Maybe the real friends were the friends we made along the way.
I left Facebook years ago, and only follow ~70 people on Twitter, which leads some to assume that I don’t find keeping in touch with people to be a top priority, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. My todo list is where I hold my priorities, and my friends and family are the biggest priorities in my life, so that’s where I turn to for making sure I’m staying close to them.
At first blush you may think that a todo list sounds incredibly impersonal, it’s actually a deep expression of caring. When people ask for more details, I receive pretty much universally positive feedback, so now I’ll share it with you.
A Todo List?
Yep, it’s as simple as it sounds.
- I have a list called Keep In Touch.
- Each entry on my Keep In Touch list is a person, with their phone number attached to the entry, that way I can text 1 them from there.
- Each entry also has a time interval, how often I contact them, depending on how close we are.
Now I admit, this does sound a bit mechanical, but here’s where the philosophy behind this list is important. If you call it a system it sounds cold, but creating a dedicated space for people in your life sounds a lot warmer. The word todo sounds like a chore, you’re being told what to do, but these are just reminders, not orders!
The odds of me not talking to my best friend for a week are slim to none, but it does happen every once in a while. This todo list item serves as a nudge — hey, reach out to your best friend, even if it’s just sending a pulse. This almost always leads to a deeper conversation where you learn about what’s going on in your friend’s life. It provides an opportunity to find out about them, and for them to find out about you. But sometimes it doesn’t, and that’s ok, in that case it just serves as a reminder that you’re in their life and they matter to you.
Building A Schedule
Your best friend though is a bit of an edge case, odds are you’re going to be talking to them quite a bit. This system works best for those people who you aren’t in touch with every day, or even every week.
I want to be clear, this isn’t a formula. You should figure out what cadences work best for you in your life, this is what mine happens to look like.
Every week My best friends and family.
Every 10-14 days The next ring of friends, those who I spend a lot of my time with.
Every 3 weeks People who I hang out with but may not be as close with.
Every month People who I’ll see every once in a while, but who’s lives I want to keep up with.
Every 6 weeks People who I see a few times a year, but enjoy being around and want to keep in my life with a light touch.
This continues on by adding a two or four week intervals until I’ve reached keeping in contact every four months. If I can’t find a reason to reach out to someone every four months, the unfortunate truth is that I probably don’t have energy to keep them close in my life.
My whole list is about 30 people, give or take a few as friendships and dynamics change. Time has shown that’s about as many deeper relationships I can handle, not including a romantic partner and the past and present work relationships I maintain.
You Have A System, Now What?
How many times in your life do you think to yourself “I should really get in touch with Samantha, it feels like we haven’t spoken in forever”, and then done nothing about it? Each time a reminder comes up, it’s a forcing function.
Let’s say Samantha shows up on my list today again, here are a few places my mind goes. We normally talk to each other every month, but as luck has it we ran into each other last week.
1. I actually spoke to Samantha last week
- 1a. Let me just cross her name off the list and move on with my day!
- 1b. I’ve really been talking to Samantha a lot, I know that I reach out to her every two months but maybe I should start reaching out to her once a month!
2. I haven’t spoken to Samantha in a while
- 2a. Let me see what she’s up to!
3. I haven’t spoken to Samantha in a while.
- 3b. I don’t really have the urge to talk to her, maybe we’re drifting apart?
- 3c. Our last three conversations have all been the same, I should re-evaluate how much space I have for Samantha, maybe checking in every three months is a better place than every month?
Going through this thought process gives you an opportunity to rebalance your relationships as your life and friendships change. We assume that friends are forever, and to some extent that’s true. You’ll always carry them with you, but not equally at all times in your life. It’s worth figuring out how you can be the best friend to your best friends, so you can be at your best.
My system for keeping close people close is one of the most important learnings I have to share. Friendships are the most direct connections people have, and this process really helps put them into perspective. Now that you’re done reading, go say hello to a friend, improve a relationship, or make some new ones.
If you have any thoughts or feelings on the idea, please be a friend and reach out. I would absolutely love to hear what you think.
I write text, but only in the loosest of manners. With people across the country it’s often a text, with my parents it’s always a call, and with many people in my life it’s grabbing lunch or dinner. You should pick whatever your preferred mode of communication is and go from there. ↩︎