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September 29, 2008
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Time Lost to the Door-Knob People

The mystery has finally been solved.  I now understand the major reason why the 10 a.m. doctor’s appointment often doesn’t finally occur until 10:30 or 10:45!  I’ve often asked myself, while hanging out in a “waiting” room trying to be a good patient with patience, why the appointment couldn’t just have been made at 10:30 in the first place.  An explanation was provided during a lively family dinner with Doctor Daughter Rachel. 

She offered no apology for her colleagues, although sympathized with the unfortunate loss of productive time suffered by the people in the waiting room.  A major cause of the problem was the “Door-Knob People.”  The subsequent follow-up question was obvious, “The who?” 

Dr. Rachel went on to explain that she regularly sees patients who come to the office for a particular stated purpose such as a check-up, immunizations, or because they have “a pain right here…..” With considerable frequency, at the very end of the appointment, the patient gets up to leave the examining room and while clutching the door knob to exit says, “Oh doctor, there is one more thing I forgot to mention.” 

The one more thing may be the severe chest pain the person suffered, or the fact that they are numb on one side, or have lost some vision, or some other possibly acute symptom, which for various reasons was never disclosed during the examination. 

The result of the door-knob person’s disclosure is that the physician is bound ethically, professionally, legally, and perhaps most importantly, as a fellow human being, to have the person sit back down and zero in on that particular symptom.  The people in the waiting room “feel the person’s pain” along with fellow patients looking at their watches repeatedly, wondering why the doctor hasn’t already seen them! 

The fact is that we have a society full of Door-Knob People.  They populate the lines in front of us at banks, at the post office or at the supermarket.  They generally lack any apparent awareness of the impact of their sudden recollection of something important like “Can I run and get a second half gallon of milk?” or “No, I thought the price was 30 cents a pound, not 40 cents.” 

They also populate the corridors and cubicles of our offices.  Working online, such as doing online banking, can alleviate a fair amount of the drama of standing in line, but not all of it.  After all, there is probably no one on the planet who hasn’t been online only to find that the Internet service is interrupted, or the server goes down.

How much precious time in your life is squandered by the infliction of wasted time as a result of the Door-Knob People?  The answer depends a great deal on your lifestyle and your career choices, but in general, overwhelmingly and increasingly in a complex interconnected society, more and more of our time is spent being at the mercy of Door-Knob People. 

At some point in our lives, all of us have morphed into Door-Knob People as well, but many of the symptoms can be overcome by thoughtful planning of our encounters so that the time spent with a doctor is maximized by making a list or going in with the most acute problem stated clearly, and first.  A favorite shopping technique, for example, of the process improvement expert, HR Daughter Elyse, is to be the first person in the mall at the time of opening, target your store visits, and get out as quickly as possible. 

A valuable skill at work is the ability to maximize productive time, especially when deadlines are short, by planning ahead for that next staff meeting, or the next meeting with the person who reports to you, or to whom you report.  By respecting the time of the other people involved in your own encounters, two things will happen.  The first is that their respect for you will increase. They will sense that you are prepared, organized and capable. These “good vibrations” will be echoed after you leave the meeting.  In contrast, we have all attended occasional meetings, no doubt, shaking our heads with eyes glazed over as the meeting presider or attendees rambled, allowed the meeting to drag on past the time when stomachs can be silent, or members of the audience remain awake. 

Do you recall the impression left with you when, at the very end of a meeting, one of your Door-Knob colleagues says “I have a question” and raises a hand.  The colleague then begins a lengthy discourse that surely must feature some hidden question that needs immediate answering, even at the expense of everyone else’s time.  Often in fact, the question is so well hidden that it is never discovered at all.  The impression left is one of groaning despair at the thought that you have another meeting with this person coming up the next day.

The second positive outcome of not being one of the Door-Knob People is that your sense of focus and time-respect leads to more available informal higher quality time.   The people around you will want to be with you more for positive reasons.  I predict that the boss will end up inviting you to lunch and sharing stories of family adventures or personal hopes and dreams.  You will end up learning more about those who look to you as their supervisor and leader. In turn, that will equip you to be an even better manager.

While waiting in line, or at the doctor’s office, spend a moment thinking of Dr. Rachel’s discovery about the disease of the Door-Knob People. Spend some time thinking about how you personally can immunize yourself from catching the disease.  The resulting revelations may help you to be in a better mood when the waiting is over.  However, it will also help you to be in a better mood throughout your entire career.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


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