As a twenty-something (very busy) working professional, I sometimes feel guilty that I can’t spend the kind of long and drawn out quality time with my parents, family, and friends. I feel like I’m always in-between activities or projects, and it causes me to feel rushed or distracted when I’m out. Everyone wants to be able to fit everything into their schedules: have a stellar career, see the people they love, have a social life, make time for their parents and significant other, etc. However, for me it feels like when I want to give my attention to too many things or too many people, everything suffers. It’s impossible for one person to do a multitude of things and do them well.
If I do schedule things when I’m too busy (and am ignoring that fact) this is how it goes: I’ll meet up with the person for an hour at the end of a work day, check email while I’m out, think about tomorrow’s tasks, what I have going on that weekend, complain-chat a little, and shovel some food down (and most likely a cocktail). I end up feeling like I’ve barely connected with my friend, family, or SO, and then the guilt sets in. I have to ask myself “why does it feel so difficult to focus on just one meaningful activity at a time??”
This is obviously no way to live long-term, and no matter how busy I am I know it’s crucial to spend quality time with the people I love. Personally, I know that it recharges my batteries and rounds out my ~happiness meter~.
Whether it’s hanging with family (for me it’s my parents specifically), friends, colleagues, or old friends you don’t get to see often, it’s important to make sure the time you get to spend with them is as meaningful as possible.
Below are five simple and easy ways to make sure that the time you spend with loved ones feels fulfilling. Everyone has their own way of turning off and tuning out the stressors of daily life, and these are the ones that I feel work best for me. Check it out!
Organize specific activities.
For me, it’s really helpful to have something specific planned for when you get together with friends you haven’t seen in a while. When I would first plan meet-ups with my group of friends from college we would all massively group chat “let’s do something Saturday the X.” The date would soon roll around and pass by because something came up on someone’s calendar, and we would have to reschedule. I’ve found that it’s easier to plan time seeing loved ones when there is a specific activity involved. Asking to meet up on Saturday night for dinner and a movie feels like more of a concrete activity that can’t be forgotten (or replaced by something else) as easily as the vague memory that you should have “kept that night open” can.
Unfortunately, the very unsexy part of being a busy working professional (at least to me), was understanding just how far in advance you need to plan things with certain people. Yes I have friends that live close by who I can drop in on or text the day of, but sometimes scheduling a day with my parents and siblings needs to be mapped out six weeks in advance. While we all live about ~40 minutes away from one another, coordinating schedules and freeing up a weekend where we can all get together sometimes feels like mission control. But when you plan ahead you ensure that everyone will be on the same page.
Give technology a pause.
I am always near a phone or a very short distance away from a computer, and as I’ve gotten older I’ve become increasingly more anxious when my phone isn’t around. This is objectively terrible because I hate the idea that some thing has that kind of pull over me, but it’s a balance I’m still trying to work out. However, I do know that when it comes to getting real, meaningful, and focused quality time with loved ones, the phone needs to go. Again, this is what works for me personally. While it might just be a few minutes checking email, or scrolling Instagram while someone looks at a menu, it’s distracting. When I’m spending time with my family I try to leave my phone in a bag in the other room so I’m not tempted to take it out or look down. For me this allows me to truly focus on the conversation, the nuances of body language, etc. It’s hard to stay in the moment when I can see my phone flashing out of the corner or my eye, or a new “like” pops up on my home screen. I’ve found that it’s essential for me to temporarily unplug from technology when I need to unwind and relax.
Really communicate (listen to each others needs).
While it often takes time to figure out, learning how to really communicate your needs and wants with friends and family is essential. For a long time, I invested a lot of energy into understanding my fiancé’s love language, but I didn’t realize the importance of understanding my friends or family members. Everyone has a way in which they feel the most connected to people, and the way they like to connect with others. For example, for a long time I dragged a friend around to live music shows and always wondered why she never seemed super jazzed to hang out. When I switched it up and brought her out for strictly cocktails at a quiet bar down the street, she changed drastically. I came to understand that more than anything she simply liked to talk and have long conversations – something you seldom get to do out at loud bars/clubs/restaurants. I found ourselves connecting in a way we never had before because it finally clicked — this was how we could best engage as a friends. If you want to maximize the time you spend with people, make sure it’s doing something that both parties feel drawn to — not just yourself.
Use words of affirmation.
It might seem strange, but I’ve learned that what you do before and after an actual meet up can be just as important as the time spent hanging out itself. For me personally, it’s not enough to simply go see someone, leave, and then not speak to them again for X amount of time. When I have something planned with someone for say, a Friday night, I’ve started reaching out a few days before to let the person know how much I’m looking forward to seeing them, that I’m excited to catch up, try the new wine bar, etc. Then afterwards, I always text something to let them know how much I appreciate them coming into the city to visit, or making time to get together, or how much I enjoyed what we talked about, etc. I find that it’s somewhat rare for friends and family to do this with one another, because it’s something that is reserved more for dates/romance. However, that follow-up is just as effective with friends and family members. For me, it ends the time you’ve spent with someone on a positive note that lets them know you don’t take them for granted — that you truly appreciate them and are willing to send a small gesture their way to prove it.