Applying the 80/20 rule to friendships: who’s on your A List?

August 18, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Maybe these people are on your A-List Who do you want in your life?  I want to answer that question and discuss what to do about it.

I hoped to write a blog post explaining timezones and technology, but there are moments when computer tips just aren’t that important.

If you don’t know me personally, my last post probably clued you in that I’m fairly social/outgoing.  I’m as human a blogger as you’ll find: if this blog weren’t growing with people like you, I wouldn’t be writing.

But popularity is ephemeral.  If you can’t keep up with all your connections, it’s unreasonable to expect all of them to keep up with you.

So here’s my basic solution to personal information overload and keeping one’s sanity in their friendships: know who counts.  Think about which 2-12 people in your life offer you the most joy, comfort, and interest…and write those names down.

I do this every once in a while.  Here are my most recent findings:

  • Not including family, I’d consider 4 people to be my closest friends
  • There are another 5 people who I get so much from (but our relationships are newer and not yet as consistent)
  • And then another couple whose relationships are less personal in nature (more work) but mean just as much

So that’s 11 people on my (tiered) A-List.  These are people who I should…

  • Follow online, to the extent that it’s possible
  • Call once or twice per month
  • If they’re local, make plans with monthly or bi-monthly
  • If they’re not local (but still within realistic reach), make plans with a couple times yearly

I mention "follow online" as one way to keep in touch, but sadly for me only 1 or 2 of the above have much of an online presence.  Which means an active, direct effort is required to really know anything about these close friends’ lives.

This brings me to a couple corollary points about online presence:

  • With all the time I spend online, I’m not contributing to many of the more meaningful relationships in my life (how about you?)
  • When I don’t get much positive reinforcement for my activities online, I should remember that most of my closest friends aren’t participating online at all (it may help to remember that when a blog/Twitter post sits unanswered)

This isn’t to say there aren’t many fantastic relationships in my life that came from or are tied to the internet…it’s just that these people aren’t playing as significant a role.

But more importantly it offers me a solution for when I’m down or have an extra moment: these are the people who I should reach out to.

I think sometimes we all like to treat new people like new gadgets–there’s both appeal and excitement.  But unlike old gadgets, old friends don’t necessarily have less to offer, and most certainly won’t become obsolete.

I wrote this article because lifehacks aren’t the priority on my mind just now…people are.  And because I thought my approach to getting me out of a funk or keeping me focused on what really matters might be valuable to you.

Have you ever made a list of people you care about?  Has it helped?

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17 Responses to “Applying the 80/20 rule to friendships: who’s on your A List?”

6 Trackbacks

  1. “Rig-tiiige veen-ner” — Mads Kristensen
  2. New Gadgets | Applying the 80/20 rule to friendships: who’s on your A List?
  3. – Should “productivity” play a role in your friendships and relationships?
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  1. Sean Oliver

    I appreciate this post. What has helped me is to combine the activities above, with cutting the contact list down 20% quarterly. Defragmenting your relationships allows you to embrace change.

  2. Don Grauel

    The older I get, the more deliberate I am about spending time with people in my life. I find that as important as nurturing good friendships is actively avoiding “toxic” personalities that drain you.

  3. Lauren Vargas

    It is so easy to become overwhelmed with online relationships/contact that we forget about what is right in front of us. Great call to action…and reminder of what is important. Grounding post.

  4. Jared Goralnick

    Sean, actively cutting DOWN a contact list is an interesting concept. I guess I’ve always started from scratch when I create the list, rather than trimming…because things sort of hit a point where I get frustrated not knowing whether I’m spending my time focusing on the right people. Maybe I should think about systematizing this and cutting back every few months…or seeing who to add.

    Don, amen to that. Get rid of the drains.

    Lauren, thanks for stopping by and your comment. I can always use more grounding; to think that I may help others with that is a nice thought :-).

  5. Elizabeth

    I understand the need to analyze our relationships and what time allocation makes us feel most fulfilled. What I find, however, is that applying the rules of productivity to friendships ignores the caring and emotion that comes with those friendships. You know you’re spending time with the right people because of how you feel when you’re with those people – the emotional benefits, wanting to be around those people more. Of course this is different than business relationships because those are based on professional gain, not on emotional satisfaction. I guess what you need to decide about social media is whether you are connected to those people to gain something professionally from them or because they bring you joy and happiness. Then instead of making a list (and asking yourself who to cut! oh my, what a cold thought!), perhaps follow your gut.

  6. Jared Goralnick

    I hear you, Elizabeth. I think we’re advocating the same thing though.

    I don’t think it’s incongruous to be emotionally connected and analytical at the same time. Short of my reference to the 80/20 rule in the title, this post isn’t about productivity…but about valuing the people in your life that count and recognizing whether you’re giving them the time they deserve (especially if so much of one’s social time is spent online). It’s easy in the moment to feel what you’re getting from a friendship but sometimes when you’re sitting in front of a computer or caught up in other parts of life, you can forget about them.

    I can get caught up in some of the newer friendships and don’t always remember to reach out to old or tried and true friends. By writing this down I’m reminding myself who to reach out to.

    While Sean and Don both made reference to avoiding some of the drains or cutting some people, I think that’s an important topic but it’s not what I’m referencing. Before cutting, sometimes it’s important to find the core. And that’s what I’m interested in. Once you know the core it’s easier to figure out what’s peripheral.

  7. Jet Set Life

    Hey Jared,
    I personally think your dead on with the 80/20 reference here. It could possibly be expanded to an even larger degree. I ask myself what 20% of my actions will give me 80% of the connections I’m trying to achieve. It may happen that an online connection (Twitter, Skype or Face book let’s say) could do the “trick”. Or maybe it’s the phone (we forget about that as technology. Or maybe it’s neither of the above and it’s one on one. The point for me is asking what 20% of my action would give me the connection I’m after. That’s what it sounded to me that you were trying to say. Any way be well. Rob

  8. Melissa Robison

    Your post is particularly timely for me. My boyfriend recently commented on the fact that he thinks that I have an “inner circle” of friends and that someone is either in…or out of that circle.

    I completely agree that we all should nurture the people in our lives that offer you the most joy, comfort, and interest.

    I kind of disagree that anyone should make a list of the people you truly care about. I feel like that’s cold and also a no-brainer. My best friend from high school saw my mom go crazy on me 25 years ago…and she’s seen it again recently. My roommate from 12 years ago helped me through tough times in the past, and I helped her recently. The same is true about my other close friends. If I ranked them on a list, I’d be selling each one short.

    I’ve met some wonderful and talented people online. I’d love to develop deeper relationships with some of them. However, that type of bond usually takes some serious personal interaction, time, and trust-building before is a long-term relationship. This medium is new and, as it matures, I’m sure we will all develop long-term digital friends. Until then, let’s just go with our gut as Elizabeth suggests (-:

    That’s it for me. BTW, love the image at the top of this article! (-:

  9. Joshua Baer

    I did an experiment similar this about a year ago, after reading that we are only able to maintain about 150 real relationships in our life at one time and why this makes the 150 person mark a critical growth point for a company.

    I made a list of my top 150 people. I defined my top people as those who I wanted to stay in touch with regularly – at least one interaction every six months. When I started, I was worried it would be hard to decide who to leave out, but I was surprised to find that I only came up with about 120.

    Then I made a subset of that list who were the top 50 people who I wanted to stay in touch with at least once a month. Next I did the top 20 people who I should have contact with at least once a week. Finally I came up with 5 people who I felt like I needed to have contact with every day.

    Finally, I made “smart folders” in my email program that would only show me email from people within those groups. When my email gets backed up, I will click on my “top 5″ folder and clear out all those messages first. Then I do the “top 20″ folder, etc. This lets me focus on the most important people and make sure I’m responding to them quickly (this is somewhat similar to the Xobni approach).

    This doesn’t keep me from reading email from other people, just makes it easier to prioritize the people who are important.

  10. Jared Goralnick

    Joshua, that’s a pretty impressive way that you used technology to help facilitate the relationships you’re trying to maintain most. Glad to hear it’s working!

    Melissa, Elizabeth & co., I wrote a follow up to this post a little while ago that talks more specifically about productivity in relationships, and whether it can ever be legitimate.

  11. Clay

    You’re on my a-list.


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