Lists, talking points, and discussion bibliographies

Recently I wrote about lists and vowed to list weekly three things that I’ve learned in the past seven days. Then today, a friend (and subscriber!) posted on Facebook about lists. She was asking what kinds of lists people make. The ones that came to mind first were my discussion lists. I’ve been doing it since college. I make notes throughout the day of things I need to do and stuff I need to talk about. My roommate and I both did it. We would jot down things that we heard or information we thought the other person might want or need. At the end of the day, we’d meet up back home, pull out our lists, and chat. We both recognized it as somewhat strange, but with busy class schedules and jobs, we had trouble keeping track of everything.

Some list items were important, like ‘there’s a concert next week that we should attend’ or ‘we need to renew our lease by Tuesday’, while others were silly anecdotes, like ‘tell her about the stupid thing you saw on a bumper sticker today’. It worked for us. Since then, I’ve kept up the practice with some friends. Not all friends would take well to it, but some love it. One friend told me she has another friend who brings talking points when they go out to dinner. It’s not for lack of things to discuss; they’re close friends. But there’s so much happening in his life that he wants to share with her that he needs to keep track of it all. It can be a recommendation of a great new band, a reminder to ask how her sick father is doing, or a need to get her opinion on some important life decisions. Of course, items not on the agenda can also be discussed, and idle chit chat is still welcome.

Since I’ve moved a lot and have friends around the country, I set up video chats (often ‘video happy hour’) with friends. It’s the next best thing to going out for coffee or a drink with a buddy. Due to time zone differences, we usually schedule the chats–no more picking up a phone to surprise someone with a call. When I schedule it, I put it in my Google Calendar so that I don’t forget and run an errand at that time. In the notes section or in the email invitation that I send, I’ll often put a list of discussion topics. I only do it with friends who like it. Often, I’ll do it so that they know I want to hear about their latest vacation or that I want to get their opinion on a current event topic.  One friend does the same to me. She’ll even send articles from the New York Times with a note “to read and discuss.”

Some might balk at being given ‘homework’ to do before hanging out with a friend. But I love it. I love that my friends enjoy discussing current events or science or something other than what they did last weekend (though I enjoy that too). It’s often difficult to find people with whom to have such conversations, who respect differing opinions and who want to work out their own thoughts and develop their opinion by carefully dissecting the news with a trusted friend. We both learn, even if we disagree. It’s stimulating. I value my friends and their curiosity about the world. I like that they challenge me to think about topics I might not normally consider. And making lists of talking points can spark those discussions, even in unlikely situations.

Not only do I make lists before discussions, but I also follow-up discussions with notes. While chatting with a friend on the phone or on the web, we might discuss a topic that one of us knows little about. I ask friends to follow up by sending me links or information. I’ll follow up a chat by sending a link to something I referenced in the chat. I’ll send a recipe or a photo. And in a few cases, we’ve sent each other ‘bibliographies’ of stuff to check out after a talk. Those are sort of a ‘to learn more about what we discussed earlier…” memo. I love getting them!

All this might make me seem nerdy, because I am. However, I love to learn and will keep making lists as long as my friends tolerate it. Luckily several of them not only tolerate it, they embrace it. A few even send their own talking points before we meet up. So I’m sticking with my strange but helpful habit.

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