The onslaught of mail is a problem we all have, right? Every day we casually pick up a stack of paper and bring it into our homes. We stash it, stick it, pile it up, and cringe every time we walk by it. What is the best way to handle the mail??
First of all, we need to stop thinking of it as “mail”. It is really a broad array of communication. Some of it is for our pleasure, some of it requires we follow-up, some of it requires us to pay money. It is actually a VERY DIVERSE collection of material. In this way, it is exactly the same as electronic mail, and the way we tackle both of them should be the same. The key is to separate “sorting” from “acting”. Here is an approach to try:
1. Bring the mail into your home only when you have the time to immediately sort it. Don’t pick it up when driving in from work or the carpool at the exact time when you need to start dinner or help with homework or whatever. Wait until you have 5 minutes, even if this means the mail sits in the mailbox awhile. It can even sit there overnight if you have more time in the morning.
2. Designate a spot NEAR THE DOOR where you bring the mail in to stop and sort it. DO NOT bring it into the kitchen and plunk it down in the middle of your island. Set up a “sorting station” on a shelf, a cabinet, a table…whatever you can. It doesn’t need to be big, but big enough to make a few piles.
3. “Triage” the mail into categories:
- Trash (or recycle for mixed paper)
- Shred (anything with personal information)
- To read (magazines, articles, letters)
- To pay (bills)
- To act on (coupons to clip, scheduling, return communication)
4. Next, go ahead and get rid of the “quick hits”… the trash and shred. If you have space, keep both a trash bin (or bin for recycled paper) and a shredder at your sort station….but even if you don’t have space, take the time NOW to get rid of these items. It only takes a minute or two when you do it every day.
5. Move the actionable items into files which are labeled for the task at hand. There are MANY WAYS to keep papers which you need to act upon, including a stacking bin with files for each, a hanging file container in a drawer or on the wall, a tickler file which has one folder for each day of the month…this is pretty much a personal decision on what works for you.
That is pretty much all that is needed for the daily sort. The key, of course, is to find a system for following up on the sorted items (a bill-paying system, a time for reading, a time for responding to action items)…but this is a topic for another day.
In terms of email, the same principles apply. You need to “triage” the email at least once a day. Don’t get caught in the trap of responding to each email right away. First delete the spam, trash what you don’t need, group together emails to read later, to respond to, or to file electronically. If you feel that once a day is insufficient for sorting the email, you may need to do this procedure 2 or 3 times a day. Also, be diligent in unsubscribing. You can move advertising emails into a folder called “unsubscribe” and set aside a designated weekly slot to complete this task.
The key is to separate “sorting” from “acting”. YOU CAN DO THIS!
For more information, or for help in establishing a mail processing center, go to the “contact us” button above.