Tuesday, August 22, 2006


What do you do to forget that you're just another office smurf in a tiny cubicle doing the bidding of a giant corporation? How do you pass the time between the GYATs ("Get Your Act Together" meetings) and task force meetings and conference calls and team building events? Well, you could go through all of your email messages and read those you skipped and respond to those you had forgotten about and file away the important ones…. OR you could engage in a distraction that takes your mind to a better, happier place for a little while.

My favorite distractions

Thank goodness and halleluiah for the internet. Back when I entered my first cubicle, the internet was young and troublesome. We had computers and Windows and we had the bulletin board system, or BBS, and newsgroups. It was text-based communication and ASCII art was the hottest thing. The Web was brand new and people were trying to figure out how to spell HTML. But fortunately today, we have the best source of office distraction that's available to just about everyone. And with Google as our guide, we can still look like we're doing real work while we navigate the vastness of the electronic frontier and find the answers to life's greatest questions: What's the meaning of the word "feckless"? Where can I get the cheapest gas in my neighborhood? How do I make a dirty mojito? What the heck is a kinkajou? Plus you can catch up on the latest movie reviews, check and check again your stock values, and look at pictures of other people's pets. Dual monitor support is a must for your computer, you can effectively display work-type stuff on one screen--the one people first see when they drop in on you in your cubicle without warning--while safely browsing on the other screen. Also, it's a good idea to have something like Powerpoint running in the background that you can alt-tab to in case you don't want someone to catch you looking at cute Mr. Mittens' Flickr photostream.

Back in the day, when computers were slow and the Web was just learning to crawl, we could barely play back a 320x240 video on our Pentium-based computers, much less capture video on them. Today, in the world of digital photography and cell phones with 1.3Mpixel cameras, everyone's a producer of their own Real World stories. YouTube has quickly become a favorite distraction, where you can peek into the lives of strangers, watch clips of TV shows you may have missed and see videos of Mr. Mittens. The nice thing about YouTube is the fact that the videos are limited to just a few minutes, so you can get your fix and then get back to real work for a bit.

I have acquired through the years a number of distracting toys that litter my cubicle desk and bookshelf. Sometimes they give me something to do while I'm rebooting a computer, but mostly they're for my uninvited "guests". A few years back when I was a 3rd-year intern, I was working on a coding project which I had inherited from a previous intern. She had left me with a nasty bunch of code with no comments and I was weeding through the mess trying to figure out what was going on. In the cube next to me was a guy (I'll call him Andy) who was brand new intern and had ADD or something. Andy was bubbly and bouncy are bored very quickly. His workload wasn't very big, so he was always popping in my cube to say "hey" and start up some chatty conversation. Well, this got to be pretty annoying since it took a lot of concentration to figure out the program I was working on, so I'd often try to find a way to get him out of my cube quickly so I could get back to work. Somewhat by accident, I found a solution: I had a PEZ character in my office, which ended up one day positioned right by my cube entrance and the spare chair. Like a baby after a brightly-colored toy, Andy was immediately drawn to it the next time he dropped in my office and distracted himself by eating the candies, one by one. Then, amazingly, he left! I dug through my drawers and collections at home and brought in a few more toys which, like bait, he'd go for every time he entered my cube and he'd forget all about chatting, which left me some peace and quiet for awhile.

Other toys I find useful distractions are the Legos, Magnetix, and a marble maze which I obtained at a trade show.

There are also a lot of cool office toys available on ThinkGeek.com, and if you're a sadist, you might want to try "The Cubes" cubicle playsets.

All of these distractions, along with a few cups of black coffee help keep me alert in my cubicle throughout the day and provide a brief bit stress relief from those many external and uncontrollable distractions of the work environment (noisy neighbors, phone calls from the boss, etc.) that regularly plague the life of the cubicle dweller.

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