More than three-quarters of recruiters find applicants via LinkedIn. Job seekers referred by a current employee land the job nearly 66 percent of the time. If you’re a career changer, someone in your desired industry can give you valuable pointers for submitting a successful application for a role in their field. And even if you have your dream job, your professional contacts remain important — there to share advice and resources, especially when you’re facing new or challenging situations.
In other words, you can’t overstate the importance of networking for your career. But in a time-crunched, maximize-every-minute culture, where are you going to find the opportunity to connect?
Muse writer Alex Honeysett suggests planning monthly events or finding a group on Meetup or Facebook to stay connected without a large investment of time. But even these doable options have never provided a lasting solution for me. I often find that when I’m in a pattern doing an excellent job keeping up with professional contacts, I’ll end up spending proportionately less time reaching out to loved ones. When I participate in career-oriented events, I invariably schedule them at the expense of social obligations to conserve energy. Likewise, on the weeks that I’m better about updating social profiles and inviting influential people to connect, I do a terrible job of replying to personal messages.
So how you do you build your professional network without simultaneously watching your personal connections languish? Here’s how to balance personal and professional correspondence, and network in a way that makes sense for you.
Do revisit your goals
In an article for Psychology Today, author Ray Williams discusses various misconceptions and pitfalls of goal setting. One of the arguments he includes, from the paper Goals Gone Wild, is that zooming in on your target can “narrow [your] focus. This intense focus can blind people to important issues that appear unrelated to their goal…”
Try implementing the “80-20” rule
In other words, if you set a stringent professional networking goal for the month (that you’ll go to a certain number of events, invite x number of people to coffee or spend a predetermined amount of time on LinkedIn), you may do so at the expense of other connections and events — just so you don’t fall short and end up feeling like you failed.
If this sounds all too familiar and you’re spread too thin trying to keep up with a vast professional network, try implementing the “80-20” rule. In his Harvard Business Review article, Matt Bird suggests:
Think about your most important relationships and highlight the top 20 percent of them. For example, if you have written down 150 names, 20 percent would be 30 names. These 30 people are the ones I recommend you deploy 80 percent of your time, energy, and resources with. Proactively set up regular lunch dates, walk-and-talks, coffees, and face-to-face encounters.
Remember, this list doesn’t have to stay static. If your interests, prospects or needs change, it might be that you reach out to a former contact and pull him or her into the group of those you’re regularly in touch with. (Here’s how to have that conversation.) Or, if you change jobs and find you no longer have much to talk about with a former colleague, it’s OK not to reach out as often.
By managing how much time you pour into your professional network and limiting your outreach to a feasible number of contacts, you’ll have time and energy left over for your personal connections.
Don’t feel guilty about trying to hack your personal network
The time you can devote to reaching out to loved ones is limited and sometimes you put these calls and get-togethers lower on your list. But here’s a tip: You’ve come across more than a few best practices for staying in touch with professional contacts — and there’s no shame in applying these strategies to optimize your outreach with loved ones.
For example, you know that people have preferred ways of staying in touch. Maybe you know an influential person who never responds to LinkedIn messages but replies to tweets almost instantaneously (or vice versa). Similarly, let’s say your millennial sibling never listens to voicemail, but answers emails within 24 hours.
If you’ve found you’re better at actually calling contacts when you set a deliberate time, carry this over to your personal life.
Instead of pressuring yourself to reach out via a card or call, because it’s the most traditional option, use what you’ve learned in the workplace and choose the medium that’ll allow you to connect with your friend or family member with minimal effort. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve written a card or bought a present, but then it’s taken me two weeks to get my act together and mail it. If I’d dropped the other person a quick message every time I thought about stamps or going to the post office, I’d be in touch with him or her more frequently!
Along the same lines, take advantage of scheduling apps designed to help you manage work projects while remaining connected in your personal life. Use apps for staying on top of business contacts or personal ones, too. (It’s a great way to remember what your cousin or college roommate actually does for a living!)
Just as many people find work-life integration to be more attainable than work-life balance, stop distilling methods and times for personal outreach and professional networking into different categories. For example, if you’ve found you’re better at actually calling contacts when you set a deliberate time, carry this over to your personal life.
It’s easy to chalk up being out of touch with loved ones to a compelling work reason. You’ll always be leaving a job or starting a new job or trying to excel in your current role and need to reach out to professional contacts. But instead of moving your loved ones to the back burner, remember the rules above to keep your entire network thriving.