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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

One Habit of Highly Unproductive People

I’m still acclimating to my return to the office, after a much-needed vacation last week. Luckily, I’m well-schooled in a very useful technique to help in difficult times like this. It’s called:

Saying Important-Sounding Things to Make It Seem As Though You Know What the Hell Is Going On

As you might imagine, this comes in awfully handy for me. I’m often in the dark — or in a fog, in left field, in my own little world, in the tank, or otherwise in a pickle — and I don’t want to wind up in hot water, too. And there’s nothing like an Important-Sounding Thing™, delivered with a knowing nod, to make it seem as though you’re right on top of things. Maybe even a step or two ahead, if the nod is timed just right. You can do it, too; it’s easy.

The nice thing is, an Important-Sounding Thing™ doesn’t actually need to reference the current topic to be effective. In fact, it doesn’t need to be about anything at all, provided it sounds important and profound enough. I’ll illustrate:

“The next time you’re jammed up with your boss, underinformed and unprepared, don’t cower in the broom closet or fake a bout of explosive projectile lumbago.”

Imagine you’re at the office, working on a team with a big report due tomorrow. You don’t personally know what the report is about, actually — you’ve probably been working on just one tiny aspect of the final project. Plus, you don’t pay much attention in meetings, really. You’re usually busy doodling cartoon turtles on your hand and dreaming of art school, or composing Burma Shave jingles in your head. Maybe listening in group settings is against your religion. Or maybe you’re completely blitzed, after a Red Bull ‘n’ ouzo lunch escapade.

Whatever the case, you’ve got no clue what’s going on. But your coworkers have discovered a problem with the report. The data’s bad, or the fonts are all wrong, or something. The whole project’s in jeopardy, and the people who know enough to see the writing on the wall have begun to panic. Joe from accounting is on the floor, in the fetal position. The guys from R & D are restraining Edith from jumping out the window. It’s chaos, and you’re the only calm soul in the room. You can’t let on that it’s because you simply can’t see how many nails are already in the coffin. So when the marketing V.P. staggers past you and shrieks, ‘How can you be so calm?!?‘, don’t shrug and laugh it off. Nod sagely and say an Important-Sounding Thing™; something like:

It’s always possible to salvage that which you never really lost.

What does it mean? Who knows. And who the hell cares? It’s the type of thing that makes people — smarter, more well-informed, and probably better-dressed people than you — stop and consider. It’s a catalyst, really. Soon, they’ll decide that the first thirty pages of that report are fine. They can use a figure from the end, splice a couple of sections together, work all night to fill in the gap, and gloss over the scary parts tomorrow. It’ll take a bit of luck, but it might just work. And suddenly, they’re moving again. The team is charged up, people are scurrying to and fro, and you’re a genius. Your fortune cookie non sequitur has saved the day, and you can finally go back to your desk for a secret nip of hooch and another game of Freecell. How’s that for a happy ending?

Best of all, there are loads of Important-Sounding Things™ out there for you to use. Or you can make up your own — just make it philosophical…-ish. And vague. If it sounds like a proverb of some kind — possibly coined by a famous person or translated from some obscure dead language — all the better. For instance, I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of:

The ancient Sumerians used to say: desperation is a shoe that never climbed a pyramid.

Were there pyramids in Sumeria? Couldn’t tell you. Did they have shoes? No idea. Could they even talk, or walk, or despair? Does it really matter? No. And do I look like the kind of guy who paid attention in history class, or do I look like the sort of guy who got to the midterm question ‘What was the immediate cause of World War I?‘ and wrote:

Mankind’s drive to conquer is unquenchable, like a moth to the flame. Or a stripper to the glittery body paint.

(For the record, saying Important-Sounding Things™ doesn’t actually work in an academic setting. I almost had to take the stupid class over the next year.

Let this be a lesson to you: don’t bullshit in school, kids. I don’t want to be responsible for creating the next generation of McDonald’s fry cooks, all right?)

The next time you’re jammed up with your boss, underinformed and unprepared, don’t cower in the broom closet or fake a bout of explosive projectile lumbago. Simply muster your courage, waggle your chin like a pundit, and unleash an Important-Sounding Thing™ to take the heat off. After all, could your boss fire the person who reminded people:

Widgets made with the most love are the widgets that will be loved the most. I think Einstein said that.

Probably not. At least, mine couldn’t. And making French fries has nothing to do with building widgets, so it should work even better for you. All hail the Important-Sounding Thing™!

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One Response to “One Habit of Highly Unproductive People”

  1. RRaccoon says:

    Want to present my as-of-yet-unfinished project on Monday? The one I’ve been working for 9 weeks on and is 3 weeks overdue? The one for which I was hired?

    You forgot one little line which just may save your ass if you can’t come up with anything philosophical sounding: We’ve made astounding progress considering we’ve essentially been debugging the software.

    (In my case it’s true, but I still hope they don’t ask to do anything like actually USE the prompts to change data in the reports.)

    Also, it’s helpful if there are more people on your team than just you and your boss. Shit usually runs downhill so we’ll see what kind of boss he REALLY is on Monday!

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