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November 21, 2018

I always make plans with the highest of hopes: I’ll meet my friend for coffee, and we’ll spend the whole time baring our souls, getting real about the highs and lows we’re facing.

But a half hour in, I check my email. And then she texts her BF. And then I take a quick scroll through Instagram while she’s posting to her Stories. An hour later, we’ve parted ways with plans to do it all again soon, since this time didn’t really feel like enough.

Sound familiar?

We all crave quality time.
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We all crave quality time. It’s that satisfying catch-up, date, or holiday dinner that makes us feel closer to those we’re with. QT comes with serious benefits: Building personal relationships can lower stress, help you process life events, and keep you motivated to achieve your goals. One study even found that having close, high-quality friendships as a young adult can keep you healthy as you age.

But when it comes time to really connect with our loved ones, we often find ourselves distracted and disengaged, thinking about a meeting earlier in the day or a stressful situation tomorrow. As much as we want to keep that lunch date sacred, we set ourselves up to fail.

When it comes time to really connect with our loved ones, we often find ourselves distracted and disengaged.
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If you, like me, want to make the limited time you have with your friends, family, and loved ones matter, it starts with shifting the way you interact. Here’s how to make it happen.

Put away the phones

Let’s face it: Your phone might as well be your third hand at this point. That can be great when you’re working, but not so great when you’re catching up with a friend or loved one.

The next time you get together, put your device on Do Not Disturb and stick it in your bag, out of sight—one recent study found that even the presence of a phone can be seriously distracting, hindering quality time and conversations.

A recent study found even the presence of a phone can be seriously distracting, hindering quality time and conversations.
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If you’ve stashed your device but your friend keeps texting, confront it head-on. There’s no need to sit there stewing while your pal types away, oblivious. Not sure what to say? Try one of these phrases, suggested by writer Elaina Giolando.

●︎ “Hey, is now still a good time to talk? I see you’re doing something important on your phone, so maybe you need to do that first.”

●︎ “Could we both agree to put our phones away for dinner?”

●︎ “I’m feeling distracted from what we were saying since you’ve been checking your phone. Can we start over?”

●︎ “I love you. Could we do a no-phones catch up session?”

What you say doesn’t matter as much as your tone, explains Giolando. Make it clear that you care for your friend, and while you understand that they might have something going on outside of your conversation, you want to connect. If they can’t seem to put the phone down, make plans for another time.

Listen to your friend’s responses

Ever focus more on drafting your response to a friend’s story than the story itself? You’re not alone. Studies show that only 10 percent of us listen “actively,” aka with full focus on the one who’s speaking.

Studies show that only 10 percent of us listen 'actively,' aka with full focus on the one who’s speaking.
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Remedy that by deciding not to respond with your own anecdotes or problems, but rather encourage your pal to keep talking. Let silences hang without jumping in to fill them. Ask open-ended question, rather than turning the focus back on yourself, or to another topic. And instead of giving advice or analyzing their situation, just pay attention to what they’re telling you. If they want your insight, they’ll ask.

Do something new

If you and your friend always meet for a bootcamp class, try yoga. If you and your partner go out to eat for date night, try making an elaborate meal at home.

Going through the same new experience can open you both up for deeper conversation, and trying something new can make the experience feel like it lasted longer than it did, according to research.

Go for a walk

Ever think up a brilliant idea while you’re on the treadmill, or solve a problem while you’re strolling to your favorite coffee spot? It wasn’t a coincidence—studies have found that physical movement can foster creativity. (It’s also one explanation for why we pace while talking on the phone, wave our hands while we speak, and fidget while taking new information.)

Studies have found that physical movement can foster creativity.
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The next time you want to go deep with loved one, take a walk, knit, or even toss a ball back and forth. That extra brain engagement might help spice up your conversation, and help you two move beyond the usual talking points and into new territory.

Host a game night

It may be easy to ditch devices when you’re hanging one-on-one, but in a group setting? Forget about it. Combat the everyone-sit-and-stare-at-your-phone phenomenon by introducing a game. The camaraderie can help strengthen relationships, while having a task to focus on draws everyone in and keeps them engaged.

Plus: You’ll get to see your VIPs in a whole new light—one where they’re challenged to get their team to guess A Star Is Born without using any words. If that isn’t quality time, I don’t know what is.


Read next: 'Phubbing'Can Derail Our Relationships—Here's How to Deal

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