Seven Ways to Pretend to be Busy at Work

He’s the busiest person in the office. Most of us know this person. He is always too busy to stop and talk. He must be important, because nobody could be that busy all the time and not be important. And whatever you do, don’t ask him to take on anything else – can’t you see he’s already up his eyes?

Or is he?

It’s not difficult to look like you’re snowed under, even when you’ve nothing more pressing on your mind than one deadline next Wednesday and planning which bagel to have for lunch. Here are seven well-worn tricks to looking busier than anyone else in the office:

1. Always carry files under your arm

The busy person never goes anywhere in the office without files under his arm or papers in his hand. Even if it’s to the kitchen for a cup of tea. If someone walks across the office empty-handed? Dossing. If someone walks across the office with a file in hand (even if contains blank pages): he’s clearly en route to a meeting or Somewhere Very Important.

2. Walk fast

busy man - office mum
Yes, but what’s really in that briefcase?


The busy person does not stroll around the office – he marches. He more than marches – he is practically Rob Heffernan going for Olympic gold. He has no time for meandering, for faffing, for lolling, for chatting. He’s on a mission. He’s busy.

3. Talk fast

This person descends on colleagues (marching of course) and without preamble, launches into the business at hand. There’s no time for hellos or how-are-yous. Smalltalk is for the kind of people who think work should be fun as well as being work.

4. Arrive late to meetings

Although this is inconvenient and annoying for everyone else, the busy person just can’t help it. He slides into his chair after the meeting has been going on for ten minutes, rustling papers, thumbing through to find the right page, craning his neck to see what his neighbour is looking at. His body language says “I’m rushing here from another meeting, in fact I’ve had back-to-back meetings since before you got out of bed this morning, and I don’t even know what this one is about.” Really he was bidding for ski equipment on eBay.

5. Leave a coat on your chair overnight

The smart busy person knows that in order to be seen to be last in the office, without necessarily being last in the office, all you have to do is leave a coat on a chair. There’s no need to be present on the chair along with the coat – the busy person could conceivably be at a late evening meeting or at the printer. The coat is enough to signal “I’m working late”

And it doubles up as the perfect “I’m in the office early” beacon the following morning.

Note that leaving a PC switched on all night complements the coat-on-chair look beautifully.

6. Mis-spell all your emails

Nothing says “busy” like a badly spelled e-mail. Only people with time on their hands have that extra two or three seconds to hit spell-check, right? A busy person knows that you send the e-mail exaccctly as it come uot in teh frst draft.

7. Answer every inquiry the same way


If the question is “How’re things – busy?”, the answer must be some variant of “I’m up to my eyes”, “I’m snowed under”, “It’s insanely busy” or “No time to even breathe this week”. For the love of God, never say “Not too bad really – quiet enough”. You will either have a double-workload or lose your job by the end of the day.

Now, excuse my while I answer four hundred emails before rushing to my next super important meeting …

busy - office mum

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7 thoughts on “Seven Ways to Pretend to be Busy at Work”

  1. Thanks Andrea for this article. After a few weeks in a new company I feel like I’m going to need these tips.. LOL.. well, I’m laughing here but it’s nervous laugh. People are more strict in here. That’s something I will need to get used to and adapt to quite quickly. If you have any pointers on how to deal with changes in corporate cultures and still stay true to your own values I would love to know them.

    1. Oh Joanna, that’s so hard! I think every move is tough, and even if in the end it works out fantastically, there’s an inevitable settling in period, getting used to a new culture. I think eventually it works out – you will get used to the new culture, and there may be elements of what you’re used to that you can bring in. I think doing that is an exercise in diplomacy. I’ve been there 🙂 Sometimes the only way is to slowly, slowly, quietly mention things that have worked well for you and get your message across in a drip-feed way. Overnight change is hard when you’re the new person and you’re on your own, but if there are things that you can clearly see are not working, and you know a better way to do it, over time you’ll find a way to sell that idea. I also think it helps to set goals – plan to assess the situation/ how you’re feeling in three months and in six months. You may find that you’re much happier by then. I hope so! Best of luck and stay in touch x

  2. I know that man. I have worked with him for ten years and I can’t stand him. But I am happy that a few years ago the people that matter career-wise in my job have realised that I do a lot more than he does and they trust with with clients they wounldn’t trust to him. It doesn’t stop them paying him more though. That’s Germany for you though. Very far from equal pay for equal work.
    Fionnuala recently posted…What Lies BeneathMy Profile

    1. I think the powers that be usually see through the busy-man or busy-woman. It’s frustrating nevertheless. How awful that in your case he is paid more. It’s not something I’ve ever seen directly but I’m certain it does happen in Ireland too.

    1. I like that. Thanks!
      (for some reason, the Like button doesn’t work on my site, it sits on top of other bits of writing when I install it, so I de-install it then again. It’s annoying, I know)

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