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From time to time, someone critical of modern women (e.g., The Princeton Mom) will pen a lament that women today prioritize their careers over finding a husband. Leaving aside the misguidedness, I have always found these complaints odd. Since when are dating and working mutually exclusive things? There are 168 hours in a week, more than enough time to work a full-time job and go out a few times, too.

That said, finding someone special does present time management challenges, for the same reason that all nebulous projects do. Just like finding a great job, finding a life partner could take any amount of time. There’s an element of luck, and it could happen quickly, or take years. Still, I think there are ways to approach uncertain projects that allow for a sense of progress without crowding other things (e.g. that career) out. Over the past couple years I've spent researching how the most effective people manage their time, I've learned that there are ways to be efficient—and effective—in matters of the heart.

01. Decide you do want to meet someone.

Life has all sorts of possibilities we can’t always imagine. A “yes” mentality opens these up. When you decide that you would truly like to find someone wonderful and form a committed partnership, you approach dating in a different way. You might agree to dates with people who aren’t your usual “type”—but who turn out to have more to offer than was obvious on the first meeting. You start looking for traits that matter (e.g. kindness, stability) more than ones that don’t. Your friends pick up on the openness and start looking for people who might work.

02. Make goals you can control.

“Find someone special” is an outcome goal, not a process goal. We can only control process goals, though they often lead to the desired outcome. So set targets for yourself, just like you would with finding a job. In the latter case, you might decide that in one week, you’d devote 3 hours to reworking your resume and LinkedIn profile, and set up three meetings with contacts who work for companies you’re interested in. Likewise, with dating, you might decide to go to two events with lots of single people. Maybe that would be one friend’s work happy hour, and the post-game party with another friend’s softball league. You might aim, via online dating matches, to go on four first dates in a month.

03. Keep your numbers up.

So-so dates feel like wasted time, and busy people hate wasting time. So instead, view them, over the long run, as just playing the odds. Success in much of life is a numbers game. In twelve first dates, you might find four people you’d want to go on a second date with. Two of those might justify a third date, and one a fourth, and by the fourth date there’s some momentum. There’s no guarantee, of course, but at that pace, in a year you’d find four people you might be somewhat serious about. In two years, those odds might deliver one person you’re very serious about.

04. Relax the rest of the time.

The good thing about setting measurable goals is that when you hit them, you know you’re making progress. So then you don’t need to worry that when you’re doing something else (e.g. putting in a late night at work so you rock the next morning’s presentation), that you’ve somehow missed an opportunity. You’ve got three dates scheduled in the next few weeks. You’re good!

05. Enjoy the spillover benefits.

Meeting someone special might be the desired outcome, but there are plenty of good things that can happen along the way. Being more social is a good thing in general. You’ll meet friends. You might go to a party for its eligible population, and wind up talking with someone who works for a start-up you’d like to work for. You might realize someone you’ve been set up with isn’t right for you but is perfect for a friend. You set them up, and create two happy people who owe you big time. Dating a lot means practicing the fine art of small talk. This is a life skill that will help right up until your last cocktail party at the retirement home. Keeping an eye on all these good things will help keep any bad dates in perspective.

I tried most of these things myself many years ago. I decided a few months after I moved to New York City in 2002 that I really did want to meet someone. I didn't have to slow down my career to do so. I asked friends to set me up, and joined various social organizations (volunteer groups, choirs) full of young people. I went to more things than I otherwise would have. One night in February 2003, I was out with friends for dinner when another friend asked me to come meet her at a bar where she was hanging out with her new boyfriend’s work colleagues. It was cold and late, and I was tempted to go home, but I went. I began talking with a gentleman at the bar over beers. He wasn’t necessarily my usual “type,” but in the spirit of saying yes, I agreed to meet for brunch. Our first date wasn’t that memorable. He asked for another. I said I was free Saturday afternoon (I think I had something else on the schedule for Saturday night—trying to keep my numbers up!) He planned a mystery trip, which turned out to be the aquarium at Coney Island. We gazed at the seals and turtles. He took me out for margaritas after. I realized, as we were chatting, that I was really, really enjoying myself.

One year later he asked me to marry him. Fourteen years and four kids later, it seems like the process was a good use of time.

Photo Credit: Elissa Voss