Or: How to never forget a birthday again
I love postcards, the real ones. Those colourful pieces of paper with hand written messages are little burst of joy and humanity in the midst of automated email campaigns and invoices.
Receiving a postcard is a trigger of happiness for many people, and for me writing them is a source of joy in itself. If only I could remember everybody’s birthday ahead of time!
Having to remember things is stressful and those automatic Facebook reminder come in too late – and are lacking the information that I need in order to send a postcard (plus, half of those birthdays are invented). So I decided to automatise the data collection and reminder part of the process so I can focus on writing personalised postcards infused with love and appreciation — on time.
Technical part I: data collection
The most challenging part about writing a postcard is not the content, but the address! You can’t mail a paper card to an email address. So you’ll need a way to get those physical addresses from your friends, preferably ahead of time so they have forgotten about it when their birthday comes around… for surprise’s sake. Enter google forms.
Step 1: Create a form to query for the data you need. Access your google drive (you might need a gmail address if you don’t have that yet) and create a new form (New >> More Options >> Google Form). Make sure to collect all the details you need: Name, Street, House number, Zip Code, City, Country.
Oh, and don’t forget to ask for the birth date. To avoid creepiness you might also want to add an explanation at the top on why you are asking for this data. Check out my form if you need inspiration (fill it in on your own risk): http://vale.pro/1RmZZh6
Step 2: Create the google spreadsheet where your data will be stored. Click on “Responses” in your google doc and then on the little green spreadsheet symbol. Give it a new name and you are all set.
Step 3: Set up email notification to get an email when someone fills in the form. This functionality can be added through a plug-in. Click on the three vertical dots in the upper right corner of your form and choose add-ons from the dropdown menu. You are looking for “form notifications”.
Step 4: Get your friends to fill in the form. Share it on your trusted Social Media (and tag the people that are important to you – otherwise they might not see it), send it via email, whatsapp, Skype etc.
Technical part II: Email reminders
Step 5: Create annual calendar reminders. Every time someone fills out the form, you will receive an email. However, this is not the timely reminder you need. Every time you get this email (or once a month), visit your spreadsheet to update your google calendar with the relevant birthdays.
Make sure to adjust the number of days in your reminder email. In my case I have set the notification email to be sent 3, 7 or 10 days ahead of the actual birthday to account for sending times in Spain / Europe / Worldwide. This allows for the postcard to arrive roughly around the actual birthday date.
Perfect, you’ve mastered the technical part. Now off you go conquering the logistical challenges.
The logistical part: postcards, envelopes, and the nearest mailbox
In order to send a postcard you need an address… and a postcard with a stamp. Luckily both can be had ahead of time.
Step 6: Get a bunch of cool and colourful cards. Every couple of month I spend some quality shopping time on http://www.etsy.com to stock up on funny / creative / artsy / inspiring postcards while supporting artists at the same time. If the card needs to say “happy birthday”, you can get stickers with that phrase to turn any postcard into a birthday card.
Recent favourites have been:
Oh, and while you are at it, order some colourful envelopes as well to pop out between all those invoices.
Step 7: Stock up on stamps (or locate you nearest post office). Remember that sending nationally usually requires different postage than shipping internationally. Keep that in mind if your friends are worldwide 🙂
The creative part: writing
Step 8: Write that card! If you feel intimidated by the blank
page postcard staring at you, remember: you have a reason. It’s someone’s birthday. No need to fill the postcard with 400 words of deep wisdom. Short and sweet it just fine.
“Happy birthday [name of recipient], just wanted to send you some good vibrations for your special day. Lots of love, [your name]”
Hand-written across the back of a non-commercial card this will put a smile of most people’s faces.
Step 9: Send the post card. Remember, that’s why you went through the whole process in the first place.