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Handling Mail Overload: The Hard Copy Edition

Handling Mail Overload: The Hard Copy Edition

    Checking my mail is part of my daily routine, rain or shine. I’m not talking about all those messages on my computer, either. I’m talking about the paper stuff that the mailman brings by every day but Sunday.

    I don’t know about you, but I still get plenty of the paper stuff. I keep wondering why all these catalogs keep showing up in my mailbox when emailing me about new products is so much cheaper. But I still wind up with more paper than I can handle.

    There are a few steps I’ve taken to get my mail under control.

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    Put a trash can near the front door

    As I get my mail, I immediately sort into three piles — to throw away, to shred and to open. I know plenty of people might need more specific piles, but I’ve found that keeping things simple helps.

    I don’t want to bring junk mail further into my home than I have to. If I’m not careful, I’ll wind up setting down the mail before I get a chance to throw away the junk. Then I just wind up with more paper cluttering up my place that I have to sort through before I can throw away. My trash pile barely makes it past the door.

    Go wild with the shredder

    I fully recommend investing in a decent shredder — cross cut lasts longer than diamond cut, for what it’s worth. I have a policy of shredding everything that comes into my home that has my address on it — down to the covers of catalogs.

    Before you think I’ve slipped over into crazy paranoia, though, allow me to explain: if you shred only sensitive material, someone with serious dedication and lots of time could probably piece it back together. But every piece of noise (or less sensitive paperwork) that you add to your pile of shredded material makes putting any of it back together that much harder. Catalog covers and empty envelopes make for great noise.

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    Stop at least some junk mail

    There are lots of companies that will take your money to help you stop receiving at least a portion of your junk mail. There are several free services that can help, however.

    Start with the Direct Marketing Association. You can list yourself with the DMA’s Mail Preference Service. Many direct marketers use the DMA’s list to check that recipients haven’t opted out of receiving direct marketing. This tactic won’t eliminate all your junk mail, but it can put a dent in it.

    Your second stop should be OptOutPreScreen.com. This site is operated by Equifax, Experian, Innovis and TransUnion — the four major credit reporting bureaus. Opting out through this site will remove your name from many of the lists that credit card, insurance and mortgage companies use to send out offers.

    Lastly, you may want to contact companies directly if they continue sending you mail you don’t want. There is one catalog company that was surprisingly persistent, despite the fact that I never requested a catalog nor purchased anything from the company, but when I called up and simply asked to be removed from the company’s mailing list the problem was solved.

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    Reduce your real mail

    With all the identity theft problems I’ve heard about, I’m not precisely happy with having my bank statements and other financial information in my mail box. I have a locking mail box, but I’ve gone to check my mail and found it hanging open more than once.

    Luckily, many banks and other companies handling your financial data are making online billing an option. Bank of America, for instance, allows you to receive your statements online. They never reach your mail box. For most programs, you can just change your account settings online.

    The package question

    One of the things I like about my apartment complex is that the apartment office accepts packages for residents. I’ve lived plenty of places where I’d routinely come home to a box at my front door — or learn about a missing package a week later.

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple solution to accepting packages unless you’re planning to stay home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Packages remain one of my biggest concerns, mail-wise, and I haven’t found a simple solution yet.

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    Ditch hard copy entirely

    Rather than dealing with your mail yourself, you can outsource the task. Companies like Earth Class Mail will accept, scan and then either store, shred or forward your mail as you choose. There are even companies that will handle your outgoing correspondence, as well — although these services are more for birthday cards or mass mailings than anything else.

    I haven’t tried this solution myself — if you have, I’d love to hear about it in the comments. I do like the idea behind it, especially when I travel. Just the thought of not having to sort junk mail myself is pretty tempting.

    Hack your mailbox

    Just as you can set rules to deal with your email, you can set rules for your paper mail. They aren’t automatic, but you can go through your mail just as quickly if you have a process to follow. You can get your mailboxes, physical and electronic, under control.

    The only problem I have with my mailbox lately is that it’s often empty. Sometimes I go and write letters, just to make sure I have some mail to look forward to.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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