I’m a big believer in finding simple, effective and low cost solutions that are easy to adapt to and adjust in use. Over time I find that low tech solutions are often the best and at this point I have a real need to manage my daily correspondence.
With new letters arriving regularly; adding new contacts, replies and ongoing correspondence, this isn’t a job I want to do in my head.
I hear stories of spreadsheets, notebooks, and jumbled boxes of envelopes filled with complicated tags and notations, but I need something simple that works, sits on my desk, fits in a bag and I’ll actually use.
Like a well trained dog, my first thought is to find an app. Something that will solve the problem for me. Preferably on a computer or mobile device. And then I quickly realize how badly I want to avoid the whole misery of compatibility, proprietary devices, and the steep learning curve that comes with it.
For me, this means sticking with paper. A medium with a track record of success. Easily accessed, portable, and always compatible, it even comes with history. Honed by experience, time and daily use.
In the past for example, libraries were able to manage millions books with little more than a stamp, a checkout card and a pocket. Simple and effective, it also managed to be incredibly effective and amiable. An index card and pen took care of the rest.
The first thing I do is avoid looking for a product. I don’t want to spend money on an item that needs me to adapt my problems to fit it. Plus I’m well enough trained to recognize mail is a process, not a thing. This is a serious bonus.
Instead, I start by writing down everything that happens once a letter arrives. Next I think about what I wanted to happen, and see how these two things differ. Then repeat the whole process for every letter I send. I jot down plenty of notes including a hard look at what happens with all the paper, addresses, envelopes and information between these two events. Where do I keep things, what things belong together, what things aren’t there when I need them.
After a couple of days stumbling along, it becomes clear what I’m looking for. First, I’ll want to sort the incoming mail, and record the date and postmark when it arrives. And it would be nice if all this stayed in one place, until I have time to reply. Once that happens I’ll need my previous records, and a way to update them with the present reply. And finally I’ll need all this returned to ‘storage’, where it’s easily found next time they write.
So I head out to the dollar store, time for some important research. With an open mind and a pretty good idea; I take a determined stroll up and down the aisles. I’m on the lookout for anything that might have potential and end up with a box of file cards, some index tabs, an address book, some stickers and a couple of small plastic accordion files. And all for less than $10.
Once home; I write all my contacts into my address book. Then I write them on an index card which I file alphabetically in the box.
As soon as a letter comes in, I pull out the senders card. On the front I write things to remember, and then put the date and postmark on the back.
My accordion file becomes my portable outbox. Normally it’ll have a couple of index cards and letters already in it. With all the cards visible in the front pocket, and that’s where I’ll place the new one. Tucking it in behind all of the others, and then do the same with the letter. Sticking it at the back of the file, always handy ’til it’s time to reply.
Every morning I open the accordion file and remove the first card and letter. This is the person I’ll be writing. And when I’m finished, I take the card and stick a dot where it’s easy to see. Next I write the date of reply on the back. The result lets me quickly see how many times I’ve written, and roughly where the letter might be going.
In my case red for international, blue for domestic and green for the United States.
I also take out my address book and make sure I’ve placed a coded dot beside the person’s name to let me know I’ve written.
Once the letter is ready to mail, I file the index card back in it’s case and store the letter I received alphabetically in a box.
In addition I take out my agenda and write down the recipients name under the current date. This way, even if I’m away for a couple of days, as long as I have my agenda, address book and accordion file, I can still manage my mail with ease.
The cards are easily replaced, mistakes are easily corrected. Adding a new address or personal information is simple. Notes and cross references are clear and things are seldom confused.
So far so good. Cheap, easy to set up, easy to use. I’ll get back to you before February and let you know how it holds up.