Overscheduling and Maxing Out My Relationships

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling kind of stressed out and overscheduled. I feel like I haven’t had much time all by myself (this weekend not withstanding), and as my post yesterday illustrated, I’ve been neglecting some of the basic maintenance tasks in my life. For example, I haven’t taken my car to the car wash in months (ew), and the dining room table in my apartment is building up a pretty big stack of papers/bills “to deal with later.” However, the ugly truth about why I’m so stressed out is: I totally brought it on myself. And not just by saying yes to too many things that other people suggest, but by actively being the one to plan far too many things for one person to sanely handle. D’oh!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my new year’s resolution to host people at my place once a week – and that’s been going really well. However, I find it really interesting to compare the number of social events I’m organizing/attending now with my social schedule when I was traveling for work four days a week. I’ve always known that I pack more into a weekend than most people (to the point where a lot of people think I’m absolutely crazy), but I used to rationalize that I overscheduled myself on weekends because I was out of town the rest of the week, and I needed to fit in seeing all my friends. Now that I’m working locally instead of traveling, though, I realize that I’m overscheduling myself even now that I have plenty of time in town. Parkinson’s Law: an activity expands to fill the time available for its completion. With four extra weeknights on which to schedule stuff, that just means four more nights on which I can make plans – hooray! Unfortunately, it’s actually taking a toll on my sleep and my mental health to be busy all that time, and I need to figure out how to stop inflicting that busyness on myself.

How did I come to this realization? It was when a good friend, someone I really want to see, asked me about meeting up. I went to reply with some dates/times and discovered that not only did I not have any nights or weekend slots free to see him (God, how embarrassing is it that I think of meeting up with friends in “time slots”?), but even had lunches booked just about every day of the week. So I could only lamely offer, “um, maybe breakfast at 7am next Wednesday?” Ouch – I’m sure that seemed super crappy and like I didn’t care about meeting up at all. The problem is that there are just too many people I want to see, and I hate having to choose between them.

The solution I’ve been trying out for the last few weeks is sending out a weekly email to a pretty big group of people (all in BCC, so that no one gets annoyed by replies) and inviting them to whatever events I’ve found for the week that might be fun. I really thought this would be a win-win solution: it helps everyone to feel included and reminds them that I want to see them (though I make it very clear that there is no obligation if they can’t make it), it allows me to meet up with multiple people at once (multitasking friendships? Okay, so maybe that sounds heartless), and it also introduces all my wonderful friends to each other, so that they can get together for their own stuff when I’m not around. It seems to be working out pretty well so far! I’ve been thrilled with how I’ve broadened my social circle in Colorado ever since moving here. When I was in NYC, I always felt a little bit lonely and like I had very few true-blue close friends, but here, I’m really content and secure with the network I’ve built.

Bachelor Season Premiere: Prince Farming

One of my absolute favorite activities: the constancy of always hosting Bachelor night on Mondays with a core group of girls. Low-key but so fun!

But – I still adore meeting new people, and I want to make time for that. While I love my friends here, I also really enjoy chatting up random strangers at events and inviting them into my cult of all-the-events-all-the-time. I’ve found a lot of great friends that way, and I genuinely get super excited when I get to see someone I haven’t seen in a while. Case in point: in an email chain about Monday night’s Bachelor screening (can I refer to watching such trashy reality television as a “screening”?), I heard from my friend Trish, whom I haven’t seen in two months, that she was going to try to make it – and I literally jumped for joy and told her she made my night with her RSVP. That’s not to say that I wasn’t thrilled to see all my other friends who had already RSVPed, too – in fact, we had a ton to catch up on and I was really excited to finally see them in person and get to do just that! But somehow it was extra special to know I’d be seeing someone I hadn’t seen in a while, even though Trish and I aren’t as close (yet) as I am with my other girlfriends.

So, the scheduling problem: I want to maintain the amazing friendships I already have, but I still want to have room for new friendships. And I want to make sure that I’m not burning myself out and am still getting some time to myself to GSD around the house, relax, and recharge in between get-togethers. And I suppose I should probably also try to make room for dating, which always seems to take a backseat to girls’ nights out and Colorado outdoor adventures. See: running into a guy at an event last night that I had been on a few dates with in November, and who I thought was amazing… but then I never made time to return his calls so he thought I wasn’t interested. (And I wonder why I’m single…)

Arrival on the beach in San Juan!

Solo vacation it is! I do enjoy getting to do whatever I want to do and not having to compromise…

Unfortunately, while I find it hard to believe that I’ve reached 150 friendships (that seems like a ton??), I think I have definitely reached Dunbar’s limit of how many relationships I can sustain at any given time. The Agile Elephant breaks down Dunbar’s theory pretty well, and what I didn’t realize until I started looking into it was that Dunbar actually proposes that there are a whole bunch of different levels of “Dunbar’s Numbers”; they are as follows:

  • Core group: up to 5 people (family)
  • Close group: ~15 people (close kinship group)
  • Acquaintance group: ~50 people (band of related close kin groups)
  • Personal social group: ~150 people (bands of common lineage – typical size of a human small village through the ages)
  • Clan or similar organizational entity: ~450-500 people (cohesive sub tribal unit)
  • Tribal group: ~1500 – 2000 people (a tribe)

I think where I am struggling is that I’m trying to treat my acquaintance group of ~50 people as a close group… and I’m simultaneously trying to add people to my acquaintance group and get them moved up to that close group tier as quickly as possible. (Because who doesn’t want more awesome friends and activity buddies?) While I may be more psychologically advanced than a farm animal, I’m noticing that I’m starting to metaphorically feather peck and tail bite as I try to increase my circle and keep up with everyone at once – and that’s really not a good thing for me or my friends.

I’ve already pushed the limits of my social circles with the big group activities and micromanaged planning I’ve been doing, and I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to grow my network so much – but now I think I’m truly at max capacity. Robin Dunbar did an awesome TED talk, Can The Internet Buy You More Friends?, on how technology can help to increase your relationships. However, while the title sounds promising, he concludes that face-to-face contact is what really sustains relationships. Laughter is critical in a relationship, because it triggers the endorphins that are part of our body’s physical need for friendship. But as Dunbar says, “jokes just fall flat via email” – you need to see the smile break across the other person’s face. Skype can substitute if needed, but you need to have that real-time, immediate response – and most importantly, you need to see the other person’s face. For males in particular, it’s “doing stuff together” that prevents friendships from decaying – which to me, indicates that you really can’t game the system all that much with technology’s help.

So perhaps I need to start taking the time to schedule “free periods,” like they give to grade school students who otherwise aren’t smart enough to make time to get their homework done? (Which begs the question: am I smarter than a fifth grader? Evidently not without some structure.) Keeping some free time in my calendar may help me to keep my sanity, and it may also retrain me to stop overscheduling as I have gotten in the habit of doing. I need time to clean up my house, to sleep, and perhaps even to meet up with new friends who haven’t yet learned that “I book my calendar 1.5 to 2 weeks out” (ew, who am I?!) and therefore they need to plan ahead.

Bold Betties in Breckenridge

I loved this December weekend away in Breckenridge with the Bold Betties, and am really excited about a similar trip I just planned with my best friends to get a house in Beaver Creek for a weekend at the end of March!

And most importantly, I want to make sure that I’m keeping a close eye on the activities that I’m suggesting and planning. I recently shared an article in my February 1st Links I Love about conducting a media audit and improving reading efficiency. I think it would probably be a good idea for me to conduct a media audit myself (too much content, too little time!), but I also think what I really need is an “activities audit”. In my mind, that’s an end-of-the-week look back at what things I did (and who I did them with) that I really loved, versus what things I planned or attended but really could have skipped.

Sometimes I think I plan activities more for the sake of having something on the books to do  – and I’ll be honest, I love when my friends get excited about something that I planned. But living in Colorado, I’ve come to realize that there is no shortage of things to do and I should stop worrying that I’m going to be bored. With groups like Gociety and Meetup, plus my own wonderful group of friends, there’s definitely room for me to be more spontaneous and less planned – and I think I’d be a lot happier if I started being a little less scheduled.

Any tips to share? Am I a crazy person for just loving to meet new people? (PS: going solo to weddings is basically my favorite activity… so many awesome people to meet, all hand-picked by the bride and groom, and you are all there in a great celebratory mood! Let me know if I can come crash yours…)

Comments

  1. You would get along great with my husband. He loves to intermingle groups of friends hoping that they’ll all become besties and then we can just hang out with everyone all the time. I, on the other hand, like to have more intimate gatherings with just a couple folks or one other couple to really have some one on one time with them and really deepen our relationship. I think we’ve struck a good compromise, we usually plan a big group event once or twice a month and then have some smaller, more intimate activities throughout the month.

    I also require time to decompress after too many nights/weekends out. I feel like I have to be “on” when I’m out and need some alone time to just breathe and let it all out.

  2. I am definitely more of a one on one or close group of friends kind of person. I used to have a crazy network of acquaintances – always someone to call up for fun – but I outgrew their lifestyle and now prefer time spent with someone that I really know and genuinely care about. I am more apt to spend time on my own vs an activity I am meh about where I used to do all the things with everyone!
    I think whatever makes you happy (and you sound happy minus over booked ;) you should do!
    Gianna @ Run, Lift, Repeat recently posted…Weight Watchers Week 2My Profile

    • I always feel guilty turning down an opportunity to hang out with friends because I don’t like the activity, but maybe that’s exactly what I need to start doing…

  3. I understand wanting to fill that schedule…and feeling overwhelmed! I kind of chuckled thinking fo you scheduling breakfast with someone at 7am next Wednesday — been there! When I stopped saying “yes” to as many things several years ago, it was hard at first but now it’s easy to figure out what I REALLY want to do and which relationships I really value. Always good to take note and hit pause!
    Ericka @ The Sweet Life recently posted…Take The Five Year Health And Fitness ChallengeMy Profile

  4. I think of my days in time slots as well, not to worry! And I have to commend you for your weekly emails and setting everything up!
    Brooke @ wreckingroutine recently posted…Winter Thaw BurnMy Profile

  5. Hi Laura,

    I’ve been receiving all your emails these last few weeks and you are one busy girl- something almost every night! I feel like it’s really easy to overextend ourselves sometimes, there is just so much that we want to fit into our free time and there tends to be so little free time after all our obligations are done. I wish I felt more motivated to do things during the week, but I feel all I’m doing is marathon training. Maybe if I could motivate myself to wake up at 5 every morning, I wouldn’t have to do all my workouts in the evening…

    I’m not a big Bachelor fan… or “reality TV” fan, but I think it’s great that you always host people at your place for it. If you’re having a movie night/wine consumption night coming up soon, I’ll check it out!

    I hope you have a good weekend- and get at least a few minutes to just relax!

    • Marathon training definitely keeps you busy – that is not doing nothing! ;) Don’t worry, I’ll keep you in the loop about any non-Bachelor fun stuff soon.

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