This time last year, we shared with readers a set of 10 amusing or instructive online diversions, and we've been hearing about it ever since (as copies of our Top Ten Time-Wasters list get passed from office drone to office drone). So this year, we've come up with a new list of 10 ways (all free) to take a mental break -- notice we didn't say goof off -- and recharge your batteries. Supervisors, take note: Recharging one's batteries is a good thing. In the long run, it makes employees more productive.
So here goes:
1. Stratify the neighborhood.
Visit www.zillow.com to see the current "zestimated" value of your home. And get this: You'll also see the value of your neighbors' homes, every one of 'em. This could become an obsession.
2. Send a monk-e-mail.
Jump over to www.careerbuilder.com and send a friend or colleague a "monk-e-mail" message, complete with your choice of a text-to-voice message or your own voice, recorded via a nifty phone-recording link. I sent my friend Vincent a message with the female monkey (the only female monkey is also the receptionist -- what's up with that?) singing the aria Un Bel di Vedremo with my own lyrics. You can imagine the possibilities.
3. Map the location of your friends.
Zip over to www.frappr.com and set up your own Frappr map -- for your family, your fellow employees, or your old summer camp-mates. Just invite them to join your Frappr map and watch the individual "pins" appear. Your map-mates can add photos and "shout-outs" to their fellow mappies. Fun!
4. Publish your thoughts.
Take a hike over to www.gather.com and publish a short story, some random observations, or a poem. You can invite your friends to see your stuff, or leave it up to the Gather crowd to comment. Read the top stories of the day and tune into the online-writer zeitgeist. A good antidote to too many budget meetings.
5. Investigate your bloggy popularity.
Use the search box at www.technorati.com to enter your own name (in quotation marks) to see who has blogged about you, and what they said. Who knew your teenage babysitter had issues with the new drapes in your living room? Reading other people's blogs is also safer, from an employee-relations perspective, than writing your own.
6. Catch a movie.
On www.evtv1.com they're showing movie clips 24/7, from the worst American Idol performers to the Chicago Bears' Super Bowl Shuffle. When you lack the energy to read any more text, a quickie movie might be just the thing.
7. Raise your in-crowd quotient.
The popular dirt-dishing site Pink Is the New Blog will make you laugh out loud with its observations on pop culture icons and wannabes.
8. Get stuff for free -- or get rid of stuff.
At www.freecycle.org, you can find a local group where some people advertise stuff they don't want anymore, and other people come and get it. You can post a message that invites people to pick up all your REO Speedwagon and BTO 8-tracks tapes, or announce that you're on the hunt for a gently used guinea-pig cage. Your choice.
9. Save at the supermarket.
At www.mygrocerydeals.com, you can see which stores have the best prices on common grocery items in your town, and decide where to do this week's grocery shopping. This is the Top Ten Diversion that makes you feel grown-up and responsible, vs. feeling juvenile and shiftless. Think of it as a palate cleanser.
10. Peer down at your swing set.
Google Maps is the coolest thing ever. Not only can you find your house in map view, and manipulate the map in whichever direction you like, you can also switch to a Satellite view to see your house as it actually is -- and yes, I swear, even your swing set or your car in the driveway. It's addictive, but it can leave you with an intense desire for a new roof.
Two or three of these side trips a day will broaden your mind and give you the boost necessary to get through to quitting time. Think of it as your mental coffee break -- without the jitters.