How to never forget a birthday again

(and make your friends happy while you are at it)

I love postcards. They are little burst of joy and humanity in the midst of automated email campaigns and invoices that flood your inbox even (sometimes especially) on that special day of yours. Receiving a postcard is a trigger of happiness for most people, as is writing and sending them. If only I could remember everybody’s birthday on time (as in: on time to send a card, not on the very day thank you very much Facebook) and figure out where to send those colourful hugs to…

I also love setting up processes to reduce cognitive workload and avoid the stress of “having to remember” things. 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.

The technical part: data collection and reminder emails

The most challenging part about writing a postcard in today’s world isn’t necessarily the content. The problem is 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):

Step 2: Create the google spreadsheet where your data will be stored. To do this, 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. To enable this you will have to add a plugin to your form. 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”. Then follow the instructions.

Step 4: Get your friends to fill in the form. Share the form on Facebook (and tag the people that are important to you), send it out by email, whatsapp, Skype etc.

Step 5: Create annual calendar reminders. You’ll get an email every time someone fills in your form. Visit your spreadsheet and add the date and the address to your google calendar. Make sure you set the event to “repeats annually” and set up “email notification” to get a timely reminder. Timely in my case means: 3 days ahead of time for birthdays in my country of residence, 7 days previous for birthdays in Europe and 10 days ahead for birthdays 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. Stocking those will make the process much smoother and you won’t get stuck due to lack of writing material.

Step 6: Get a bunch of cool and colourful cards. Every couple of month I spend some quality shopping time on 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.

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). If you live close to a post office, you can drop of your cards while doing groceries. Otherwise you might want to buy a couple of stamps in advance and locate the nearest mail box for sending out your creations without delay.

Congratulations, your system is ready. Now you just have to wait for your first reminder email to arrive to get creative. Or, if you want to get going right away: pick a random address and send a postcard just because.

The creative part: writing

Now, maybe you feel intimidated by the writing part of the process. Don’t fret, you have a reason to write. Remember, it’s someone’s birthday. No need to fill the postcard with 400 words of deep wisdom. Short and sweet it just fine.

[Optional] Step for writer’s block. If you are afraid you won’t know what to write, prepare a couple of messages ahead of time. For example:

“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.


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