We’re all about helping you be more productive, but to stay at the top of your game you need occasional downtime. Can it be helped that sometimes the need strikes while you’re at work?
Whether you’re a gamer, a Facebook addict, or just a plain old slacker, the typical office job is a prime setting for getting some serious goofing-off done. We can’t vouch for your productivity the rest of the time, but if you want to let off some steam in the middle of the day, we’ve got your back.
Use these tips at your own risk, of course, because deliberately screwing around on the job all day is just cause for termination at any company. Heck, if we caught any of our employees using these shenanigans on the job, we’d sack them on the spot.
With that out of the way, here are 10 unproductive tools and tips for the total flake.
1. Embrace BYOD
For most office workers, screwing around on the job is a problem, because IT departments typically install monitoring software on company-owned machines. Fortunately, there’s a movement afoot in the IT world that gives you perfect cover for sidestepping those tracking efforts: BYOD. According to Gartner, half of companies will require workers to bring their own devices to work by 2017. And that’s good news for you, because by bringing your own computer to the office, you can free yourself of company-mandated malware that tracks your software usage and keystrokes.
Where IT policies can strictly prohibit the installation of certain types of software or the browsing of dubious sites on company-owned machines, employers have much less latitude to make demands about what you do with the PC you bought for yourself and just happen to use at the office. So jump on the BYOD bandwagon quickly.
2. Get a mobile hotspot
Employer IT policies don’t just cover your PC, of course. You also have to be wary of what you do on the company network. Frequent use of Facebook, YouTube, or World of Warcraft will stand out ominously on a network traffic report and bring unwanted attention to your unproductive activities.
In a pinch, you can use your phone’s hotspot feature to get online for a quick status update, but if you’re going to be online a while, choose something like this Samsung 4G LTE Hotspot to maintain a steady connection that your company can’t track. Granted, even today’s fastest LTE hotspot is likely to let you down for serious online gaming, but for social web surfing and casual games, it’s more than adequate.
3. Choose your seat wisely
This should be a no-brainer, but it’s absolutely critical that you situate yourself in a way that hides your screen from passersby. There’s no point in stealthily obscuring your web traffic with a mobile hotspot if your boss can spot your Facebook window from across the office. Use any pretext you can come up with to arrange your desk with your screen facing away from the general population. If possible, switch desks with a coworker to isolate yourself. Claim you’re agoraphobic, if you have to. Be creative.
4. Use a screen privacy guard
If you can’t position your screen completely out of everyone’s view, you may need to take extra measures. A screen privacy guard can make it nearly impossible for anyone to see what’s on your display unless they’re sitting directly in front of the PC.
Available as either a frame-mounted cover for your display or an adhesive film for your device screen, these screen guards contain tiny microlouvers that radically reduce the viewing angle of your display so passersby can’t see what you’re up to. You can justify the presence of these screen guards as anti-glare filters, or you can defend them by saying they keep your confidential reports out of view. But be warned: They’re not cheap. A good microlouver film will set you back $200 or more for a desktop display, and upwards of $50 for a mobile device.
5. Wear a businessy headset
In many offices, the sight of workers wearing big, high-end audio headsets can be a sign of hard work and focus. In others, it can signal goofing off. When in doubt, err on the side of caution with a no-nonsense headset. This single-ear Bluetooth headset from Top Dawg probably won’t set your senses alight with its audio fidelity, but it will give you the appearance of a busy worker on a conference call. If someone approaches you, just point to the headset and wave them away. Works like a charm.
6. MindGems Boss Key
If all of the above measures fail, you’ll want a way to hide incriminating windows from view—quickly. MindGems Boss Key ($20) lets you dispense with all visual evidence of your unproductive ways in a single keystroke. In addition to instantly eliminating game and browser windows from view (while leaving, say, your spreadsheet open), it also kills the associated icons in your taskbar, so savvy bosses won’t see a minimized game icon and catch on to your tomfoolery.
7. ScraperWiki for Twitter
Some activities practically hide themselves, if you use the right tools. For Twitter fiends, ScraperWiki is all the stealth anyone needs. At $9 a month, it’s not exactly a bargain, but if your job’s on the line and you just can’t pull yourself away from your Twitter feed for an instant, it’s well worth the price. Designed for social media pros and data scientists, ScraperWiki is a powerful tool for extracting data from the web. But its Twitter scraping lets you pull in a week’s worth of past data and then keep it updated at regular intervals within an Excel spreadsheet that looks super-buttoned-down. (We recommend omitting the profile image column for maximum effect.)
8. HardlyWork.in for Facebook and Twitter
For a free alternative to ScraperWiki that also supports Facebook, we recommend HardlyWork.in. Just use the OAuth links to give the site one-click access to your feed, and it’ll pull down the most recent tweets or Facebook posts into a realistic-looking spreadsheet decoy in your browser window. You can click the upper-left corner of the window to change the skin on the fly to better match your Windows or Mac screen environment.
9. Can’t You See I’m Busy
If all you’re looking for is a casual distraction to take your mind off the soul-crushing inanity of your professional life, we recommend seeing a counselor. Failing that, try Can’t You See I’m Busy, a clever set of casual games designed to look like business spreadsheets. They’re fun, they’re free, and they can be surprisingly addicting.
10. Create a fake desktop background
In a slacker move as old as the web itself, you could always create a desktop background that looks like a screen full of business apps. To do it, just hide your taskbar, eliminate any desktop icons, load your screen with legitimate business apps that reflect a serious and credible workload, and grab a screenshot. Then set that screenshot as your desktop background. From then on, you can quickly hide any incriminating windows, and your desktop itself will cover for you.
Bonus Tip: Get some actual work done, too.
Seriously, though: No amount of technological decoys can protect you from a good firing if you’re not getting anything done at work. We don’t blame you for wanting to unwind a little at the office, but your boss very well might. So don’t just slack off perpetually. Strike a balance, be productive, and use these tips with discretion.
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