Do you read people’s e-mail auto-replies? They can be pretty interesting. In the last few weeks, I’ve had not one, but two friends respond to my e-mail with an auto-reply that says something to the tune of: “I’m traveling to A, or doing B, and I’m not available to answer your message right now. Please don’t be offended. I’m not even reading mail from my family!”
In my humble opinion, this is not acceptable. What could these people possibly be doing that necessitates ignoring their family members? If it is work related, I call foul. Folks, work will always be there. When you finish this big project, another will soon appear to take its place. But family members are only with us a short time on earth. It’s a cliché, but somehow people still don’t get it: at the end of your life, will you regret not working more or not being there for your loved ones more?
It’s critical that you make an effort to respond to and show interest in the people closest to you. If this means they get a spot on your to do list so that you can remind yourself to keep in touch, then so be it. If you are a productive individual, I’m sure that you allot certain times each day to answer e-mail. Your family members and friends should be addressed at that time. Do not allow weeks to go by, or god forbid, not get back to them at all.
Here’s a strategy I use that you might find helpful. I have an annual calendar – you know, the kind with the boxes. In each Sunday box, I list two close friends and family members who I plan to call. I also note in the boxes if someone important calls me and I was able to connect with them. The calendar box view lets me see if it has been a month or more since I’ve talked with someone meaningful to me.
I often hear from frazzled people: “But this is just a really busy period in my life. It’s going to be over soon. I know so-and-so will understand if I’m off the grid for a while.” This may be true, but the danger is that you will make being missing in action a habit. Your loved ones may understand, but only to a point. Eventually, they will figure out that you are prioritizing everything ahead of them, and they will be hurt and irritated. The only thing that makes long-term neglect of relationships okay is a personal tragedy, and I hope nothing like death, serious illness, or divorce happens to you all this year.
If it seems like a pain to check in with people now, just think about what it was like to live in the nineteenth century or earlier. Those people had to hand-write letters and mail each one individually! Many of them still corresponded with geographically-dispersed loved ones every day. Now, it takes five seconds to dash off a happy birthday message to someone on Facebook. It couldn’t be easier. It also couldn’t be more important.
I know that some people are reading this post and saying, “Wow, it never crossed my mind that I’m neglecting my loved ones because I’m so crazed at work.” That doesn’t give you a free pass. Remember that the key to a good life is to focus on what matters, and put the rest second. By being strategic in how you choose to do this, you won’t mix them up.
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