How to Look Busy in Academia

By | February 16, 2015

How to Look Busy

Not sure people think you’re working hard enough? Want to seem more important?

It’s about time academia took a few lessons from the rest of the world, so follow this simple guide for how to look busy in academia.

Inspired by Lifemanship and scientmanship – an idea of Peter Medewar.

1. Tell Everyone How Busy You Are

The first step to looking busy is simple: just tell people you are busy. It doesn’t matter if you’ve not done anything for weeks, if you tell people you’re busy – why wouldn’t they believe you?

2. Call people into meetings

The meeting is the spiritual home of the ‘busy’ person. Call a meeting, but not just with any old people – try to get the most senior people you can find. If you’re in a meeting with senior people, surely that counts as work. And even better they think you’re working!

And don’t worry, there’s practically a whole industry devoted to looking smart in meetings.

how look busy

You probably don’t need this many people in your meeting. Image: laffy4k, Some rights reserved

3. Let everyone else know you’re in a meeting

It’s no use just the people in the meeting seeing how ‘hard’ you are working. Let others know that you’ve been in a meeting, or will soon be in a meeting, or have been planning a meeting and so on and so forth.

4. Leave work late

I know what you’re thinking – leaving work late sounds like actually doing work rather than just looking busy. The trick is to arrive as late in the day as you like. Nobody notices if someone gets in early to ‘work hard’, but by staying after everyone else has gone home you can acrue plenty of ‘busy person’ points.

It doesn’t hurt to drop the fact that you’re going to stay late into conversation, just in case they don’t see you there later.

5. Hang around with people who are actually busy

A great way to look busy is to hang around with someone who is actually doing some work. Maybe they’re taking measurements or preparing samples. I’m sure they’ll be glad of the company, and if anyone checks on you, it looks like you’re both hard at it – result!

6. Work from home

Working from home – the other bastion of the ‘busy person’. Of course ‘working from home’ is wasted effort unless you tell people how much you’ve been doing it. Bonus points for ‘working’ from home at the weekend.


7. Visit a different facility

If you have access to another facility or lab, away from the people you normally work with this is perfect. As with many of these other ploys, be sure to make a song and dance about leaving your office or lab.

You can either go to the facility and put your feet up, or take a couple of hours off, knowing that your regular colleagues think you’re hard at work.

8. Always carry a paper or two with you

Another classic this one. All that working in corridorrs is like something from The West Wing.

Common variations include graphs that you’re “trying to get your head around”, or a paper that you’ve been “planning to write for ages”.

9. Carry your laptop with you

Nothing says “I’m busy” like carrying you’re laptop around with you. It’s like you’ve got so many important things to do, you don’t even have time to use a desk!

If you’re really in trouble, consider using an ‘looking busy aid‘.

10. Go to seminars and talks

Talks and seminars are a great opportunity to be seen by the great at the good of your department. Try and get a spot at the front to make sure you get noticed by as many people as possible – just don’t fall asleep!

Or you could keep quiet, follow some actual advice, and get some work done.