Receptive receptionists

I did not realise that this was a thing or that I did it. But I’ve just read a productivity article that advises being nice to receptionists. We need articles? Why wouldn’t you be nice?

Except I am being a bit disingenuous there: I’ve seen how some people are with receptionists or, I don’t know, bar staff perhaps. (I’ve been bar staff. I’ve seen it close.) It is shamefully common to see someone come in to a firm and be rude to a receptionist then all smoothly polite and conscientious to whomever they were coming to meet.

The only difference with me is that I know receptionists have a crazy-mad job. They get gits like that for a start. But they’re also juggling a lot of work – I once saw someone answering calls for several companies at the same time; depending on which light lit on her equipment, she’d say a different hello spiel and would know entire staff directories for each firm. It was fascinating and impressive and I said so.

I’m getting uncomfortable here, like I’m either claiming to be a fabulous human being or that I’m about to advise you to suck up to receptionists. Just be normal like anyone else and if they have time to talk to you, talk to them. Why wouldn’t you? People are so interesting. Everything is so interesting. (Except football.)

That productivity article – gimme a second, I will get you a link to it – argues that receptionists also know a huge amount about a company so you should ask them. I think there’s a fine line between polite chat and the receptionist phoning for security, but this truly is a time when being naturally pleasant and not pressing for anything from someone so busy will often benefit you.

Being who I am and thinking what I do, I’d say that the number one first benefit is that you have a nice chat.

But yes, you can also find out more about the company you’re visiting. I don’t think I’ve ever learnt anything as useful as the one day that I saw a rival’s name in the sign-in book on the reception desk. Or the day when I leafed through the magazines that had been left out and so learnt all about a new project the person I was coming to see was behind.

If you want to weaponise all this, here’s that productivity article. It’s from Lifehacker: Ask the Receptionist These Questions While Waiting for a Job Interview.

Dear Diary moment: a man admits he doesn’t know something

I’m a man and I regularly say “I don’t know”. Maybe too often, maybe I should know some more things. But I promise that I don’t fit the stereotype of a guy who blusters through saying yeah, yeah, ‘course, everybody knows that, easy, done it twice this morning myself.

It’d be good to think that I was just a superb human being but the truth is that I get a little kick out of seeing people’s faces. Especially in teams, especially with editors, most especially – to be fully honest about it – with women. People tend to blink a lot at me. You can see the cogs processing. Occasionally, yes, the cog is saying “So why are we paying this guy?” but most of the time it’s a much more positive surprise.

There was one editor I had who blinked at me quite a bit at first. Later she told me that I’d done what she’d asked me to do and that when it wasn’t right but she’d explained again, I’d changed it until she was happy. “Yes,” I said. “And?”

“Just not used to it,” she said.

I’ve always recognised that the real benefit of admitting you don’t know something is that it is ferociously easier than pretending you do and then having to answer detailed questions. I’m slightly schizophrenic about this because I’ve often said yes, I can do something, when I’ve not done it before but am confident. Still, when it comes to a fact or to my opinion about something, if I don’t know it, I tell you.

What I’ve been told today is that it has one more benefit. The blog 42 Floors – continuing the honesty theme, I’ve never heard of it before thirty seconds ago – includes a piece recounting the story of an interviewer named Kiran asking a difficult question and being told “I don’t know”:

[H]e smiled and responded back, “I was waiting for that. I like it when people say I don’t know.” Kiran explained that he likes it when people say I don’t know because it lends credibility to everything else that they’ve said.

I don’t know – Jason Freedman, 42 Floors (2 March 2014)

Tip of the head to 99U for the link.

“How many days is it since 26 November 2013?”

I’m just after telling you that it is 265 days since The Blank Screen news site launched – but I didn’t tell you how I knew that.

It’d be good if you thought I was some incredibly organised savant type but, no, I just know about Wolfram Alpha.

You’ll think it’s a search engine when you see it but rather than looking for websites that happen to have something like the answer you want, Wolfram Alpha does its best to work out that answer. It’s easier to give you examples so here are the last few questions I’ve asked it:

How many days is it since 26 November 2013?
How deep is the English Channel?
What percentage of 2Gb is 250mb?
What is the date in 934 weekdays?
How far is New York from here?
What is 16% of 919.86?
When is mother’s day?

I need to explain that last one: mother’s day is on different dates in the UK and the US and I get easily confused. I’m sure one year my mother got two presents though, curiously, she didn’t complain.

I’m not saying that Wolfram Alpha is flawless: I asked it what the tourist population of Paris was and it threw up its hands. (I worked it out from a combination of tourist board information and general Paris statistics though, maddeningly, I can’t remember it now. I do remember looking out across from a café and being sure that something ridiculous like four out of five people I could see would be tourists.)

I am saying that not enough people know about Wolfram Alpha and when it’s the right tool for you, it is superb. Plus it’s free – with an option to pay for a premium version – which you can go to right now on the web at the official site. You can also get an iPhone or an iPad app for it.

Should you write your To Do tasks as question?


So there.

Write your To Dos as if someone else is going to do them. Take the time to put that extra explanatory detail in there – so instead of writing “Phone meeting Anne” on your list, write “Phone Anne to ask her for purchase order number”. The second takes longer to write but you come to the phone tomorrow and you are dialling immediately. The former is shorter but tomorrow you’re going to look at “Phone meeting Anne” and think, what’s that about? Is she phoning me or am I supposed to phone her? And you may well have to stop to think: hang on, which Anne?

I believe this, I do this, it works. Not everyone agrees.

1# Change a relatively boring list to something that can excite you
Since lists in their current state are declarative in nature, I first tackled changing the way I write them.

I found out that we’re more likely to read something if it has a question mark attached to it which led me to change the way I write tasks.

Let’s start with one of the most boring tasks that I know off, doing your laundry.

Instead of writing it like the mundane task it is i.e. as a declaration “- Do the laundry at 8 PM”, write it as a question or even a challenge! This will rub some extra flavor into it “Can you finish the laundry before 8:30 PM?” and will make sure you’ll tackle it.

Asking question stimulates our curiosity; curiosity is an engine that motivates us to explore and discover.

Are We Managing Our To-Do Lists All Wrong? – IQ Tell

Haim Pekel wrote that on the IQ Tell productivity blog which I didn’t see and hadn’t heard of until Lifehacker spotted it yesterday. Lifehacker’s more pro this idea than I am, so do read the full piece on IQ Tell to see what you think.