How to Get Things Done: Getting Around The Red Tape



Life is frustrating. Listening to hold music for hours, being directed to overseas tech support, trying to navigate the bureaucracy to get a latch put on a playground door. I know how impossible it can feel to get anything done.

But through trial and error I believe I have become a bit of an expert on “getting things done.” I know how to get around the red tape and ease some of the frustration of trying to get answers. Fortunately, most of these tricks can be used by anyone, and I am happy to share with an example of how I put all of them in order.

Like most city-dwellers, my nanny Z’s home is connected to her neighbor. Unfortunately her neighbor is an 88-year-old heroin addict recluse whose home is now officially condemned and under sheriff’s sale. However that has not stopped said neighbor from having the water repeatedly turned on illegally and allowing pipes to burst directly into Z’s basement.

On this third occasion, Z called the Philadelphia Water Department’s emergency number which offers about the same emergency attention as a nurse might offer to a splinter. After three days of water pouring into her basement, she continued to sit on hold and be repeatedly told by customer service representatives that someone would be there just as soon as they could.

It was time for “Miss FixIt” to get things done.

1. Twitter

I have found the best way to get the attention of any company or organization is through social media. Whether it is or the Board of Health, there is something about being publicly called out on Twitter that will get a customer service representative to solve the problem more quickly and efficiently than e-mail or phone calls. I tweeted to the Water Department and they responded immediately with a promise that it would be escalated to a supervisor.

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2. Mention the Media

While I was tweeting I noticed a friend at the local news station tweeting about a similar problem so I went ahead and publicly looped her into the conversation. The idea of being publicly exposed by the media for inefficiencies or poor customer service really lights a fire under a business’s butt.

3. Go to the PR People

And no one fears the wrath of the media more than the PR people – trust me. 😉 Find the e-mail or direct number of someone in the company’s PR department and drop them a note. It took the public affairs officer at the water company about 30 seconds to write me back.

 4. Phone a Friend

Or, more likely, Facebook them. Because you never know who knows someone who knows someone at the company. I posted about the situation on Facebook and got dozens of suggestions including a note from an acquaintance I had forgotten actually works for the Water Department! She immediately got on the scene and made sure the problem was a top priority.

And, if all else fails…

5. Go to the Media – For Real.

I got an offer for a story on the problem from a local news station but since we were able to get it solved through other means it wasn’t necessary. If you have a serious problem you can not get fixed – and I’m talking giant sinkhole in the middle of your street, not an extra $3 bank charge – then, by all means, try the media. You can try the “Tips@” email or look up the producers and editors who cover investigative news. Just make sure you have an actual newsworthy story.

In the case of Z’s flooded basement, all four of the tactics I tried were successful. So successful, in fact, that within 20 minutes she had four Philadelphia Water Department trucks show up in front of her house. The fact that there was no internal communication between said crews is another issue. But the problem was resolved.

I hope these tips and tricks will help to make your life a little less stressful. Please let me know if any of them work for you!

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