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The Hidden Benefits of Hanging Out

Sure, you're busy. But take off your headphones already! There is significant benefit to face-time. So go ahead: get social.
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Yeah, yeah. We know. You're busy. We get it.

Entrepreneurs in particular are known to have insanely long to-do lists to cope with. So the last thing you probably want to hear is that there's another must-do item you should be adding to your calendar.

But sorry, Fast Company's Kevin Purdy has one for you. Before you click away to avoid another worthy-but-unappealing obligation, be aware that Purdy's suggestion might not only be enjoyable (if you can talk yourself into doing it) but also key to the success of your business.

So what is it? Simple: see people. Friends, acquaintences, random people. All of them. No, not online or over Skype, but actually old-school face to face style. It sounds like a simple suggestion, but as Purdy points out, it's all too easy for us to get enmeshed in our digital commitments and frantic work lives and let old-fashioned meet-ups slide. Writing about his weekly morning scheduled get-together with other tech pros, Purdy says:

Left to our base instincts, we'd all probably spend that scheduled time, like most of our time, in front of a screen. But by forcing ourselves to meet up and talk, even if there's no particular label or mission statement to it, we get vital exposure to the kinds of benefits that salespeople, network-savvy executives, and other people we usually try to avoid are seeking out. I've picked up paying work, traded contacts, sparked story ideas, and solved tech problems at those get-togethers. And I get much-needed practice at hearing others out, arguing my beliefs, and plain old face-to-face socializing.

These benefits aren't just for super geeks who spend most of their days glued to their computers either, according to Purdy (though let's be honest, that's a growing percentage of knowledge workers of all types). Actually forcing yourself to block off time for getting together with like-minded professionals is a good idea across a range of industries, writes Purdy, as doing so provides us with a vital "third place" in which to foment ideas:

The Third Place is a concept of Ray Oldenburg, urban sociologist and author of The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. The First Place is your home, and the Second Place is your office. You have assigned roles and tasks at each place, and you know nearly all the people in each. The Third Place is where you meet with people you don't know that well, or maybe at all, and you exchange ideas, learn about other people, and, as Oldenburg sees it, enrich society and yourself…

Your challenge, then, is to find a way to block out time where you're not at home, you're not at a screen, and you're not seeing your family or best friends. You're very consciously being social just to be social, and probably arriving back at your First or Second places a good bit happier.

This meeting of the minds to share and argue ideas is particularly important for entrepreneurs, who hope to refine product ideas and serve actual humans needs. Explaining and defending your product or service to others with their own unique experiences and preferences is a sort of crucible that helps budding business owners ensure they've created truly study, well thought out ideas. And routinely speaking about your work can't be bad for your pitching skills either. 

Check out Purdy's thoughtful article here. What do you think, is the pay off from socializing in the flesh large enough to justify a dedicated block of time in your busy calendar?

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Dec 13, 2011

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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