Why You Should Value Your To-Connect List Over Your To-Do List

Show me a transcript of all of your emails, meetings and conversations this week, and I’ll tell you what you really value.

Emails, meetings, deskwork…much of what I do each week feels productive but really isolates me from others. These activities are usually more about getting things done than about connecting with other human beings.

Now, I’m not against getting things done. But as I pointed out in my last post, people who build community are actually more productive in the long run than those who just put their heads down and hammer through a to-do list.

Consider these two incredible examples of the value of community.

North Korea Koreas Family Reunions SEL804

Since 1953, these brothers have been forced to live in separate communities. Two weeks ago, they were able to share community together for a fleeting moment as North Korea, bowing to financial aid overtures, allowed some of its citizens to briefly reunite with their family members in South Korea.

That same week, Facebook announced its acquisition of WhatsApp for a whopping $19B. To put that in perspective, Google bought YouTube for $1.65B. This small company makes a free app that lets you send free text messages to your friends and family, and Facebook has valued it at an amount that dwarfs the GDP of entire countries.

While in different cultures and context, both of these stories strikingly reveal how much we as human beings value connecting in community:

North Korean leaders, fearing the great power of people connecting in genuine relationship, believe they can maintain their power by isolating their community.

Facebook, understanding the value of community, recognizes that sustaining their market position depends on their ability to be the community platform of choice.

So if community is what we really value, why do we spend our weeks valuing our to-do list over our to-connect list?

In order to build meaningful leadership influence, we have to start prioritizing what matters most. Here are three ideas to get you started:

1. Shift from one-way to multi-way communication. Last week I spent 90 minutes talking with team members about our company strategy. We’ve already communicated our strategy in PowerPoints, emails and planning meetings. But the conversation last week was just that: We configured the room for dialogue and left the agenda wide open for discussion.

I admit, the setup initially made me uncomfortable as I wondered how it could be productive. I was amazed at the outcome. Concerns and dynamics surfaced that never would have made their way into a regular meeting agenda, and trust and alignment increased as a result.

2. Keep your “scanner” in check. Because of the massive amount of communication we receive, most of us have honed our ability to scan headlines, subject lines and conversation. The New York Times published a series of articles in 2010 highlighting how this information-scanning changes the structure of our brains and reduces our ability to make more profound connections.

Scanning is an important skill, but it’s equally important to intentionally shut down the scanner when it impedes our ability to connect with others.

3. Schedule what you really value. Being intentional often means putting it on the schedule. Review your calendar each week to identify the focused time you’ll spend with people who are important in your personal and professional community. Make a recurring appointment with yourself each Friday to ensure the following week has meaningful appointments scheduled with meaningful people.

How is your community connecting? Are people valuing their to-connect lists over the to-do lists? I’d love to hear your stories. Please share your thoughts and examples in the comments.



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  • Rick Kaufman
    March 6, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Good point and very helpful tips Matt! In the over networked world I tend to live in one of the ways I try to keep my valued relationships in check is to have a spreadsheet of the last time I connected with them and when I intend to reach out again. It’s not fool proof or all encompassing but it serves as a good reminder. I certainly try to do authentic spontaneous check ins as well but having “touch base hour” scheduled consistently every week to reach out has helped.

    • normanblogger
      March 6, 2014 at 9:09 pm

      Rick, that’s a great idea – very practical. So does the spreadsheet “live” outside your CRM or contact management system? You’re great at making and sustaining connections so appreciate hearing your insights.

      • Rick Kaufman
        March 9, 2014 at 7:27 pm

        Thanks Matt – I’ve done it both ways and prefer the CRM. When it’s set up correctly to combine with a thought through sales & prospecting process it can be fairly intuitive. Currently though I’m using a spreadsheet for this part as we’re in the process of upgrading our CRM to hopefully have that customization functionality. Another benefit of tracking your relationships and then matching that list with where your business actually is coming from is that it forces you to be objective (honest) as well as strategic about where and how you spend your time.

        • normanblogger
          March 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

          Thanks Rick! Good point about being “honest” about business relationships.