Do you feel like you spend enough time with your friends? Your family? Your partner?
Or are you so busy that you feel like your relationships have been left adrift to atrophy around you while you watch helplessly.
You say to yourself “When things get less busy, I’ll have time for friends”. You hope that when you’re ready to pick your relationships back up that there’ll actually be something to pick up.
Just like anything else in life, where entropy rules, it helps to be intentional and add a little structure so that you’re likelier to actually make it happen.
And I get it. It’s hard. It’s hard to remember to reach out. And it’s hard to make time for the fun stuff in the face of all your obligations.
So, I’m here to free you from the belief that it’s all on you to remember to reach out, to remember to engage.
You don’t have to use your brain for that anymore.
So, I want to share 2 practical strategies (that don’t rely on memory) that you can use to stay in touch with the people you care about.
Use your task system
- For Birthdays
I’m pretty good at remembering birthdays. But here’s my secret. I don’t actually “remember“ them all. They’re in my task system.
There are some people I text every year, some that I call, and some that I send a gift to and then call.
And all of these people are in my task system. If you’re getting a text or a phone call from me on your birthday, then you can rest assured it’s because I have a recurring annual task in my task system on your birthday reminding me to do so.
If you’re getting a gift then I have 2 tasks in my task system with your name on them. One is 2 weeks before your birthday (recurring annually) so that I have plenty of time to get you a gift, and the other is that same recurring task I mentioned above so that I remember to call you on the day.
Sounds like cheating? Well, maybe, sure. But would you rather I reach out, or that I don’t? Will you feel worse if I intentionally make a point of reminding myself rather than simply remembering on the day? I don’t think so.
I never forget anymore, because I don’t need to remember. My task system does the work for me.
- For Phone Calls
Now, I feel a little vulnerable saying this so publicly (and sorta hope my friends aren’t reading), but if I want to make sure to stay in touch with someone, then that person is going also getting a recurring task in my task system telling me to give them a call.
People have different cadences (because relationships are different). Some folks are on a 6-week schedule, others a 6-month schedule.
And the cadence can change based on relationship, geographic or other changes. If someone lives close by, it’s likely I’ll see them in person more often. If they move away, you can bet a task is being added with their name on it.
Out of sight, out of mind can be a real phenomenon; but you don’t have to fall prey to it nor feel bad about it. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. It just means you might need a little help in the memory department.
You can also add someone for a short period of time to your task system. Maybe you have a friend going through a tough time and you want to increase the frequency with which you reach out. Just go ahead adjust it in your task system instead of falling into bed each night thinking “Oh no, I meant to check in on X”
Does this mean that I talk to my friends and family on robotic schedules? Nope; it just means that I rarely have the thought “it’s been way too long since I talked to X”. (And if I do, I add them to my task system so it doesn’t happen again.)
Let me give you an example of how this plays out in real life:
I have a very close friend who lives on the opposite coast; we’ve lived on opposite coasts for 20 years. We see each other a couple times a year. But I also have a task telling me to call her every 6 weeks. Most of the time, when the task pops up, I’ve already spoken to her in the past few weeks, so I just mark that instance of the task as complete and it pops back up again 6 weeks later. But every so often it pops up and I haven’t spoken to her recently. And that task is my cue to reach out.
Use Your Calendar
Another method to more easily maintain relationships to get something on the calendar on repeat so you don’t have to think about it or do a whole bunch of work to make it happen.
In my life, this shows up in a lot of ways, but here are a couple:
- My husband and I have weekly date night on Fridays and we have done this since we became parents (because before we became parents, date nights were happening with enough frequency we didn’t need to strategically plan). When the kids still needed babysitters, we had a standing babysitter every Friday. We didn’t always know what we were going to do each Friday, but the babysitter was coming no matter what, so that was our time to get out of the house, hang out and talk to each other like humans who love each other instead of having every conversation be related to the logistics of running a household and raising kids.
- Started during the pandemic, my cousins and I have a quarterly Zoom happy hour on the books. Not everyone can make it every time. But it’s there. And we all see each other A LOT more than we did in the past.
There’s no shame in needing a memory aid. There’s no prize for the person who remembers your birthday without a reminder. You wouldn’t know anyway unless they told you.
What does matter is that you reach out and you maintain momentum on those relationships that you care about. If you’re not in contact with someone you care about, you don’t want it to be because it fell through the cracks, you never seem to have the time or you flat out forgot. And to avoid that, you might just want to rely on your task system or your calendar.