Tickler files are great for papers that we need to see on a particular future date. Decide on the date, throw the paper in the tickler file, and forget about it. The paper comes back on exactly the right day. But what about papers which have no specific date associated with them?

I received this e-mail from a reader:

Dr. Buck,

I really enjoyed your session. I am ready to set up my Ticker Flies!!!

Should I may files like this:
Files January – December

What about odd and end kinds of things that do not really fit in the above? Did you mention a alphabetized file? Would that be in the box as well or in a file cabinet? Suggestions, please???

Here was my answer:

Yes, having a set of folders labeled 1-31 and 12 more labeled January through December gives you the basic setup for tickler files. That gives you a place for any paper you would need on a specific future date.

You ask a very important question. There are papers where you don’t know when you will need them again, but the important thing is that when you DO want to put your hands on them, you can do so immediately. A common example would be paperwork that goes with a large project you are working on over a period of time. Every time you sit down to work on that project, you want to be able to quickly access the supporting paperwork that goes along with it.

To handle this, my 1-31 folders also have a letter. So the folders actually look like this: 1A, 2B, 3C, 4D, etc. up through 26Z. Folders 27-31 would just have a number.

For example, you might have information on a grant that runs 20 pages with all of the various instructions. As you are writing the proposal, you are probably also going to come across some other information in paper form that you want to put with it. I would put all of the paperwork related to that grant in a manila file folder and label it with the name of the grant. Then, file that folder in the appropriate hanging file folder. Pick whatever letter would make you think about that grant. If it’s the only grant you are working on, and you tend to think of it as “the grant,” putting it in the “7G” tickler folder would work. Every time you need to grab the paperwork related to that grant, you think “G” and look in the 7G folder. If you work on different grants routinely, the trigger might be the first letter of the name of the grant. If you think of that proposal as the “Reading for the Next Century Grant,” it would wind up in folder 18R.

There is another important element. On your task list, you will have one task related to that project. The task list will drive your actions. The folder just gives you a holding tank for the supporting papers. The subject line of the task will look something like this:

Call Susan to see if she will help write grant+Reading for the Next Century Grant has been submitted (R)

In the note section of that task will be all of the other tasks you can think of related to that project. Throughout the life of the project, you will be accomplishing whatever is to left of the plus sign and replacing it with whatever specific task needs to come next. Throughout the life of the project, you will see that little “(R)” just to the right of your project as a reminder that you have supporting paperwork and where that paperwork is located.

Enhanced tickler files (labeled both 1-31 and A-Z) allow us to handle papers that are date specific and papers which are not. And, it’s all done without creating a second set of folders.

How many out there use tickler files? How are they working for you? Are you seeing any problems?