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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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    Published on May 18, 2021

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    How To Improve Listening Skills For Effective Workplace Communication

    We have two ears and one mouth for a reason—effective communication is dependent on using them in proportion, and this involves having good listening skills.

    The workplace of the 21st century may not look the same as it did before COVID-19 spread throughout the world like wildfire, but that doesn’t mean you can relax your standards at work. If anything, Zoom meetings, conference calls, and the continuous time spent behind a screen have created a higher level of expectations for meeting etiquette and communication. And this goes further than simply muting your microphone during a meeting.

    Effective workplace communication has been a topic of discussion for decades, yet, it is rarely addressed or implemented due to a lack of awareness and personal ownership by all parties.

    Effective communication isn’t just about speaking clearly or finding the appropriate choice of words. It starts with intentional listening and being present. Here’s how to improve your listening skills for effective workplace communication.

    Listen to Understand, Not to Speak

    There are stark differences between listening and hearing. Listening involves intention, focused effort, and concentration, whereas hearing simply involves low-level awareness that someone else is speaking. Listening is a voluntary activity that allows one to be present and in the moment while hearing is passive and effortless.[1]

    Which one would you prefer your colleagues to implement during your company-wide presentation? It’s a no-brainer.

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    Listening can be one of the most powerful tools in your communication arsenal because one must listen to understand the message being told to them. As a result of this deeper understanding, communication can be streamlined because there is a higher level of comprehension that will facilitate practical follow-up questions, conversations, and problem-solving. And just because you heard something doesn’t mean you actually understood it.

    We take this for granted daily, but that doesn’t mean we can use that as an excuse.

    Your brain is constantly scanning your environment for threats, opportunities, and situations to advance your ability to promote your survival. And yet, while we are long past the days of worrying about being eaten by wildlife, the neurocircuitry responsible for these mechanisms is still hard-wired into our psychology and neural processing.

    A classic example of this is the formation of memories. Case in point: where were you on June 3rd, 2014? For most of you reading this article, your mind will go completely blank, which isn’t necessarily bad.

    The brain is far too efficient to retain every detail about every event that happens in your life, mainly because many events that occur aren’t always that important. The brain doesn’t—and shouldn’t—care what you ate for lunch three weeks ago or what color shirt you wore golfing last month. But for those of you who remember where you were on June 3rd, 2014, this date probably holds some sort of significance to you. Maybe it was a birthday or an anniversary. Perhaps it was the day your child was born. It could have even been a day where you lost someone special in your life.

    Regardless of the circumstance, the brain is highly stimulated through emotion and engagement, which is why memories are usually stored in these situations. When the brain’s emotional centers become activated, the brain is far more likely to remember an event.[2] And this is also true when intention and focus are applied to listening to a conversation.

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    Utilizing these hard-wired primitive pathways of survival to optimize your communication in the workplace is a no-brainer—literally and figuratively.

    Intentional focus and concentrated efforts will pay off in the long run because you will retain more information and have an easier time recalling it down the road, making you look like a superstar in front of your colleagues and co-workers. Time to kiss those note-taking days away!

    Effective Communication Isn’t Always Through Words

    While we typically associate communication with words and verbal affirmations, communication can come in all shapes and forms. In the Zoom meeting era we live in, it has become far more challenging to utilize and understand these other forms of language. And this is because they are typically easier to see when we are sitting face to face with the person we speak to.[3]

    Body language can play a significant role in how our words and communication are interpreted, especially when there is a disconnection involved.[4] When someone tells you one thing, yet their body language screams something completely different, it’s challenging to let that go. Our brain immediately starts to search for more information and inevitably prompts us to follow up with questions that will provide greater clarity to the situation at hand. And in all reality, not saying something might be just as important as actually saying something.

    These commonly overlooked non-verbal communication choices can provide a plethora of information about the intentions, emotions, and motivations. We do this unconsciously, and it happens with every confrontation, conversation, and interaction we engage in. The magic lies in the utilization and active interpretation of these signals to improve your listening skills and your communication skills.

    Our brains were designed for interpreting our world, which is why we are so good at recognizing subtle nuances and underlying disconnect within our casual encounters. So, when we begin to notice conflicting messages between verbal and non-verbal communication, our brain takes us down a path of troubleshooting.

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    Which messages are consistent with this theme over time? Which statements aren’t aligning with what they’re really trying to tell me? How should I interpret their words and body language?

    Suppose we want to break things down even further. In that case, one must understand that body language is usually a subconscious event, meaning that we rarely think about our body language. This happens because our brain’s primary focus is to string together words and phrases for verbal communication, which usually requires a higher level of processing. This doesn’t mean that body language will always tell the truth, but it does provide clues to help us weigh information, which can be pretty beneficial in the long run.

    Actively interpreting body language can provide you with an edge in your communication skills. It can also be used as a tool to connect with the individual you are speaking to. This process is deeply ingrained into our human fabric and utilizes similar methods babies use while learning new skills from their parents’ traits during the early years of development.

    Mirroring a person’s posture or stance can create a subtle bond, facilitating a sense of feeling like one another. This process is triggered via the activation of specific brain regions through the stimulation of specialized neurons called mirror neurons.[5] These particular neurons become activated while watching an individual engage in an activity or task, facilitating learning, queuing, and understanding. They also allow the person watching an action to become more efficient at physically executing the action, creating changes in the brain, and altering the overall structure of the brain to enhance output for that chosen activity.

    Listening with intention can make you understand your colleague, and when paired together with mirroring body language, you can make your colleague feel like you two are alike. This simple trick can facilitate a greater bond of understanding and communication within all aspects of the conversation.

    Eliminate All Distractions, Once and for All

    As Jim Rohn says, “What is easy to do is also easy not to do.” And this is an underlying principle that will carry through in all aspects of communication. Distractions are a surefire way to ensure a lack of understanding or interpretation of a conversation, which in turn, will create inefficiencies and a poor foundation for communication.

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    This should come as no surprise, especially in this day in age where people are constantly distracted by social media, text messaging, and endlessly checking their emails. We’re stuck in a cultural norm that has hijacked our love for the addictive dopamine rush and altered our ability to truly focus our efforts on the task at hand. And these distractions aren’t just distractions for the time they’re being used. They use up coveted brainpower and central processes that secondarily delay our ability to get back on track.

    Gloria Mark, a researcher at UC Irvine, discovered that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds for our brains to reach their peak state of focus after an interruption.[6] Yes, you read that correctly—distractions are costly, error-prone, and yield little to no benefit outside of a bump to the ego when receiving a new like on your social media profile.

    Meetings should implement a no-phone policy, video conference calls should be set on their own browser with no other tabs open, and all updates, notifications, and email prompt should be immediately turned off, if possible, to eliminate all distractions during a meeting.

    These are just a few examples of how we can optimize our environment to facilitate the highest levels of communication within the workplace.

    Actions Speak Louder Than Words

    Effective communication in the workplace doesn’t have to be challenging, but it does have to be intentional. Knowledge can only take us so far, but once again, knowing something is very different than putting it into action.

    Just like riding a bike, the more often you do it, the easier it becomes. Master communicators are phenomenal listeners, which allows them to be effective communicators in the workplace and in life. If you genuinely want to own your communication, you must implement this information today and learn how to improve your listening skills.

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    Choose your words carefully, listen intently, and most of all, be present in the moment—because that’s what master communicators do, and you can do it, too!

    More Tips Improving Listening Skills

    Featured photo credit: Mailchimp via unsplash.com

    Reference

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