On Simplicity

May 12, 2008

Create a Mail Center

Filed under: Uncategorized — Serendipity @ 5:00 am

Mail clutter is the worst. It requires decision making, multiple party approval, extra actions, and additional filing and shredding. Plus, it can be vitally important and deadline-oriented; you can’t just shove it in a drawer and forget it. (Not if you want your power to stay turned on, at least.) In short, mail clutter sucks.

However, that’s exactly why it’s important to tackle. Nearly all productivity guides recommend touching each piece of incoming paper just once. The thinking is that you’re not going to be any more brilliant and decisive the next five times you pick up a paper, so you may as well take care of it now and get it out of the way.

I don’t actually agree with the touch-it-once rule, since it doesn’t always work in a two or more person household. Also, I often need to do some extra research before deciding on some things, so snap decisions aren’t always possible. So, the next best thing for me becomes a mail center. In a mail center, you’ve got a place to keep track of what’s new, what’s waiting, and what needs to be dealt with. In my house, we use a plastic filing tray with about four different levels. They’re not especially attractive, but quite affordable (maybe $10 or so at office supply stores).

When the mail comes in, take a moment to separate it into piles. One pile is to recycle, one is to shred, one is to take action, another is to file. Only keep envelopes that hold multiple items that need to stay together (ie a bill and a return envelope); otherwise shred the envelopes since they’re just taking up space. You can do this part of the process anywhere that’s convenient. The next step is the critical one: after getting rid of the junk, take everything else to your mail center.

Shred any sensitive info, then place the two other piles (Take Action and File) in your filing tray (or whatever you’re using). I like to make sure that the bills stick out so they’re obvious and noticeable. From here, you’ve got two options: handle everything now or batch it for later. If you batch it (which I do), create a standing date to handle it, like every Saturday morning or Thursday evening. Either way, it’s a good idea to keep the following items nearby: pens, envelopes, a calculator, a calendar, and stamps. With these things within reach, you should be able to handle any outgoing mail with no excuses.

Some people might prefer to have the mail center also be the initial processing center, and this can be a great way to do things. I actually prefer to keep them in two separate areas, since it gives me an incentive to get rid of as much junk as possible before cluttering up my mail center with it. It also keeps the pile of correspondence to deal with more manageable and less intimidating.

Then, each day make a cruise through the house for any stray paperwork. Grab any post-its that need to be placed somewhere, any receipts that need to be saved or shredded, any paystubs or work items, etc. Sort it and stick it in your mail center. It’s amazing how good it can feel to have all your paperwork in one place. I’d also recommend keeping a filing cabinet nearby so that your “To File” pile never gets too huge. For most of us who aren’t GTDing yet, a mail center can be a big efficiency booster without requiring a huge commitment or process.

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