I frequently run into people who attended one of my workshops. Of all of the ideas we covered in the workshop, the one that seems to be the favorite is the tickler file. For me personally, it is the tool that has allowed me to work with a clean desktop and a clear head for over 20 years.
Wouldn’t it be great if all of the papers that sit on your desk would go away and magically come back exactly when you need them? That is exactly what the tickler file does for you.
A set of tickler files consists of 43 folders. Take the first 31 and number them. Each file will represent a day of the month. Label the remaining 12 with the months of the year and your system is ready to go.
The idea is very simple. When paper comes your way that you will need to see again on some future day, slip it into the appropriate folder. If that day is going to be within the next month, slip the paper into the correct numbered folder. A piece of paper you drop in folder 17 will resurface on the 17th day of the month. For papers you will need to see again in a month or more, slip the paper into the correct monthly folder. The paper that you do not need to see again until sometime in November is filed in the “November” folder. You have earned the right to forget about that piece of paper!
At the end of the month, you have a nifty ritual—opening next month’s file. At the end of February, you open the “March” file, make a decision about what DAY in March you need to see each item, and file them in the 1-31 folders accordingly.
I prefer to use hanging file folders. I have a file drawer in my desk where I keep the tickler files. Having the files handy is extremely important, because throughout the day as papers come your way, they are going to be slipped into the appropriate tickler files.
Here are is a partial list of the kinds of items you might put in your tickler files:
  • You receive tickets to an event that occurs 3 weeks from now. Drop them in the numbered file corresponding to the date of the event. On that date, the tickets appear. You don’t have to carry them in your wallet for fear of losing (or forgetting) them. On the day they are needed, there they are.
  • You can buy birthday cards for all of your friends and relatives with one trip to the card shop. When you get home, address all of the envelopes and attach the return address labels to the whole batch. Pencil in the date each card need to go in the mail in the spot where the postage stamp will later go. Now you simply drop the cards in the appropriate folders. Throughout the year, cards will keep popping up on the exact day they need to go in the mail. You will never forget a birthday again!
  • You are attending a workshop and have a flyer giving you the driving directions. You will need that item on the day of the workshop, so put it in the tickler file. It will appear the morning of your workshop.
  • You are completing a report and do not have all of the information you need. Jot down in your planner what information you need to get and make a plan for how you will get it. Slip the report into a tickler file. When the report resurfaces, you will have the information and can complete the report.
  • You have prepared a “problem of the day” for your classes. Drop each one in the appropriate tickler file.
  • You have prepared a test and need to duplicate it, but the copier is down until Thursday. Drop the test in the file for Thursday. It will be out of sight and out of mind until the day you can do something about it.
  • You duplicate the test on Thursday even though you won’t be giving the test until Wednesday of next week (because after all, that copier could go down again). Put the tests in a manila folder and put the whole folder in next Wednesday’s tickler.
The list could go on and on. See if you don’t find this simple set of folders can do great things for you.