In Getting Things Done, David Allen mentions an elegant way to manage non-actionable items that may need an action in the future – a tickler file.
A tickler file is a 3D version of a calendar. It allows you to hold physical reminders of things you want to see or remember – not now, but sometime later.
How to Setup a Tickler File
To setup a tickler file, you’ll need a total of 43 folders. Of those 43 folders, 31 represent daily files, which are labeled from “1″ to “31.” The remaining 12 folders are monthly files which are labeled with the months of the year – January to December.
The daily files are stored in front, starting with the file for tomorrow’s date. So if today is October 5, the first file would be “6″ to represent October 6. The subsequent daily files – “6″ to “31″ – represent the days of the rest of the month.
Then behind the “31″ file is the monthly file for the next month – November. And behind that are the daily files “1″ to “5.”
Following that are the rest of the monthly files – December through October.
Here’s what a tickler file looks like.
How the Tickler File Works
Empty the contents of the next daily file into your in-basket everyday. Then refile that folder to the back of the daily files. In this case, October 6 now represents November 6.
Repeat this process until the next monthly file reaches the front. In other words, after you empty the daily file on October 31, the November file will now be in front – with the daily files “1″ to “31″ behind it.
Empty the contents of the November file into your in-basket, and then refile that folder to the back of the monthly files to represent November one year from now.
This is a continuous and dynamic file – at all times it has the files for the next 31 days and the next 12 months.
How the Tickler File is Used
Documents, notes, and reminders are filed in such a way that an action or review is automatically triggered when you need them to be.
So if you want to be reminded to handle something in the future, but don’t want to think about it now, it can be tickled to show up on the exact day or month you want to see it again.
And the big benefit of using file folders for your tickler system is that they allow you to store physical documents, including:
- the form that needs to be filled out on a certain day
- the memo that needs to be reviewed on a certain day
- the telephone note that needs action on a specific date
Specific Sample Uses
- Do you have inspirational writings that you’d like to be reminded of on a monthly basis for your enjoyment? Tickle the document for the day you want to review it.
- Do you have important birthdays or anniversaries coming up? Tickle a note to give yourself two weeks to get cards, gifts, and make reservations.
- Did you get a direct mail ad for a laptop you wanted, but you can’t decide about it now? Tickle the ad in your file to show up three weeks later, when you might be clearer about your decision.
- Do you have a special project that needs all your attention? Or are you going out of town? If so, determine the next day you’re available to handle regular work at your desk. Empty your tickler file into your in-basket up to that date. Then review all of the documents on your plate. Everything that can wait until that future date you’ll tickle in that file, to show up after you can return to your normal routine. Everything that can’t wait should be put in front of you and handled now – before you start on the project or leave town.
In order for this system to work, you must update it everyday. If you leave town for vacation or don’t access the system on the weekends, check the folders for the days you’ll be away – before you go.
If you forget to empty a daily file, you won’t trust the system to handle important information. Then you’ll have to manage those things some other way.
Fortunately, the tickler file system requires just a one-second-per-day new behavior to make it work. The payoff value, however, is exponentially greater than the personal investment.