Better than social media: how I built a private, independent database to keep in touch with the most important people in my life

You could easily do it too. Just follow my step-by-step guide

Better than social media: how I built a private, independent database to keep in touch with the most important people in my life
A screenshot showing my setup in the software Notion

This summer I created a system to keep in touch with the most important people in my life. It has revolutionized my social life and relationships - at a time when I have very few opportunities to go out, as I care for a toddler.

I shared my system with a few friends and they were immediately intrigued and eager to replicate it. I’m discussing it here, as the database was built with the ethos of the Realists in mind: to give importance to relationships in real life and utilize technology to nurture them and maintain them… without falling in the trap of algorithms.

I think we could all use something like this.

An Epidemic of Loneliness

I recently came across a chart that has been haunting me. Scott Galloway - New York University business professor, podcast host and entrepreneur - is currently publicizing his new book Adrift: America in 100 Charts.

Galloway posted on Twitter a chart, excerpted from his book, about the evolution of friendship over the past 30 years. Or maybe a more appropriate description would be "devolution" - because the picture is bleak:

A screenshot of a tweet by Scott Galloway about the evolution of friendships in America

1 in 5 men (21%) and almost 1 in 5 women (18%) have either zero or just one close friend - not counting family or relatives.

In the age of "social" media, where platforms have been promising closeness and immediate contact with anyone in the world at the click of a button... we are witnessing an epidemic of loneliness.

According to a recent study by the University of New Hampshire, the consequences of prolonged loneliness can be devastating to one's health. Deadly even: the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

The last three years of my life have been really challenging vis-à-vis nurturing friendships and having an active social life. Covid restrictions, caring for a newborn baby and being her primary caretaker have completely transformed my life.

Before 2020, I used to travel abroad every month, either for work or to visit close friends and family. When home in Paris, I always strived to make every day unique, attending conferences and book launches in the evening after work. Or meeting friends for dinner or drinks. No more.

I have not been on a plane in 3 years (great for my carbon footprint!) but caring for a small baby means I need to be home at 6:30pm every night. And stay home.

Don't get me wrong, now that I’m a mom I fully understand the term JOMO ("the joy of missing out"), as my little one is my favorite person in the world. I love every second I spend with her and I’m very conscious that these moments are fleeting: soon she will grow up and become more and more independent. If anything I wish I could stop time and live in this eternal present.

This domestic / parental bliss has had some consequences of course. My friendships have suffered, no question about it.

What to do? Well, I devised a system to keep track of my communication with friends and acquaintances so they wouldn’t languish.

I LOVE this system so much, I couldn’t do without it.

My KIT 150 Notion database

But first! You may be wondering, what is Notion?

Well, Notion is a software that allows you to create workspaces and databases - they can be as simple or complex as you want them to be.

Notion has fast become the favorite tool of millions of students and productivity geeks the world over. Corporate teams too. Think of it as a very stylish Excel meets Airtable meets Trello - on steroids.

a screenshot from Notion’s homepage

But I'm digressing. Back to my KIT 150 Notion database: keeping track of our most important relationships – friendships, influential contacts and clients – is so essential to one's well being and professional success. Shouldn't there be a tool that allows you to do that?

LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter do not count. I am talking about a database that lists the most important people in your life, that you can sort by date of last contact, geographic location or importance.

This thing doesn’t exist. So I built it.

My database is platform-agnostic and it empowers me, recalling when I last spoke to my favorite people... and if it has been too long, it reminds me to get in touch with them.

Why the name KIT 150?

KIT stands for keep in touch.

150 is Dunbar’s number - the maximum number of people that British anthropologist Robin Dunbar theorized one can maintain significant relationships with.

For the record, I have more than 150 people in my database (161 to be precise), but having that target number in mind was helpful for adding only friends and contacts that I really love and admire and want to keep in touch with (instead of adding 1500 people I have tenuous relationships with).

How I built my KIT 150 Database

I created a new database in Notion with these columns:

  • Name
  • Last Connected (Type: Date)
  • Location (Type: Single Select, listing countries)
  • Fave (Type: Checkbox)

I started working first in the "Name" column of my database, adding my closest friends first, then scrolling through my messaging apps to add people I communicate with most frequently.

I didn’t add family members because we speak every day. Friends only.

Then I scanned my address book, culling people from there.

And then I went on Twitter and LinkedIn - the main social media platforms I use - and added people I follow there… people that I want to keep in touch with regurlarly.

This is key: I didn't indiscriminately add everyone I am connected with on social media, just my strongest relationships and my favorite people.

I added a country to each entry, based on where the person lives, because I have so many friends and contacts abroad (I have lived in Italy, the United States and the UK before arriving in France).

I also created a column for "True Helper" with a checkbox, and checked it when the person in question went above and beyond to help me in the past. It's good information to retain... and a reminder to reciprocate.

The column "Faves" is for my favorite people, so I can see at a glance when I last connected with them.

Here is a snapshot of my database:

a screenshot of my KIT 150 Notion database
a screenshot of my KIT 150 Notion database

You may be thinking to yourself something along the lines of "it feels disingenuous or excessively calculating to keep track of social interactions in an app".

But isn't it weird how most people post on social media idealized versions of their lives, in order to elicit positive responses from as many people as possible? Friends and strangers alike?

I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power and I love having a private, independent database that lists the most important people in my life and the date of our last interaction.

Is it dystopian that I need an app for that? Not at all. We all lead incredibly busy lives and it’s practical and a major time saver to have that information at a glance - especially when you have a network of friends, contacts and clients spread across several countries around the world.

It takes me less than 5 seconds to update the "Last Connected" tab.

My goal on any given day is to connect with at least 6-10 people from the database and I love how in Notion I can filter out results by date.

Every month I start from scratch.

What does it mean? This December 1st, I created a new view that filtered results by: "Last Connected Before December 1." Everyone from the database showed up in there. So, every time I touch base with someone, they disappear from this view... the only people left are those I have not been in touch with this month… so I can be quickly reminded of whom I should contact next.

Of course, there are people I interact with several times a month. I am in touch with some friends more frequently than others. But it’s really incredible to have a reminder of which people I have not interacted with in a while. For example, I may be under the impression that I just saw or spoke with friend “X” but then I check my KIT 150 database and see the last time we interacted was early September. This system is AMAZING for that.

I also use Notion's powerful formulas to create a view where I can see what my goal for the month is - in my case, connect with 125 people from my database - and see how far along I am.

What counts as an interaction: a meeting in real life, a phone or Zoom call, an email, a text message or a comment on social media. The latter has to be thoughtful and personalized to count.

I have been using this system since July and I find it indispensable.

Goals are one thing and of course I do not always manage to connect with everyone on my list in 30 days. But I love having a reminder to do so. If anything it is truly making me more social - at a time when I can’t go out or travel as much as I used to.

I hope this post was useful to you. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback in the comments. Or maybe suggestions about how to improve the database.

- Elena

Additional reading: