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Sorted Mail Wins Stamp of Approval

August 21, 1986|BONNIE McCULLOUGH

Handling the mail is more than bringing it in from the mailbox. The mail involves everything from junk to legal documents. Here are some suggestions for sorting and taking action.

Devise a paper center to handle paper that still needs attention. For many people, it will be in the kitchen where everything happens. Other people have a desk for planning. Some families use the refrigerator for pending items and immediate reminders. It can be in the form of a file with folders or a setup such as stacking trays or vertical dividers.

One of the secrets is to label each division; otherwise, the mail just becomes a pile and important information is buried under trivia. Everyone will probably need these three categories: needs action, bills to be paid and wait and see.

Action papers would be those that need to be acted on soon--business correspondence, letters to answer, tickets to buy, registrations, appointments to make, reminder notes, etc. You will want to set aside a regular time to take care of this paper work, probably once a week. Good calendar habits will help take care of some of this paper. Write commitments down on the calendar and toss the reminders away.

Bills to be paid. Always open them. There may be some items that need immediate attention. If the bill doesn't need immediate action, put it in this slot until payday.

The wait-and-see box is for those items you can't throw away yet--carbon copies for catalogue orders that haven't yet arrived, the notice for a seminar you may want to attend, tickets or a note about anything that may need to be followed through. You ought to go through this box at least once a month. Most items will be thrown out; some will be stored in a long-term file.

Depending on needs, you may want more dividers for other types of paper. I have a "to read" tray on which I put newsletters and magazines. As I leave for the airport or a medical appointment, I grab something from this box so that I can read it if I am delayed. I also have "to be copied" and "to be filed" divider trays.

Families with children often find it helpful to identify a place to keep papers that deal with school business other than homework. This would include things like monthly menus, yearly school calendar, class schedules and faculty list.

It may suit your needs to have a divider for special projects; a place to put plans and to gather information about the project.

You may find it helpful to set up a folder or divider for each of the children to hold various types of information such as the roster for the soccer team, transcript of grades, details of scouting advancement, receipt for fees. Picture yourself going to this file next May and quickly finding the receipt for the high school yearbook that you paid for in September. What a wonderful feeling.

Some of the incoming mail will be addressed to other household members. Ask each individual where his or her incoming mail should go. Some may want it on their bed or desk, or perhaps they have an "in" box.

The hardest pieces of mail are those that need to be reviewed by several people. This is the kind of paper that stays on the table for days until someone takes control and can get everyone to say they have read it and make a decision. This is where you need a more sophisticated form of inner communication. Some families take care of such details at dinner or breakfast. Others have a formal family planning meeting. Those are verbal solutions.

Try using a variety of written messages to advance the paper race. As each interested person is finished with a letter, magazine or newsletter, a simple notation is made in the corner, "Finished, M.R.," and it is passed on to the next person.

Self-sticking notes are effective. Attach one: "Matt, you may find this article interesting," or "I can't go to this meeting, can you?" Initial and note date. Notes can move those newsletters from work, church and school out as soon as everyone has seen it.

Experiment and find an efficient system that works for you. Get all the mail off the tables and counters by creating an action center for paper. Then set aside time in a schedule to answer letters, pay bills and follow up on details. You are starting to get control.

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