What are you really working on when you're at work?
The instant messaging application is a sly and ubiquitous time thief. Typing takes longer than speaking, and can kill your momentum and focus with constant interruptions. Must we even mention how devastatingly easy it is to get caught up in a lengthy story or flurry of link-sharing? There's multinetwork client Digsby, Pidgin, Trillian or Adium; stalwarts Windows Live Messenger, AIM, or ICQ; or one of Yahoo Messenger's young'uns--Version 9 beta or Yahoo IM for Vista. Go ahead, pick your poison.
With around 70 million active users each on Facebook and MySpace, it's a safe assumption that hundreds of thousands of them are updating their status details, volleying messages, and uploading images in a constant effort to stay connected. Flock browser and Digsby IM are two apps to offer companion services for accessing social networks, priming the pump of distraction. Facebook Mobile and its client apps Facebook for BlackBerry and Facebook for iPhone, and MySpace Mobile also feed the addiction by offering entry to social nets while on the go.
There's no getting between newshounds and their quarry, even (or especially) if the breaking news, tech happenings, blog updates, and running sports scores subtract hours from actual work. Bookmarked Web pages may be the source of a cerebral detour, but so are news or blog aggregators like Google Reader, Newsgator, Digg, and Delicious, and Firefox helpers like Read it Later and Better GReader. Desktop readers such as the honorable ReadAir, FeedDemon, and NetNewsWire (Mac) only clog up the bottleneck.
You know you're an icon of cultural import when one of the music industry's top money-earners mentions you in a song. But Mariah Carey crooned what everyone already knew about YouTube's celebrity. Diet Coke + Mentos and Here Comes Another Bubble have brought the art of the user-generated video short to the masses in one continuous e-mail and IM-linking loop. The fact that YouTube managed to get itself acquired by Google attests to the site's unflagging popularity as an office hobby and a source of co-worker bonding even more compelling than the free snack table. To support your hobby, we've listed top YouTube downloaders and converters.
The original computer pastime is, as ever, a reliable deterrent from work. King's Quest and Prince of Persia have been replaced by World of Warcraft and Second Life (for Mac and Windows), which slurp up not just time, but system resources and your local power grid. Yet there's no discounting the draw of Texas Hold 'Em or Flash-based hit Cursor*10, and to set your sights on some serious slacking there's N, a seemingly incessant 2D ninja adventure with 1,586,567 levels. Committing yourself to that one puts the "pro" back into "procrastination."
How many times per day do you check your e-mail? In the days of early clients Eudora, CompuServe, and Outlook, e-mail was a novelty. Near-instantaneous letters? On the computer? So cool. That's when chain e-mail, silly forwards, heartfelt campaigns, and spam-killing began gnawing into our recreational habits. The thirst for more storage, more Word processing capabilities, and more support for bulky attachments was whet with Gmail, and we were irreversibly hooked. Admit it, you're an obsessive-compulsive e-mail-checking addict too, aren't you?
Are you still browsing for a lost document by clicking through your folder system? Stop it! This is soul-deadening busywork, and you're too good for it. The PC's built-in file search is so-so, but we like these better. Copernic Desktop Search and Google Desktop Search for Mac and Windows will serve up details alongside powerful file dredging. Launchy (Windows) and Quicksilver (Mac) will also shave seconds from day-to-day application- and file-launching by summoning the file with a few key presses. Whew; much better.
It's said that music soothes the savage beast. Well, it soothes the office monkey, too. Slap on a pair of bulbous headphones to listen to your music or poke around your coworkers' holdings on iTunes (for Mac and Windows). While you're at it, you might was well buy songs from the iTunes store, check out album art, burn some CDs, make a few ringtones for your phone...Oh, is it lunchtime already?
It's one thing to buy a gift certificate online during your nine-to-five and another to manage your power-seller account on eBay with a hawkish eye (ahem, might we recommend eBay desktop?) Many of you fall somewhere in between, searching for new electronics, clothing, and media online during a break that stretches from 10 minutes to 20 to 30. We're not saying we've never been guilty. We just like to point out that it happens.