“I always wanted to get better about thanking people for things, but I just never think about it at the right time.” Those were the words of a workshop participant as we were discussing an old business tool called the “tickler file.”

On any given day, people do things for us they did not have to do. While we may be appreciative, how often do we forget to say so? In our busy day-to-day lives, we may not think about it. At least, we don’t think about it when we are seated with a blank note card in front of us!

This participant went to to explain that she had been using a tickler file for some time. Like many of us, she wanted to get better about writing thank-you notes. Like many of us, it just never happened.

She explained that on one January day, she bought 52 blank note cards, one for each week of the year. She scattered them through her tickler file. She had now structured a system that caused a blank note card to appear once each week. That was her trigger…her trigger to stop and use that blank note card to thank somebody for something.

She was already sitting down at her desk. She had the note card in front of her. Now, all she had to do was write the note.

…she was thoughtful and appreciative all along. She had simply become more organized.I suspect people began to think of her as more thoughtful and more appreciative. Actually, she was thoughtful and appreciative all along. She had simply become more organized. She had found a system which eliminated the forgetfulness problem.

What papers are piled on your desk, credenza, stacked in chairs, or lining the floor. You will not need them all today? While they are on full display to serve as reminders of the work we need to be doing, the truth is that system doesn’t work. More than likely, on the day you do need a particular document, it will be seven layers down. It’s out of sight and out of mind.

I have written about the tickler file before. Through all of the advances in technology during my professional life, nothing has been more successful for making sure papers appear in front of me at the right time than the tickler file.

If you’ve never used this tool, you are in for a treat. Empty a hanging file drawer in your desk. Get a box of hanging files and label 31 folders with the numbers 1 through 31, each one representing a day of the month. Take 12 more folders and label them January through December.

Start taking all of the papers piled on every flat surface and ask one simple question of each one: “When do I want to see this paper again?” The answer to the question provides the answer as to where to put it. The folder you will need for the meeting on the 15th goes in folder 15. The tickets to the concert on the 20th go in folder 20. The document you will need when you meet with that out-of-town client in June will go in the June folder.

For the first time since you purchased that desk, you may actually see what the top of it looks like! The uses for the tickler file are unlimited. It’s easy to get started. All you need is a drawer and folders. It’s easy to manage. All you have to do is pull today’s file at the beginning of the day. You are now looking at every piece of paper that at some point in the past you had wanted to come back to you today.

For the workshop participant, it meant people began to think of her as more thoughtful. What benefits could this simple tool offer for you?