How to stay (or at least look) busy

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What do you do when there's nothing to do, but you need to a) retain your bonus and b) keep your job?

Reuters last week reported that (shock, horror) M&A bankers have actually begun leaving work at 5.30pm, attending social events, and putting their children to bed. M&A types' presence in the home is probably a pretty good lead indicator of market activity - the Financial Times today quotes Dealogic data suggesting global M&A dropped 42% in the third quarter.

If M&A types can leave the office at 5.30pm, leveraged financiers and structured credit salespeople and structurers might as well not bother coming in at all. Sadly this isn't an option - unless you plan to quit.

Here are a few constructive suggestions for what you could be getting on with instead:

Internal presentations

External clients staying at home? Try publicising yourself internally instead. "2007 is all about keeping a job," says an associate in structured credit. "This is a sink-or-swim industry and you need to be self-motivated. I am spending an awful lot of time on internal presentations, running numbers for senior management to tell them what's going on and how we see our business going forward - basically, justifying my existence."

Sniffing out opportunities

While there aren't many (any) live deals to work on, an associate in M&A who survived the downturn of 2002-03 says it's a good idea to do a bit of housework and revisit opportunities that were neglected back in the day when no one had time to sleep, let alone think about that little pharmaceutical company in Belarus that was looking for a partner. "Use the time wisely - you're going to be at your desk anyway, so you might as well do something," he says.

Opening files on your computer

Even if you're not doing anything useful, it will help to pretend. "Most people have one or two Excel and Powerpoint files open all the time," says an associate at another house. "If a senior guy walks past, it looks like you're doing something."