (none) work on our shavasana.
It is great, I tell you. After these POWER meetings I feel incredibly refreshed and healthy, like I could (if I so chose) be an efficient and effective contributing member of my team.

And some days, I actually am.

Friday, April 18, 2008

0th post!


With apologies to lifehacker, this site is a comprehensive discussion on how to not be getting things done without attracting attention to that fact. Humorous observations about how poorly gigantic companies are run will be hidden like Easter eggs and when you find them, you'll know it; like finding an Easter egg in October. On this site you will also be entertained with beautiful analogies, gratuitous punctuation, and elaborate, nested parenthetical asides.

I think doing this is better than quitting my job. So does my mortgage company. It really doesn't do much for my soul, but it is shallowly entertaining.

Unfortunately, those people who would be the most amused by it are the very people that I can't tell about it. So you, anonymous Internet bystander, are the beneficiary of my tales of deception and laziness as I basically steal my time back from corporate America ... just to waste it again.

Tune in to be entertained and informed as I will post weekly (if not more frequently) my tales and instructions on how to slack creatively. Forget googling for bored ever again. With all the fervor and energy that I once poured into the work they pay me to do, I shall now create a set of new ways to pretend to do the work they pay me to do.

Again, welcome.