How to look busy at work (not as easy as you think)

My first job out of college, I was an office worker inside a movie studio near Hollywood, and as a 22-year-old who had just weeks before been a student at Indiana University, I was as excited as I could be. That said, my job was nothing particularly special or interesting. A chimpanzee could have done it -- or a chimpanzee with a driver's license, anyway. I drove to a few houses around Los Angeles, dropping off television scripts that I kept wishing I had written, but mostly, I did a lot of filing.

That is, for about a week. Then, when I had cleaned the office and organized the filing cabinet, it became clear that there wasn't a lot for me to do. I sharpened my boss's pencils and watered his plants. I washed out his coffee mug. It was 1992, and I had no computer to hide behind, and so I just wandered the office, trying to straighten things up. But everything was immaculate, and with the phone almost silent, I rarely even needed to answer the phone.

I was polishing a picture frame on the wall when my boss -- an assistant to one of the owners of the television production company, and so I was an assistant to an assistant -- came up to me and delivered the bad news: I was out of a job. Not because I was a bad employee. I simply wasn't a busy employee.