Writing Thank You Notes

30 Dec 2018

A formula to help stop the procrastinating


Almost every adult has been faced with a pile of thank-you notes to write and a hefty dose of anxiety about getting them done. It’s not that you aren’t grateful to everyone who came to your baby shower, your thirty-eighth birthday, or your wedding. You really want to let each person know how much their gesture meant to you, and that’s part of why this is so darn hard. How can you express your gratitude in a short note? So, you procrastinate.

As a writer, I feel you. With every assignment, I know I should sit down and start writing, but something stops me. Maybe I need to sort laundry, or call a friend, or pay bills. The dog looks like he needs a walk. Should I make marinara sauce? Those tomatoes are looking a little over-ripe. Why has no one dusted the top of these cabinets? There’s nothing like a deadline to inspire a little deep cleaning around the house.

But those notes aren’t going to write themselves, now are they? So, let’s go.

Gather your materials. Get enough stationery and stamps to get the job done and make a list of everyone you need to acknowledge, including their addresses. Many a thank you note has gathered dust on a desk because the writer ran out of stamps or didn’t have the recipient’s latest address.

Set up a dedicated work station, because if this were only going to take a couple hours, you would have done it by now, right? The dining room table is a nice option if you don’t have a desk. Besides, when you need to set a deadline, you can send out invitations to a dinner party, which will force you to finish in time to use the table again. Bonus: People will owe you thank you notes after the party. Full circle!

Give yourself a deadline. Make it easier to achieve by setting smaller goals. How about ten notes a day? Five? Or maybe you can divide the list into categories. Start with notes to colleagues, then move on to hometown friends, then friends of your parents. Finish up with close friends. Or whatever works for you. But be prepared to miss your deadline without hating yourself. It happens! But a deadline will lend your task some urgency, so set one.

Once you have your materials together and a place to work, make yourself something nice to drink. Herbal tea is calming. Cider is lovely, or lemonade if the weather is warm. You may be tempted to pour a glass of wine, and that’s certainly an option. Just know that if you accidentally have a second or third glass, you may end up adding some inappropriate post-scripts. (Confidential to the people who got those: I’m really very sorry. That was inappropriate and embarrassing, but maybe you at least got a good laugh out of it.) Definitely don’t keep the bottle on the table for refills. (Trust me.)

Come up with a formula, and be ready to fill in the blanks. “Dear *****, Thank you so very much for your thoughtful gift! ***** and I have already enjoyed/can’t wait to use the ***** you sent. [Insert specific delightful thing about it here.] We were so glad you could make the wedding and we loved dancing with you! (Or: We were sorry you couldn’t make the wedding but really enjoyed seeing you last week at *****.) Thank you again for your generosity. Hope to see you soon!” 

Is that not long enough? Probably not, but better to just get the notes done. Let’s shoot for a minimum of six sentences, and don’t guilt yourself into writing more. And don’t feel guilty about using a formula. The routine makes your task easier and the details make your notes personal.

Speaking of guilt, resolve to let it go. No matter what the rules say, it’s never too late to write a note. Just start with, “I hope you know the tardiness of this note is no indication of any lack of appreciation on my part for your lovely gift!”

Now all you have to do is start.

And you know what philosopher Lao Tzu says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” The journey of a thousand thank you notes starts with one pen stroke. A lot of people think Confucius gets the credit for that original quotation. While he and Lao Tzu were contemporaries, they’re thought to be separately responsible for rivaling philosophies, Taoism and Confucianism. Are you going to look that up? Stop. You’re procrastinating.

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