Need a Break? Hit the Web

If you have some time to kill and can't leave your desk, here are 10 one-click diversions for getting your mind off work

By Liz Ryan

You put in lots of hours at work, and the intensity of a hard day can fry your brain. It's essential, occasionally, to walk around, get a drink of water, and stretch. But when it's inconvenient or impossible to take a physical break, you might try online diversions instead. Here are 10 suggestions (feel free to send me others) for palate cleansers you can use to lessen stress at work without leaving your chair.

1. Check on how your house is working for you.

Go to, choose Value Check from the left-hand navigation, and type your street address. Assuming your house is in a region that the Web site's calculator covers -- and that you bought it more recently than 1987 -- you'll get an idea of how much your home has appreciated (based on the prices of other houses in your area). With any luck, you'll get a lift from the increase in your assets. But if your house isn't performing the way you'd like, try suggestion No. 2.

2. Find out what your peers are earning.

Not necessarily peers in your company, but people who do your job in your Zip code. It's all there at, and you can be pretty specific about job responsibilities (and even buy a salary analysis that's tailored to you). If you're depressed to find that you're paid in the middle of the pack, try suggestion No. 3.

3. Create a Google alert on your name.

Go to, click on News, then on Google News Alerts to receive an e-mail whenever your name appears anywhere online. To narrow the chances for irrelevant mails, type your name in quotes: "Anne Smith."

If you ever do public speaking or publish anything anywhere, you'll be astounded at how your name will bounce around the Internet, probably forever. Over time, Google will also send you loads of news about 13-year-old soccer players with your name. But hey, at least they'll be talented soccer players. If this exercise gets you thinking about what people name their kids, try suggestion No. 4.

4. Learn what your name (or any name) means.

Visit the BabyCenter meaning-of-names directory. You can also check on the most popular baby names in 2004 and 2003, and perhaps start daydreaming about a name for your own little pumpkin. If that isn't your thing, try this related suggestion.

5. Find out what kind of dog person you are.

To take a quiz that will match you with best-fit dog breeds, visit Purina's Dog Breed Selector. You may find that although you've always seen yourself as the Irish setter type, a little Maltese is more your style (though the finder doesn't have a breed called "mutt"). If the question about how much time you'll devote to exercising your dog-friend makes you worry that you're drifting toward couch potato status, try suggestion No 6.

6. See what MetLife thinks you should weigh.

Find your height and weight on MetLife's traditional (1943 vintage, but updated in the '80s) height-weight chart. You may conclude that indeed you should get away from your desk and take a walk, but before you do check out suggestion No 7.

7. Find out who has your Web site.

Go to and try to register your own name (say, as a Web address. If it isn't available, check the "whois" listing for what should rightly be your URL to find out about the Mark Anderson imposter who snagged your domain. With any luck, you can get his e-mail address and maybe write him about starting an international Mark Anderson brotherhood (presumably including the little soccer players). When you feel like rejoining the grown-up world, look at idea No. 8.

8. Get connected.

Go to and become part of a vast database of people who are connected to one another and, in due course, to you. If you haven't already been invited to join, connect to me at Then search the database for other people you know. You can find fellow alums, look up that co-worker you lost track of before the tech boom, and rewrite your profile 20 or 30 times until you get it right. When a thoughtless workmate or ringing phone interrupts your networking, try this:

9. Overrule the critics.

View Sight & Sound magazine's 2002 listing of the Top 10 films of all time (I guess there haven't been any really good ones since).

You can yelp at the screen to protest a glaring omission or print a screen shot for your next Netflix order. You'll also earn points to spend at the next water-cooler discussion of high culture. But before you start feeling guilty about how much time you've blown during your online break, quickly skip to suggestion No. 10.

10. Support space exploration.

If you want to earn brownie points with the gods, download the SETI screen saver on your home computer. SETI stands for Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, and by downloading its screen saver you'll be volunteering to donate some of your PC's unused processor cycles to the search for friendly aliens. It could be that your processor cycles will someday allow a gregarious Neptunian to make contact with Earth.

I've tried to make this a reasonably high-brow list of diversions. But if you find yourself in the mood for something more mundane, you can always visit and see how much money you've saved -- and pain you've avoided -- by not having procedures that could leave you looking like a Halloween mask.

Now, are you ready to go back to work?

Do you have any great business leadership tips to share with BusinessWeek Online's readers? Send them to Liz Ryan, an at-work expert, speaker, and writer, and CEO of online networking organization WorldWIT

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