How to look busy

Essential careers advice for any workplace, courtesy of Matthew Reeves

Whether it's investment banking, accountancy, consultancy, or some other industry, here is how I imagine the working environments of the City to be: everyone has four monitors, two desk phones, three mobile phones, and a couple of bat phones providing them with direct connections to presidents, premiers and key members of Fathers for Justice.

In this world I'm busier than an Abra-Kebab-Ra parked nocturnally opposite a Tiger Tiger, and I'm seriously considering making a spreadsheet to work out what combination of ProPlus, coffee and amphetamines will keep me with the peloton.

In reality, as a graduate I found myself located in a regional wing of an accountancy firm, in a city with a flourishing core, but a low-key attitude to work. My firm just didn't seem to be the finely-tuned, optimally-structured unit I'd been promised, so I moved.

The next company was the same. It was all more pedalo than peloton. Where was the throng, the buzz, the no-two-day-the-same that the recruitment videos proclaimed? And why did everyone only have one phone?

One consolation was that we had one of those systems where everyone had an "Aunty", or a "Buddy", or an "Uncle", or some other person with a cringe-inducing moniker. I was paired with George, a cheery-looking man who I realised was the type who could dislike anything with such unrelenting and pinpoint ferocity that, if properly captured, it could solve the world's energy problems. George (last name removed because I forgot it) was also the world's best buddy.

He gave me a 12-week course on how to look busy and purposeful. Over instant messaging, literally facing each other but never looking up from our screens, I got a valuable workplace education.

First, he taught, always be occupied. Occupied people type. Not-busy people use a mouse. Where do you type? Instant messaging of course! To the other bored employees. George's top tip: people using instant messaging, like those using Facebook Chat, have a giveaway typing sound. Imagine it. Tap-tap-tap-ENTER-pause. Tap-tap-tap-ENTER-pause.

This is all wrong. George taught me the notepad technique: type a message, send it, flip to Notepad, write out the words to a song that's in your head, or just garbage. Then, and only then, pause. Obsessive? Perhaps. But did I see my boss give another graduate a dressing-down because he sensed their IM overuse? Most certainly.

But here is George's golden rule that anyone who needs to look more busy than they are must master: always have an answer to "What are you working on?" loaded and in the chamber. According to George, there's a system for answering. "1) Untruth. 2) Ask for confirmation. 3) Laugh, and 4) offer of goodwill". It's known as the "U-CLOG", an acronym he failed to popularise.

At some point in your future, your boss will ask, "Have you got much bandwidth?" - a monstrosity of a phrase intended to make delegating seem cutting-edge, but which actually just comes across all Y2K. All you have to do is U-CLOG them. 1) "Sorry, I was just dealing with some payroll cock-up from HR." 2) "You know what they're like." 3) (laugh), and 4) "Can I help with something?"

It's a beautiful way to enable you to complete tasks at a truly testudine pace that should be cherished. Though, as I later learnt, George didn't invent U-CLOG - he was way too lazy for that.