With all the competing demands on our time, creating and maintaining meaningful connections can easily become secondary. According to Beyondblue.org, “being connected to others is important for our mental and physical wellbeing and can be a protective factor against anxiety and depression”. It is not always easy with hurdles such as different time zones, opposite schedules, relationships, family commitments, and travel, to name a few.
Despite this, preserving relationships with friends, family and my network is something I give high importance to. As such, I have put structures in place to ensure it is as much a part of my daily routine as meditation, eating breakfast, physical activity and the like. Here are seven practices that help me maintain meaningful connections:
Make a List
Adapting the principles of David Allen’s book, “Getting Things Done”, I find making a list of all of the people I want to stay in contact with a useful way to help me keep track. While it might sound prescriptive, I find looking at a list on a monthly basis helps to ensure years have not gone by without being in touch. This could be a page in your journal, an excel spreadsheet, or using an app such as Evernote.
Block out time to connect with people and incorporate it into your daily routine. Before starting my workday, I spend 15 minutes returning calls, emails, voice-notes and texts. I find it helpful to set a goal for my response time, similar to a Service Level Agreement (SLA), for personal messages. One evening a week, I set aside time to write in-depth emails or phone calls/dates.
Speaking of phone dates, with time differences and conflicting priorities, scheduling calls allows both parties to identify a time that works for their calendar. Some calls get scheduled spontaneously, while others have a reoccurring “date,” such as the last Sunday of the month. Of course, life happens and there are times when these arrangements can’t happen so we simply make another “date” within that week. I see it similar to planning a time to go for dinner or a coffee when you are in the same city as someone, instead you are making time for a call. Don’t get me wrong, I am still a big fan of the spontaneous phone call. Often, I will ring a friend when I am walking from place-to place, maybe getting ready for the day or making dinner. Scheduling calls just ensures they are available!
Multi-way Video Calls
For over half my life, my family has been spread over up to four houses and sometimes three continents. This makes family time tricky. We love Google Hangouts. This allows all of us to be on a video call at the same time. Yes, it can be chaotic, especially with my niece and nephews, but that is part of the fun. Multi-way video calls have also come in handy with a group of five friends, one each in Germany, the UK, Pakistan, Canada, and the US. It makes us feel like we are sipping a cuppa tea in the same room, even though we are thousands of miles away from one another!
The next best thing to a phone call is a voice note. Friends and I send voice notes back and forth often. This form of communication permits you to send a note at your convenience while feeling you are having an actual conversation. It allows you to hear the intonation and feel the emotion. Sure, there may be a time lapse between notes, but you can easily pick up where you left off – and there is something so comforting about hearing a familiar voice.
Birthdays and Special Occasions
In the era of social media, it is easy to send a quick birthday or special occasion note. Make it personal by phoning or leaving a voice note for the recipient. Special occasions are a great way to check-in with those you care about. As much as possible, I have occasions on a “reoccurring” setting in my online calendar. This helps to remind me of special day – bonus points for sending a gift, or a card. If you need help with crafting a personal greeting, a site like holidappy.com can provide you with ideas and inspiration.
That brings me to handwritten notes. Call me old fashioned, but every time I receive snail-mail in my inbox, my heart skips a beat. I also still love using good ol’ paper and pen to write a note. I have a goal to write one per month – it takes about 10 minutes, and I usually do this while having breakfast or right before bed. An article in the New York Times states, “When we write by hand, we retain information better and may even boost our creativity. Plus, because we do it so rarely these days, it can be a welcome respite from typing.” The joy it gives me to drop an envelope in the post box will never get old.
Making time to connect with others can also create an opportunity for serendipity. Who knows where these connections can lead. For me personally, they have landed me a global tribe, work opportunities, a spare bed to sleep on all over the world, insightful advice and so much more. Sustaining interactions does not have to be a daunting task. Small, consistent daily actions can help lead to significant relationships.