Should “productivity” play a role in your friendships and relationships?

August 25, 2008 by Jared Goralnick

Mapping out a line of people When it comes to friendships and relationships, is it fair to apply principles of productivity…or is it not only a waste of time but perhaps even harsh and potentially damaging?

I say if you’ve got a system that works for you, then by all means apply it to the people in your life, too.  It’ll not only help your sanity but your relationships.

The Responses to my Last Post

I wrote a post last week about making a hierarchical list of the people you care for.  My purpose was to help focus away from winning the approval of the thousands of voices online and instead remember who you really ought to call.

But some of the responses were critical:

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….instead of making a list (and asking yourself who to cut! oh my, what a cold thought!), perhaps follow your gut.  (Elizabeth)

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. (Melissa Robison)

Productivity systems are a means to an end, with the end usually being time spent more effectively (i.e., getting more accomplished with less effort or time).  In and of itself, spending one’s time more wisely shouldn’t hurt friendships and could quite possibly help them.  But let’s dig a little deeper.

Can You Fit People onto a List?

Making a list is a liberating effort.  This weekend I found myself with an hour waiting to get into an event, and decided to make a list of what activities and atmospheres really contributed to my happiness…and which ones had the opposite effect.  As is usually the case with some serious brainstorming and real thought, my list wasn’t quite what I expected.  For instance, I’m realizing even more the importance of not working when I’m low-energy and finding creative ways to avoid interruptions (after looking at my list those appeared as some of the themes).

I think the same is true for friendships—we can’t just rely on our intuition.  We have a belief that if we’re spending time with people who’ve been in our lives for a while, then we’re automatically doing the right thing.  We think that if we make time for a friend who calls from out of the blue that our priorities are straight.  But we’re wrong.

Just because an activity has two eyes and a heart doesn’t mean it’s more demanding of your time.  Just because someone was a friend in college seven years ago doesn’t mean they’re your priority now.  Just because someone’s been around doesn’t mean you need to maintain that presence as a status quo.

This isn’t about your gut, and it’s not about your head.  Neither of them are purely reliable.  What it’s about is taking the time to think through what’s going on in your life and recognizing that some people are making it better, some people could be making it better, and some people are not for you anymore.

I’m perfectly fine with crossing people off the list.

The Misanthropic Jackass?

Okay, now let me offer you a little background on me before I sound like a misanthropic jackass: Perhaps I’m naive, but I consider myself the best at keeping in touch of any of my friends.  I’d say that 9 times out of 10, I’m the one calling, planning the visit, or commenting on their site.  I do that both because I love holding onto so many people and memories, and because I’m horrible at letting go.

But there comes a time when one simply has to move on.

Similarly, as I continue to grow I meet people who are different…and they both change and complement me.  I need to make time for these new people.

Since I’m not so good at just letting things slip, I make an effort out of this process—hence this blog post.

Productivity in Friendships and Relationships

So now you’ve heard my Grinch-like perspective.  Let’s visit the greater picture of productivity in friendships and relationships.

Here are some of the things I do, all of which I believe help my relationships…but you might have a different opinion:

  • I do other things when I’m on the phone (if I don’t need to take notes) – so that I can have more time for people (and not notice the stupid chores)
  • I wait for those things before I take or make calls (you can see the link above, but examples include folding, dishes, tossing frisbee with Dagny (my dog), walking Dagny, etc.)
  • I often schedule phone calls with friends
  • I usually schedule time together with friends (and business) so that there are at least two things in that locale
  • I have 7-day reminders for all important birthdays/holidays
  • I have a giant stack (hundreds) of greeting cards for all occasions (and I send a LOT of them).  I should point out that I kind of make a hobby out of greeting cards—I love ‘em
  • I have 30-50 people in my speed-dial at any time and those are 90% of the friends/family who I call (as opposed to the 1500 contacts who I’d never have time to wade thru)
  • I can search my friends by region (both in Outlook and on social networks), and always reach out to local friends when I’m going to be in their area
  • I try to stay with friends and family rather than at hotels when traveling, assuming it’s not a major inconvenience for them or me.  While this is a financial savings, it’s even more fantastic for catching up
  • I love when my friends get involved with social media because it’s an easy-to-digest way of staying up to date with some of their activities…and they with mine.  Then when we talk we can get to the meat of things
  • And, as I mentioned in the last post, I frequently make lists of who I need to spend more and less time with

In short, I do what I need to so I can spend quality time with the people I care about.  I call this productivity both because it makes me feel like I’m using my time wisely…and because these are not all “intuitive,” but rather things that I make a conscious effort to practice.

There are times when I sway away from ALL of these ideas.  If someone really needs me I’ll be available any time—and many of you reading this can likely attest to that.  But most often it’s just about having time for each other…and some productivity principles can help with that.

Productivity isn’t an end in itself, but it can be applied to many facets of life.  People are very important to me and I don’t think my  behavior around them needs to abandon any of the helpful principles that govern the rest of my actions.

Do you think productivity can be applied to relationships?  How have you applied it?

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9 Responses to “Should “productivity” play a role in your friendships and relationships?”

2 Trackbacks

  1. Productivity in Context » Blog Archive » Productivity Practices and Relationships
  2. Productivity in Relationships » a link to an interesting article about nurturing relationships (Sunshine and Merriment by Xee Momma)


  1. @Stephen

    I believe that Productivity principles *should* be applied to relationships. Jeff Gitomer has written a book about these principles that I highly recommend, with actionable steps for improving and strengthening your relationships.

    As soon as my contract is up on my “day job”, I will begin aggressively applying these principles, and writing about it!

  2. Jared Goralnick

    I’ve heard a bit about Gitomer’s book, and I’m certainly a fan of Carnegie’s classic. I’ll be very curious to see what you have to say over at Productivity in Context about all this stuff once your day job is over.

    Congratulations on moving to web work and writing full time, Stephen!

  3. @Stephen

    Thanks, I am looking forward to it. I have some big ideas and am really excited about sharing them.

  4. Elizabeth

    I think my criticism, of the last blog post and of this one, stems simply from a different point of view. We participate in activities within relationships, such as making phone calls and visiting, and I completely agree with your perspective on using time wisely with respect to those activities. But you call friends here “an activity with two eyes and a heart.” I don’t see relationships themselves as activities or hobbies. And I think viewing them as such discounts their complexity and emotional content. Perhaps it’s semantics, but this notion really doesn’t sit well with me. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop wasting time interacting with people who don’t improve your life – my internal system for this is just based in my heart, not my head – and it’s not something I put on my to do list. It seems like a subtle difference, but I think it’s what makes this blog post either validating or alienating.

    Thanks for the food for thought! And the tips for staying in touch.

  5. Jared Goralnick

    Scratches Elizabeth off To-Call List…

    Just kidding :-). I totally see your point. Maybe it’s semantics, I don’t know.

    A REAL FRIEND is more than someone with two eyes and a heart. A real friend (one that makes the list ;-) ) does trump ‘most everything else. But sometimes we think that ALL PEOPLE are more deserving of our time than whatever non-people-related activities we have. It just helps me sometimes to either think through who I spend time with or revisit what other priorities I have.

    I hope my explanations help a little…as opposed to “alienating.” I really appreciate your comment.

  6. Ahson Wardak

    I think the key with relationships is not productivity (or efficiency), it’s effectiveness. Often times, you can have 100s of ways to keep track of friends. If it’s automated and dry, not genuine, then you’ll, ironically, be very lonely.

    If I were you, I would focus on writing a post on how having great relationships with others actually helps you be productive. Generally, happy, friendly people do better at life and getting things done. Relationships and productivity may not be concurrent things, but they can aid each other.

    I definitely want to see a post on how being happy in relationships means that you’ll have a tendency to be more productive.

  7. Sonia Simone

    I see this as just being conscious about relationships, which I find very valuable. I have a tendency to spend time with the people who do the most follow-up, or who are the most convenient to be around, versus the people I really want to be with. Completely agree that just because a person has become a “habit” does not mean that spending time with that person is the right way to be spending your time.

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