Be a less terrible friend by scheduling your minimum viable friendship

Don't be afraid to schedule time with the people most important to you. Your calendar is not just for work.

I just got off the “phone”† with my friend Jay, a guy I worked with back in 2008-ish. He was one of the first people that, after only a brief time speaking with, seemed to share my feeling that the “normal life” we had fallen into wasn’t where we belonged. I thought I was the only one. (Hint: no matter what it is you’re going through, you’re never the only one.)

We mostly bonded over the “there’s more to life than a 9-5 and a nice house” thing. We were both programmers at the time, but he wanted to be a comic artist and I wanted to be a writer or traveller or … something.

8 years later, and he’s calling me from Italy, where he’s spending a few months travelling and working remotely – doing illustrations from an inspiring locale as he always wanted. I, on the other hand, was taking a Sunday-morning break from the non-stop onslaught of work that is startup life. (Not that I’d have it any other way.)

(Side note: Jay also writes a blog about his transition, and sells his arty things online. The image at the top of this post is a watercolour of his of the place in St. John’s where we always used to meet. I have a print of it on the wall right behind me.)

So though my new life was not what I would have predicted back in 2008, we’re both living a lifestyle we love, engaged in something we find engaging. Great. I love it when shit works out like that.

He’s one of my favourite people and a couple hours of chatting will always give me a new perspective or a new book to read or podcast to listen to. It always used to end the same way, “man, we should chat more.”

I’m sure you have a couple of these people in your life as well.

Calendar Slave

When you have a busy schedule, it’s easy to feel like you’re a slave to your calendar. But once you cross that “if it’s not in my calendar I don’t do it” line (and if you, like me, didn’t think that was a real thing – you don’t know what it’s like until it happens to you) you can still turn the tables.

So on my last call with Jay, I suggested something different. “Let’s schedule a recurring time to chat. No matter where we are, we’ll do our best to hop on skype and say hey.”

We agreed on quarterly and the first such time came up this morning††. And it was great. We were both busy but both took the time to put whatever was going on aside and catch up.

I’m certain had we not set up that schedule, we wouldn’t have had that conversation. It would’ve been many more months until we spoke again.

Habits, again

I’m the first to admit that I can be a pretty terrible friend. There are great people I meet that slip away because I don’t prioritize maintaining those relationships. Clearly, no matter how much happier I may be if I was naturally good at those things, it’s simply not in my nature.

I work at it a lot.

These days at work, I put a much bigger emphasis on relationships and interactions than I do on, say, technology. Tech comes and goes but a solid team can turn an old rusty bathtub into a race car. That said, it doesn’t come easy so I make rules and schedules and systems to continually improve. (A topic for a future post, no doubt.)

The point is, if I can take my awful tendencies out of the equation in my personal life also, and turn basic friendship maintenance into a habit, I can save myself from own self-destructive selfish nature. There’s no doubt that’ll lead to a happier, brighter future.

I used to think you were crazy

I’ve encountered tons of people who call their mom every Sunday or have “date night” every Friday. And my face would normally go like this: o_0. But I’m starting to see the power of these relationship habits. Especially for those who, if left to our own devices, would crawl into a hole with our self-loathing and a Netflix account and never emerge.

If you don’t have any such chat schedules set up, I encourage giving it a try. But be warned: take it slow. Nothing kills change faster than too many new habits at once. I have a lot more regular personal items I want to schedule but so far I’m keeping it small. I added my first (the call with Jay) in December, and my 2nd I added just this week.


† Can you say “phone” when you mean “facebook video chat without the video”?

†† Not that it really matters, but this was written a week and a day before being published