If you are at work, chances are you are probably doing it right now.

Walk into any large office, and you will most likely hear the telltale computer bleeps of chat programs and online games, accompanied by furious mouse-clicking. Employees may seem busy, but many are wasting time on the internet, or "cyberslacking".

Studies worldwide suggest employees spend about a fifth of their work shifts engaging in personal activities. Their favourite time waster? The internet.

Patricia Wallace, author of the 2004 book The Internet in the Workplace: How New Technology Is Transforming Work, said employees have always found ways to avoid working too hard.

"The issue is now you have something that seems to be genuinely irresistible because it's such a gateway to the whole planet that's right there on your desk and easily concealed to people passing by," said Wallace, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

Employees who cyberslack have been shown to spend most of their time emailing, and almost a third of their messages were not related to work, said James Philips, a psychology professor at Australia's Monash University.

Many workers manage finances or shop online. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace are also common cyberslacking destinations. It is not uncommon to see a user write on his "status" report that he or she is "at work".

Some companies, which spend millions on web access, have fired workers for cyberslacking, citing concerns about inappropriate activities. But hiding it has become easier - people can access the internet through mobile phones, for instance.

Films and television shows have been focusing on the phenomenon.

Time-wasting at work was spoofed in the 1999 cult film Office Space, while The Office, a British TV comedy that now has a US version, has shown characters playing a computer war game as part of what they described as a team-building exercise.

Walter Block, a professor of economics at Loyola University in New Orleans, pointed to similarities between employees who slacked off before the computer age and those who waste time in cyberspace.

"I think they do it for the same reason they did it before - some people, because they're cheating their boss, other people, because it helps them work," Block said.

Office-dedicated web sites have been popping up. Workers can go to www.overheardintheoffice.com to post and rate humorous quotes overheard at their workplaces.

They can rant about office colleagues and bosses at www.annoyingcoworker.com - and email them anonymous messages through the website.

"UGH! You eat like a pig!" one person wrote. "Stop smacking your lips and licking your fingers and snorting while you eat chips two feet away from me! It's like feeding time at the zoo!"

A recent survey by online compensation firm Salary.com showed about six out of ten employees in the US acknowledged wasting time at work.

About 34 per cent listed personal internet use as the leading time-wasting activity in the workplace.

 Several ways to cyberslack

Here is how you can cyberslack - but your workplace may prohibit access to the sites:

* Network: Facebook (www.facebook.com) is popular with students and business professionals. MySpace (www.myspace.com) uses more graphics and video. Companies, bands and celebrities often use the site to promote themselves.

* Rant about work: Rant about fellow employees on the Annoying Coworker site (www.annoyingcoworker.net). Are customers getting you down? Try Customers Suck (customerssuck.livejournal.com).

* Going once: Buy or bid for rare things not usually found in shops. Score vintage clothes or old music records you've been eyeing on Ebay (www.ebay.com).

* Judge beauty contests: Rate people (www.hotornot.com), animals (www.ratemypuppy.com) or rooms - even college dorms (ratemyspace.hgtv.com). Let puppies (puppywar.com) and kittens (kittenwar.com) battle it out for cuteness.

* Catch up on celebrity gossip: Read about celebrities' latest exploits at The Superficial (www.thesuperficial.com) or Oh No They Didn't (ohnotheydidnt.livejournal.com).

* Write a personal blog: Post stories, rants and pictures on your own online journal. Popular hosts include Blogger (www.blogger.com) and Livejournal (www.livejournal.com). You can also link to your friends' journals.