Episode 139: June 29, 2010
by Stever Robbins, author of Get-It Done Guy's 9 Steps to Work Less and Do More
Brandon writes in: I recently graduated (woohoo). How should I be keeping in touch with friends as we go out into the world?
Brandon, your friends are your most important asset in working less and doing more! They’re the ones who will support you in taking risks, who will stand by your side, and who will haul you home after you’ve had one too many tequila shots.
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I love friends! My school friends were all geeks. We waited overnight to see science fiction movies on opening night. We dressed up like elves for costume conventions. We knew every episode of Star Trek by heart.
How to Stay in Touch
But when I graduated, I know I couldn’t keep in touch with everyone. Just do the math. You meet more people every year. If you get to the point where you're trying to keep up with 100 people, just talking twice per year to each one means making a catch-up phone call every week day!
In practice, you'll keep up with some people often, and others less so. Since it will happen anyway, be deliberate about who you want to stay close with. After high school, Alicia and Neicole were two friends I wanted to stay close to. Even though we’ve gone years without contact, Neicole was passing through town yesterday and we spent the day together. And Alicia—now an airline pilot—has a layover in town this Friday and we'll get together.
Keeping in Touch Requires Contact Information
You won’t be keeping in touch if you don't know how to contact someone! Get a good address book and use it. If your friends are under 30, they'll move a lot. Get their parents' contact information so you can find them again.
You cry, "But they're on Facebook, so I can always find their current information! And they'll never change their cell number." That could be true. But when they become an international pop star and start being stalked by fans who want to devour their soul, they'll take down their Facebook page and destroy their cell phone. But their parents will always know where they’re hiding and can give you current contact information.
I keep my address book on my desktop machine. You can use a web-based service, but make sure you can download the information in a usable format in case they go out of business or you want to move to a different service.
When Keeping Up with Friends, Make it Interactive
If you keep in touch online, at least strive for conversation.
We relate by interacting. Tweets and Facebook status updates are one way. They remind people you exist, but they only strengthen a relationship when they lead to a back and forth conversation. That doesn't mean don’t do them; it just means they're better for maintaining—not building—relationships. It's like a yearly holiday newsletter. "Here's a message I'm sending to 400 people telling you what's going on with me. I hope you feel special."
That isn't a back and forth; it's more like G-rated exhibitionism. When you contact your friends, ask what's going on in their life, and be interested. Make it about them.
Choose Your Medium for Closeness
Getting together in person builds the strongest connection. Calling or using video chat is next best. Email and letters are good for exchanging information, but often build an illusion of closeness, not the reality.
Try to meet your closest friends in person at least once a year. Call and chat or leave voicemail saying "Thinking of you. Thank you for being my friend!" For people you don't like, just sign them up for a subscription to Nasal Fluids Explained.
Set up a Contact Schedule
Contact people regularly. If your address book allows it, add a NEXT CONTACT DATE field to each person. Put in the date you next want to contact your friend.
When doing your catch up, search for everyone whose NEXT CONTACT DATE is today or earlier. Then call! When you're done, set a new NEXT CONTACT DATE. If they told you they’re about to discover infinite clean energy, follow up soon. If they told you how happy they were to be abducted by aliens and used for medical experiments, schedule that follow up for a few years from now. You probably don't want them thinking about you too much.
If your address book won’t do a NEXT CONTACT DATE, just enter their birthday and use that. Call your friend on their birthday, wish them happy birthday, and ask about their life. It's all about them, which will make them like you. People rarely call on birthdays these days, so you'll really stand out. And every year you do it, you're helping them recover from that traumatic 3rd grade birthday party with the slightly-too-scary clown.
Contact Friends When You Travel
When you travel, connect. Print out everyone in the city where you're traveling. Schedule a few in-person get togethers. Even if you don't have time to meet in person, call and say, "I'm passing through. I won't have time to socialize, but I wanted to make sure to say 'Hi!'"
Try Keeping in Touch With Friends All at Once!
You can also invite all your friends living in that city or nearby to meet at a restaurant for dinner. If you have limited time, it's a really fun way to connect with many people at once.
The advanced version of socializing as a group is to set up a regular tradition. My social circle from college rents an RV every year and we come from all over the country to be part of a weekend spring party our old living group holds every year. We all stay in touch and even make new friends when current students are brave enough to drop by and hang out.
Keeping in touch requires work, but it’s worth it. Get a contact system, capture everyone’s contact info as well as their parents’. Have a next-contact-date system to remind you went to reach out, and do it in person or by phone if possible. If you keep in touch online, at least strive for conversation. Use travel to see people, and get together with groups when there are too many friends to see individually.
Work Less, Do More, and Have a Great Life!