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No one said being in the military is easy work, especially if you’re enlisted. Some shitty task needs to get done? Someone needs to have the contents of a container displayed in the motor pool? A dilapidated building needs to be cleaned, even though nobody is going to live or work in it? This is your life now. 

But why actually be doing something and busy when you could be doing nothing and looking busy?

In a recent post to the popular r/AirForce subreddit was a memorandum concerning “How to Look Busy and Productive,” and it contains some helpful tricks of the shamming trade. 

“Don’t smile, smirk, laugh, look up, and make eye contact with anyone as you look through this binder. Doing so will show that you are focused and actively engaged in something productive,” the memo reads. 

Excellent advice, and though the post was aimed at the Air Force, it doesn’t have to be. This can apply to anyone of junior rank in the military. 

In fact, the behavior is so widespread that different branches have their own terms for it. In the Army, it’s called “shamming,” and in the Marine Corps, it’s known as “skating.” The latter is a reference to the acronym “SKATE,” which means: 

Stay out of trouble

Keep a low profile

Avoid higher-ups

Take your time, at all times

Enjoy yourself

Given the prevalence of skate and sham operations in the U.S. military, we at Task & Purpose decided to take the recent guide on “How to Look Busy and Productive” and build off of it. Enjoy, and be sure to put it to good use.

Motion, or lack thereof

Newton’s First Law of Motion states that objects will continue in a state of motion or rest unless compelled by forces impressed upon them. In this case, you’re the object and, say, that latest tasking is the opposing force trying to impress upon you. 

At this very basic level of avoiding work, simply remaining in motion and always walking around at a brisk pace can help you avoid those opposing forces and any unnecessary contact. Are you going anywhere? Doing anything? No, but it seems like you must be. 

Alternatively, remain inert. Find a desk or wall locker, and just stay hidden. This is much more simplistic but, again, consider this the “crawl” phase of looking busy.

Control an object

If your average junior enlisted airman, soldier, sailor, or Marine has something in their hands, they must be working. (Whatever those Space Force junior enlisted Guardians are holding right now has got to be wild and of the utmost importance.) 

For everyone else, a clipboard or a binder is a great, timeless choice here. 

As the Air Force binder says, “be sure to flip through those blank pages at various time intervals to show that you are reading and accomplishing a goal of greater knowledge.” Those clipboards and binders contain multitudes, so if you’ve got one in your hands, you’ve got something to do. 

There’s also a broom. Being a junior enlisted service member means sweeping is likely one of your core tasks, so by holding the broom, you’re clearly already engaged in it. 

If you’ve got access to something like a motor pool, carry around a vehicle part. Or, alternatively, just be around a vehicle or some piece of equipment looking busy. 

Relying on the kindness of strangers

No one is an island, and sometimes, you can rely on your buddies to ensure your productivity levels remain inert. If someone asks where you are, just have them say “at dental.” Or maybe your buddies heard that the sergeant major needed you for some tasking — so long as they don’t say this to the sergeant major, who does not in fact need you for anything, you’ll be fine.

Remember, though, your location should always be someplace vague and far away. It should hit that sweet spot of plausibility and being really boring, and being at least a 10-minute walk away — you don’t want anyone to get any ideas about corroborating your story. 

Advanced level skills

By now, you’re starting to become pretty savvy when it comes to avoiding unnecessary work. 

Invest in a second cover, then leave it laying around for everyone to see. You’ve got to be in the building if your cover is here — it is flawless military logic.

Consider how time operates differently the further away you are from your chain of command. Does anyone really know how long a visit to the Battalion Aid Station takes? Of course not, so maybe just enjoy the waiting room for an unspecified amount of time. If someone asks, just say you’re waiting to be helped. If the staff asks, tell them you’ve already been helped. 

And when it comes time to turn in equipment if you are moving to a new duty station or leaving the military entirely: Be sure to make the most of it. Be sure to get just enough gear to prevent you from ever going to the field again, but keep enough around so that you still have something to turn back in to supply, and in so doing, kill a few hours as you wait in line playing games on your phone.

However, the most advanced life hack for avoiding work is perhaps this: Become a warrant officer. Nestled in that sweet spot between the ranks of the senior enlisted and the commissioned officer corps, warrant officers are a unique breed. On paper, they’re specialists in their field, with years of experience that they use to… well, actually nobody has any idea what they do every day, and they’re never around long enough to answer the question. When it comes to shamming, they are truly masters of their craft.

So, remember those “SKATE” principles, and never be afraid to spend all that free time coming up with new, innovative ways to generate more of it. That motor pool is always going to need sweeping, but you could spend your time discovering something that could impact the lives of countless junior enlisted service members. Or just rack out in your car and eat at a different Burger King on the other side of the base. It’ll all buff out in the end. 

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