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Adult EF Skills 101: how to manage mail

NOTE: This article is part of a series called Adult EF Skills 101. Each post is inspired by the course, Adult EF Skills 101, designed to teach the essential executive function skills for success in the "real world". Learn more about the course by clicking here.


My friend Lisa is one of the smartest people I know. But, she has one weakness: mail. Not email, old-fashioned snail mail 🐌. 


Yesterday, she opened a piece of mail that sat on her coffee table for 6 months. Guess what? It was a bill due 6 months ago!  


This isn’t the first time Lisa literally paid the price of disorganization and procrastination. 


  • Is unopened mail scattered around your home? 

  • Are you putting off opening a bill? 

  • When was the last time you checked your mailbox? 


If you resonate, it's time for a system upgrade. It's time to create your mail triage center. 


A mail triage center will give you a renewed feeling of control.


You will:

  • Be more organized

  • Pay bills on time

  • And never feel overwhelmed by a massive pile of unopened mail.  


Would that be worth 5 minutes of your time each day?


Let’s jump in. 



How can I manage my mail?

It all starts with a central hub. This is your "mail triage center". It is for organizing and managing mail. By building one, you will declutter your home and gain a greater sense of control.


The state of your physical environment often reflects the state of your mind. Organizing your mail not only tidies your living space but also brings order to your mental landscape.

How to build a mail triage center


Step 1: Choose a location

The first step is to determine the best location. To do so, consider three questions: 


  1. Where can I easily place unopened mail when I get home?

  2. Will I notice unopened mail if I put it there? 

  3. Is the recycle bin close by? 


Lisa’s triage center is close to the door and next to her launch pad. She walks by this spot every day and the recycle bin is close by. 


Step 2: Design your triage center

Now that you have a location in mind, it’s time to design your triage center. What can you use as a “triage center”? 


Lisa recycled a small box from Amazon (see image below). 


If aesthetics are important, a small wire bin works well. Whatever you choose, make sure it is big enough for envelopes and magazines. 


Step 3: Keep key supplies near

At the bottom of the triage center, place the supplies you need. I keep a pen, envelope opener, stamps, and blank envelopes.  


Here’s what Lisa’s looks like: 

A small cardboard box with mail sticking out of it

How do I use a mail triage center? 

Now it’s time to put the triage center into action! This is an opportunity to hone the executive function skills of planning, time management, and organization. 


Here’s how: 

  1. Check the mail 📪

  2. Put EVERYTHING in the triage center ✅

  3. Choose 2 days to conduct “mail triage” 📨

  4. Add a 20-minute, recurring event on each of those days to your calendar titled “mail triage” 🗓️

  5. Use the O.H.I.O. method to sort every piece of mail in the triage center 🧠


The O.H.I.O. Method (Only Handle It Once) 

Lisa found it simple to build the triage center. However, deciding what to do with each piece of mail is difficult.


The solution? O.H.I.O. An acronym meaning Only Handle It Once. 


Lisa created 3 guidelines based on the type of mail she receives which helps eliminate decision fatigue:


🗑️ Junk? Toss it in the recycle bin.

📨 RSVP? Respond 'yes' or 'no'. Not sure? Set a reminder and hang it on my fridge.

💸 Bill? Pay it.


white male with long, dark hair, standing in front of a green background, wearing a black jacket

What if I forget to check my mail? 

To avoid overwhelm, check your mailbox 2-3 times per week. 


Developing a new routine is difficult and checking the mail is a forgotten adult task.


According to USPS, over 5 million adults do not check their mail daily. 

To build a mail check routine, stack it with one you already established. 


Lisa stacked her mailbox routine on her return from work. She always walks by the mailbox when she gets home, making it easier to build her routine.


She also set a recurring reminder for Mondays and Thursdays at 5:15 pm. It is titled “Mailbox Check 💌".  


How to get less mail

Want to get less mail? Check out our pro tips. 


Paperless billing

Go green! When you receive a bill, pay it. Next, sign up for paperless billing. Now, your bill will arrive in your email inbox, not your mailbox. 


Do-not-mail service 

Did you know you can choose the types of marketing mail you receive? Sign up for a do-not-mail service, here


Conclusion

Creating and maintaining a mail triage center has undeniable benefits. You will feel in control of your finances and more organized. My friend Lisa's journey from a casual attitude toward mail to facing the consequences of disorganization emphasizes the need for a systematic approach.


Establishing a mail triage center not only reinstates control and organization in our lives but also ensures timely bill payments and eliminates the stress associated with unopened mail piles.


The key is weekly maintenance. This begins by developing a routine of checking the mail 2-3 times per week.


Next, through the use of calendar events, schedule time to manage all of the mail in your triage center. Using the O.H.I.O. (Only Handle It Once) method, take action on every piece of mail. This practice not only reduces stress but also significantly cuts down the time we spend dealing with mail, leading to a more efficient and harmonious life. 


Now, I turn the question to you: How else might you apply the O.H.I.O. method in your life?


Could it streamline your email management or declutter your workspace? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments!


Want to join our next cohort of Adult EF Skills 101?


We know adulting is HARD. It demands strong executive functions. Luckily, we've made a course to cover the fundamentals so you can make the best of each day. In this course, you will:


  • Learn how to plan your priorities 🎯

  • Learn to get started (task initiate) 🔨

  • Learn how to keep things tidy 🧺

  • Learn how to find and keep a job 🧹

  • Learn how to communicate effectively 🗣️

  • Learn how to budget 🤑




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About the Author

Eric Kaufmann, M.Ed is a Professional Educational Therapist and Certified Executive Function Coach. He is the Co-founder of UpSkill Specialists, an online adult executive function coaching company designed to guide adults in overcoming disorganization, procrastination, and productivity roadblocks so they can unlock their potential. Eric is also the founder of Elevate Learning Solutions, an Educational Therapy practice located in San Clemente, CA, that guides students with neurological differences toward becoming independent and confident students and self-leaders.

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About 👋

Upskill Specialists was founded when two former special education teachers turned executive function coaches decided that adults need tools and coaching to improve their workplace skills and feel confident and empowered. Our mission is to ensure every adult with EF challenges has access to high-quality coaching services. 

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