How to take the wait out of waiting rooms

Written by Don Sangster

You’ve scheduled your day carefully, but regardless of how hard you try you can’t seem to avoid spending some serious time in waiting rooms. We all know the predictable trouble spots, like an appointment with your doctor or dentist. But in this harried age, your banker or client is just as likely to be late for a meeting.

It’s easy to get disgruntled when you feel your time isn’t being respected. But with a bit of planning, you can minimize the wait and prevent it from becoming a waste of time.

Pick up the phone before you leave

Call ahead to make sure the appointed time still works for the other parties involved, advises Harold Taylor, president of Harold Taylor Time Consultants Inc. in Markham, Ont., and author of more than a dozen books on time management. “I would never go to an appointment and just be there,” says Taylor. “I always phone ahead.” This precaution alone can reduce waiting time significantly.

Book appointments for early in the day

Calling beforehand is a good plan, but you’re probably not going to call your dentist to find out if 3 p.m. is still good. Instead, when it comes to medical appointments, try to schedule them for early in the day. “If you make an appointment with a doctor in the afternoon, you’ve got all the accumulated inefficiencies of the day,” says Taylor. “If you make the appointment early in the morning, you don’t have as much time for these various crises to occur.”

Don’t get angry; accept the inevitable

No matter what you do, you can’t eliminate waiting entirely. Acceptance is the key to using the time wisely. “I don’t resent waiting because if you assume you’re going to wait, then you can’t go wrong,” says Taylor. “I say, okay, I’ve got at least an hour for productive work. No phone calls, no interruptions. Fantastic, what a great opportunity! I bring my laptop with me and work away.”

Brian Smith, president and CEO of Brinley Consulting & Training, an Ottawa-based time- and stress-management consultantcy, agrees that attitude is key. “Accept the fact that you’re going to be kept waiting and the question then becomes: what is the best possible use of this time? Could you write a memo? Could you write a thank-you note? Can you read that article you’ve been meaning to read?”

Preparation is key

“I always come prepared by ensuring I have something with me to fill in any spare time that might come my way,” says Margaret Miller, founder of Teragram Coaching & Consulting Group in Hamilton, Ont., For example, “there’s always non-essential reading material we mean to read when we get a chance. This is the type of material I carry with me.”

If necessary, refuse to wait

There is one option that tends to be overlooked, Taylor notes. “You can refuse to allow the waiting time and reschedule. Some people feel obliged to wait, but there’s no such obligation.” This, of course, highly depends on the situation.

Take a break!

The experts agree that down time is essential to productivity. Don’t fill up every minute of your day with work, work, work. In fact, Smith says it wouldn’t be a bad idea to use waiting room time exclusively for that purpose.

“Where we seem to be having problems nowadays is in developing opportunities for “me time”. We’re using technology as a means of going 24/7, leaving no room for internal time. Sitting in your doctor’s office is a perfect opportunity for some down time, some internal time, as opposed to picking up the cell phone and not getting a break from the office, not getting a break from the work life.”

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© 2004 Don Sangster

Originally appeared on PROFITguide.com