In any given week there are a long list of moments when we wished we looked busier. Looking bored often results in getting offered more work, becoming engaged in an annoying conversation, or having others assume you're lazy. Try some of these strategies next time you want to look busy.

Always Be Reading

Most people will not engage someone who is reading. However, there are those who lack basic social skills and need a few more visual cues to avoid you.

  • Read important material. If it is just the newspaper, people will assume you are simply killing time and wouldn't mind being talked to. If you are at work, you probably shouldn't be reading the paper anyway. Remember to always keep a technical looking document handy to delve into when needed. It doesn't have to actually be technical, it just has to look it. For instance, I would carry with me some articles with charts and graphs from a favorite baseball site FanGraphs. The content wouldn't be boring, but it would appear arduous to a passerby.
  • Read seriously. Run a pencil across the line you're reading, circle or underline important points, and God help you if you look up. Looking up from your paper is like saying, "Hey buddy, let's talk!". Engage yourself in the reading material like an adolscent in a skin mag.
  • Phones don't work. People know that phones are for quick tasks, not in depth research. It is mostly assumed that people are playing on their phones or killing time, like with reading the paper.

Seem Angry

This strategy must be used with caution. If used to often or incorrectly you will be labeled as "the guy who is always angry and doesn't want to talk to people". Maybe that's the case but if you're reading this I doubt that the road you want to go down. Here are some basic tips for this strategy.

  • Only carry the anger in your face. Don't slam doors or drawers, do not yell or be curt with other verbally. Here you only need to put on your 'hard face'. It doesn't even have to look angry necessarily, just tough, intent, driven.
  • Walk like you're on a mission. Straight body, shoulders locked. Don't sway and don't wave. If you are beckoned, the only gesture you should make is with your chin. If someone says 'hello' simply look their way, allow a slim grin, lift your chin up slightly, and continue on. Girls, this works especially well for you. If I ever get a chin nod from a woman (and not a wave or hug) I know she means business.


If someone who is unable to notice your cues approaches, you will need to redirect them. This is the same strategy parent's use with their toddlers, and teachers use with unruly students. Here are some examples:

Somebody: "Hey Phil, hows it going? I'm just going around, trying to get this holiday party organized."

You: "Absolutely, right now I need to make sure *bosses name* gets these reports on time. (Hand on forehead, slow blink, quick sigh) I'm sure once I finish reviewing these technical documents we can discuss it."

Somebody: "Oh yeah, sure. I was just needing someone to help plan and maybe do some decorations."

You: "You know how it is. I just have to really get into this project. The last thing I want to do is stop halfway through and end up working through the night. I'll definitely get ahold of you about that holiday party once this work subsides."

A few key things happened during this redirect.

  1. Appeal to sympathy. By indicating that I am already swamped with other work, it was made clear that this request was too much to ask.
  2. Refer to a higher authority. Here we redirected the task allocation to the boss. If you have a task handed down directly from the boss, it is less likely for someone to take your time.
  3. Express good intentions. Make it known that if you had more time to engage this person, you would, but right now you are "swamped".

These strategies may seem disingenuous but most of the time it beats saying, "Pardon me, I really don't want to talk to you." Even the most tactful honest statements can lead to drama. Good luck putting these strategies to work and looking busier than ever.




This guy is too busy to be bothered.
Credit: Stuart Miles