Q: Dear J.T. & Dale: I have a secret: I don't really work an eight-hour day, even though my company pays me for one. I can get away with spending hours on the Internet. I tried not to do this, but my job is just too boring. I'm worried my boss will eventually figure out how much time I spend on personal stuff (like checking my Facebook account) and I'll get fired. Any suggestions? - Dominic
J.T.: You are not alone. In her book "Distracted," Maggie Jackson discusses technology's impact on our lives, including a study showing that personal distractions - like checking e-mail, instant messaging, clicking on YouTube and checking out Facebook - take up as much as one-quarter of the average cubicle dweller's day. While your boss may not be aware of how much this is affecting productivity, Corporate America sure is. Estimates put the dollar value of interruptions in workers' days as high as $650 billion. So, count on some "attention-getting" technology being implemented soon.
Dale: When I read your message, Dominic, my first thought was "perfect!" I say that because being underemployed makes it far easier to become a star employee, the sort who gets to work on engaging projects. First, let me back up and say that if you were to go to your boss and confide that you are finding yourself with free time, your boss would be faced with a nasty decision: either get rid of you as an unnecessary expense, or dump additional boring work on you. So, one of the first rules of being a corporate star is to never admit to having free time. Instead, you must take it upon yourself to find interesting work. For instance, early in my career, I was working for a big company as a market research analyst, bored and underemployed. The one part of my job that I found fascinating was advertising testing. I started experimenting with ways to make the ad tests more useful. Not only was I doing work I enjoyed, but I soon got hired away by an ad testing consulting firm.
J.T.: Ironically, you start to overcome boredom by learning to manage your distractions. For instance, try limiting the number of times a day you check e-mail. You'll free up time, which you can leverage to become a winner in more ways than one.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I am trying to start my own IT consulting practice, and it seems impossible to find gigs directly with companies - all the work seems to be through staffing agencies. I've heard that most of the direct jobs are through networking, but how do you even start? I've tried blogs and networking sites ... they all lead to a staffing firm. ARGHHH! - A frustrated female consultant
J.T.: I suspect the main reason you can't get a consulting gig is because most managers hire IT contractors off an approved vendor list. Standardized contracts are signed at the corporate level to make sure everyone complies with company rules and regulations. So I suggest you pull together a list of the companies in your area that hire contractors with your expertise, then call their HR departments directly. Let them know that you are a woman-owned small business and you want to learn how to apply to become a vendor.
Dale: OK, but then, once you make it to the approved vendor list, you still have to sell your services - to people, not companies. Notice two key words in that sentence: "sell" and "people." Most Web sites deflect you away from the people who might buy your services. You're going to need to attend the association meetings, send e-mails and make phone calls - in other words, you need to network the old-fashioned way. There are people who are willing to give you a shot - and send you to the right person to get on the approved vendor list - but first they have to know that you exist, and know that you'll come through for them when they give you the break you're looking for. And that means meeting them and letting them see your enthusiasm and expertise.