So we had our monthly potluck party last Friday night, a smaller crowd this time because we had to switch the date, last minute, from the last Saturday of the month to the third Saturday of the month. [Family event conflict.]
People seem kind of unsure of or even intimidated by how we have these parties monthly. This one was, like I said, a smaller crowd – 12 adults, maybe, and a small posse of kids. 8? That seems right.
The kids played around, outside and inside, and most of them fell asleep watching a movie around 10 or so. The grown-ups of us (and those who pretend to be) sat around outside, staring into the fire pit and making stupid jokes, until I realized that I was going to fall asleep on the patio chair, so I nudged Joe, and he wrapped things up.
Clean-up was quick and easy, 20 minutes tops, just enough to minimize the mess, collect the trash, put the leftover food away. The vacuuming, straightening, and so on would wait till morning.
Our biggest party to date was about 100, and that was the very first one, a month after we got married. There were so many people I didn’t even know in my house, which we’d barely unpacked boxes into. And we still had gallons of chili leftover.
Having parties on a regular basis may not seem like a mark of productivity, and it isn’t, I guess. It takes time, and money, and some prep work, some planning, hours out of your potential productivity to just sit around and talk, and then more time spent on clean-up and more time needed for that nap the next day that you’re going to have to have.
But when you get productivity down to it’s baseline, it’s really all about people, isn’t it?
People interrupt us, and distract us, and rob us of time, and squash our productivity down to a minimum. But without people, there’s no point in productivity. Why do you want to do the work, why do you need to accomplish something? It’s about people in one way or another. The trick is remembering that, and balancing an openness and availability and an understanding that this is the real world, not a GTD universe, while ALSO finding ways to get things done, to own your time, and to make wise decisions about how you give it, for whom, for what.
Anyway, enough meandering.
How to have a party, or just have a family over for dinner, on a regular basis without totally ruining a whole weekend of potential productivity? I can’t say I’ve got this down to a science, but I do have a few good tips and systems. They work for me.
1. Fit your party to your people.
Know who you’re inviting, and think about what will make them comfortable. People who are comfortable will have a good time, relax, talk with other guests, and generally make for a fun (not stressful/awkward) party. For us, this is pretty simple: we’re not fancy people, and most of our friends are similar. We are a lot more “backyard bbq” than “four-course dinner party.” I plan my parties accordingly; it makes me more comfortable and my guests more comfortable, so we all have a better time.
2. Train your guests.
Tell them where things are and what you expect of them, in a nice way of course, when they arrive. If, like us, you’re having a regular party with a lot of the same people showing up month-to-month, you only need to “train” them a time or two and then they’ll have it. Things like this: do you expect guests to serve themselves? Are you handing out the drinks, or is it a self-serve situation? Where does the food go (in a potluck case, such as ours)? Where do they put their coats, bags, etc.? What’s okay for the kids to play with, and what isn’t? People are generally more comfortable knowing the boundaries and knowing what is expected of them. If you’re the host/ess, you need to take the lead. When you greet people, you can say, “I’ll take your coat and hang it here for you, so you can grab it on your way out,” or you can say, “Feel free to drop you coat in the bedroom, right here.” You can walk them in, show them the drinks, and say, “Help yourself!” Or you can offer to make a cocktail. It’s whatever your party is about: let them know, and they’ll relax, and have fun, and so will you.
3. Buy in bulk on party supplies you’ll use regularly.
Did I mention our parties are casual? I’m talking paper plates, plastic utensils. Sometimes I splurge and buy actual paper napkins instead of pulling out the roll of paper towels… So since I know we’re going to be using these items on a regular basis, I stock up and keep them all in a plastic storage bin in my garage. The week of the party, before I go buy groceries, I check and see if we need more. Day of party, pull everything out and put it in place. This systems works for whatever might be involved in your party: decor, candles, extra wine glasses, name tags, serving dishes, appetizer ingredients, so on.
4. Get help.
This month’s party was Indian food. I can whip up a good curry and make homemade naan, but this month was too busy and stressful already. So I got gyros and veggie biryani from the MidEast Market, and they were delicious, and I wasn’t tired.. Okay, I was still tired, but not AS tired as I would have been if I’d been cooking all day.
I usually don’t buy the food, but why not? If that works for you, do it. I usually make a big main dish and a side or two, and then everybody brings something: drinks, a dessert, a side, chips, whatever.
5. Remember that people care more about people than about perfect.
We’ve had parties where the only drink was water. We’ve forgotten to get ice. We’ve run out of food. We’ve burned our food. We’ve taken too long to make the food, so everyone was starving and standing around waiting to eat at 10pm. We’ve had parties consisting mostly of people whose only common link was us. We’ve had to separate single male friends from attractive female friends, we’ve made our guests watch mind-numbing YouTube videos, and I’ve fallen asleep on the couch more than once while party was still in progress…
And people still come over to our house.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that people care about people. They forgive us a lot of bad planning, awkwardness, weird antics, loud kids, missing ingredients, and low drink options just because they’re nice people, and maybe they’re kind of weird people, and we’re weird people and maybe kind of nice people.
So don’t stress so much.
And don’t worry about being productive the day after the party, either…
Did I mention I like the book of Proverbs, like, a lot? I did, right? [I guess, um, reverse the food order if you're a vegetarian.]
A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate.