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Can anybody tell me what the word for "doing useless things while you don't have anything to do" is?

Let's say I am surfing on the web, reading some articles, etc. while I don't have anything to do. It is not computer related. I am looking for a broad term.

I've checked the synonyms of "killing time" and these are what I've found:

  • dawdle
  • hang around
  • idle
  • kill time
  • lark: (v) play boisterously
  • mess around
  • play around

It seems lark can work for this case.

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Related to this is Procrastination, which is to waste time on unimportant things whilst there is something important that could be being done instead. –  Andy F Sep 12 '11 at 20:32
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Regarding the synonyms for killing time: Actually, lark doesn't work at all. Well, you could kill time by larking, but by and large people kill time in ways that are neither boisterous nor prankish. –  John Y Sep 12 '11 at 21:31
    
I am not an English native speaker but I once heard the expression "to drift" and it was explained to me that it meant "to kill time" or something similar. The person who used it is from Northern Ireland. Does anyone know this expression? –  Giorgio Sep 13 '11 at 5:09
    
what's wrong with "to kill time"? –  Louis Rhys Sep 13 '11 at 6:41
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@Louis Rhys: it gets you into jail –  Lie Ryan Sep 13 '11 at 7:54
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9 Answers

up vote 16 down vote accepted

Killing time is a common idiom for this kind of activity.

Example (from Dictionary.com definition 51 of time): While I was waiting, I killed time counting the cars on the freight trains.

Sometimes it carries the connotation that you have something better to do that you could be doing, but it is definitely used in this sense as well, as in the example.

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+1. I was about to say procrastinating but that's not right. –  simchona Sep 12 '11 at 20:12
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I use the word diddle or diddle away. I've also heard putter, as in: My grandfather likes to putter in the garden. Merriam-Webster online seems to support the definitions:

diddle: fiddle, toy —usually used with with

putter: : 1. to move or act aimlessly or idly 2.to work at random : tinker

And, I guesss tinker might work too.

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Putter is much more apt than diddle or tinker. (See Monica Cellio's answer. Yes, I realize hers was a minute later.) –  John Y Sep 12 '11 at 21:18
    
Yeah, sorry -- I didn't see the "this page has been updated" notice this time. –  Monica Cellio Sep 12 '11 at 21:28
    
In the UK this is called "pottering" - en.wiktionary.org/wiki/potter_about –  Groky Sep 13 '11 at 1:58
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I up-voted "killing time", but for a single word I've also heard "puttering" (or sometimes "puttering around").

From here:

  1. Occupy oneself in a desultory but pleasant manner, doing a number of small tasks or not concentrating on anything particular

    • early morning is the best time of the day to putter around in the garden
  2. Move or go in a casual, unhurried way

    • the duck putters on the surface of the pond
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I usually hear "putter about" rather than "putter" on its own. –  Karl Knechtel Sep 12 '11 at 21:12
    
I kinda like the word putter :) Thanks for the word. –  Tarik Sep 12 '11 at 21:14
    
@Monica: While your one-word answer is contained in Brian's entry and appeared a minute later, yours is still better because (1) the presentation is better, and (2) it isn't cluttered by words that are less appropriate than putter. (And (3) I agree that "killing time" is the single best answer to the original question.) –  John Y Sep 12 '11 at 21:50
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"Twiddling one's thumbs" comes to mind.

Related, but more towards doing something that appears to be useful instead of the actual job is "pencil sharpening".

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Also there is "yak shaving" which has slightly different connotations. projects.csail.mit.edu/gsb/old-archive/gsb-archive/… –  Dan Brumleve Sep 13 '11 at 7:16
    
@Dan: I like it! –  Codie CodeMonkey Sep 13 '11 at 20:10
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For one word, you could say one is idling or being idle:

to spend time doing nothing important

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But I am doing something even though it is useless. idle means doing nothing according to the link. –  Tarik Sep 12 '11 at 20:16
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I updated the link. It means doing nothing important--"nothing" as in "not work" –  simchona Sep 12 '11 at 20:31
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One that's commonly used in Australia, is "mucking around" (often "Muck about"):

(intransitive) To do random unplanned work or spend time idly

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Nice to know. +1 –  Tarik Sep 13 '11 at 16:32
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Also consider using: -- 'I whiled away the time surfing some articles on the web'. -- 'I frittered away time surfing the Internet'.

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In the context of browsing around, there is "wilfing", short for "What was I Looking For?" But its more apt when you are putting off more important work.

http://labnol.blogspot.com/2007/04/word-of-day-wilfing-what-was-i-looking.html

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Consider doodle.

doodle: US to kill time

I sat and doodled counting machines.

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