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Feb 7, 2020

I hate lines and so should you

Perhaps it is my growing up in the Soviet Union, where waiting lines were as inescapable as they were humiliating. It may be my compulsive instinct to improve anything I see around me. Whatever the reasons, I hate seeing people wait in line for more than 5 minutes. For me, it is always a manifestation of organizers’ ineptness at best, and their callousness at worst. Tolerating lines sends a subtle message that you do not care about people you are trying to serve, or that you are not smart enough to fix the problem. Both messages are terrible PR.

Take, for example, lines to sign in to a meeting. The first question to ask – do you need the sign-in sheets at all? If the food is paid by grant or something like that, then maybe, check on it. If you are collecting attendance fees, then yes. If neither of the two is applicable, don’t do it at all.

The second question is, are there alternatives? Let me give you a few:
  • Let people will come in and sit down. Send a sign-in sheet around, so they all get to sign while sitting down, while the program is going on.
  • If that is not an option, print out several copies of the same list, and have people sign any of them at the same time; this will cut the wait time by ¾.
  • If you have a food line, set it up for two of four lines, so they go faster. Or order food boxes instead of a buffet.
  • Place your swag at the tables, or give it at the front door; do not check names. It is not worth it, even if someone gets two things of swag.
  • In an office setting office, develop a procedure where extra people come out to the front office, if the line gets too long.
  • Have someone triage people as they come in. There is no bigger frustration then waiting in line only to find out this is the wrong office or just to turn in a piece of paper.
  • If your lines are too long, develop an appointment system, for God’s sake. People can have a cup of coffee, walk around, and then come back to talk to you. There are dozens of cheap technologies to do that.
Do not normalize lines; do not pretend they are OK. Things happen, I know, but please perceive a long waiting line as a true emergency, needing an immediate intervention. If you planned one procedure, but something unexpected happened, take responsibility, think quickly, and resolve the situation. Do not just let people wait in line, because you or someone else miscalculated. Ask for help if you do not have any ideas. If you constantly observe waiting lines and do nothing about it, not reporting to someone, not thinking about a solution, you are not doing your job.

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