Speed through hospital wait times, customer service calls, checkout lanes, and more with these smart strategies


When you need something-whether that's a doctor or a latte-the last thing you want to see is a huge line standing between you and it. And there are only so many apps you can play and sites you can browse before your wait goes from unpleasant to straight-up unbearable. Thankfully, these simple strategies and services let you "cut" any line-without incurring the wrath of the people behind you. (If you're stuck in one right now, check out these 5 Fast Exercises You Can Do Anywhere-including in line.)

At the Emergency Room



A growing number of hospitals are offering a preview of wait times on their websites or specialized apps-and some, like SSM Health Care St. Louis (a network of hospitals in St. Louis) now have services like InQuicker, which lets you select an estimated treatment time at ERs and Urgent Care centers online, cutting down on your in-person wait. Call your local hospital or visit its website to determine its policy before you're in an emergency situation. (Check out The Best Hospitals in America here.)

In Highway Toll Lanes



Steer right. "With cash-only toll booths on a highway or bridge or tunnel, the right-most lane tends to have the fewest cars," explains line expert Richard Larson, Ph.D., (a.k.a. Dr. Queue) director of the Center for Engineering Systems Fundamentals at MIT. The opposite is true at movie theaters, he adds. Then, people have a habit of veering right, so the left rows tend to have the greatest number of empty seats.

On a Customer Service Call



Check gethuman.org before calling any customer service number. Just type in the name of a bank, retail store, or whoever else you're calling to learn the most direct phone number, plus the keyboard shortcuts that will connect you to a live agent ASAP (things like ignoring the voice prompts and pressing "3" or saying "agent"). Many institutions even have an option of letting them call you when they're ready, so you never have to wait on hold.

At the Coffee Shop



Download the PayPal app (free; itunes.com). When you're hankering for a latte-or any other treat from your favorite restaurants-but dreading the pre-lunch rush at your usual spot, simply open the app, find the store, order, and pay. Then you can walk in, grab your drink, and leave-easy as that. (Wondering about the cals in that latte? Lighten Up Your Coffee Order With These Tips.)

In Retail Stores



This one's trickier, says Larson. Two things take time in a retail checkout: pleasantries and payment (saying hello, swiping your card, getting your receipt) and scanning items. It's impossible to tell, then, which line will move faster: the one with tons of people each carrying just one or two items, or the one with very few people with overflowing carts. Larson's advice? Shop online. If that's not an option, this guy did the math and found that your best bet is to go with the shorter line.