Tickler File


During seminars, I talk about the Tickler File and its ability to clear your desk and lower your stress. Checking the Tickler File has been part of my daily routine for upward of 30 years. So, just what shows up in my Tickler File on a typical day? This post details what was waiting for me yesterday, March 1.

The “March” folder
On the first day of each month, sitting in the front of the drawer is the folder for the new month, in this case, the one labeled “March.” In this folder are items which, sometime more than a month ago, I wanted to see again during the month of March. The items in that folder were:

  1. A folder of paperwork to discuss with my accountant. I knew I would be meeting with him sometime in March. As I came across items I wanted to discuss with him, I put them in this folder. During that one meeting, I can handle every item in the folder.
  2. Appointment card for the dentist. Part of the routine before leaving the dentist’s office is to schedule a next appointment. They always write the date and time on a little card. That card goes first in my pocket notepad. When I get home, and handle the credit card slips and items written on the notepad, I see the card and enter the appointment information on my calendar. Sure, I could then throw away the card. But, it’s in my hand and only a couple of feet from my tickler files. I throw it in the file for the month of my next appointment. If a question arises about the date, or if I second-guess myself as to whether I entered the day and time correctly on the calendar, being able to put my hands on the card clears up all doubt.
  3. Folder for New York trip. My wife and I will be spending some time in New York during March. All of the paperwork generated for that trip is put in that folder. When it’s time to pack, that folder gets thrown in my briefcase.
  4. Birthday cards for family and friends with March birthdays. Those three cards are already in their envelopes, addressed, and have our return address stickers on them. The actual dates those cards need to go in the mail are penciled where the postage stamps will go. I will sign each one, possibly write a little note inside the card, seal the cards, attach the postage stamps, and throw them in the correct 1-31 folders so that each card goes in the mail on the correct day.

As with the birthday cards, each item in the March folder was placed there more than a month ago. The job now at hand is to take each item in that folder and decide what day in March it should resurface. The result of those decisions determine the 1-31 folder.

March 1
Just behind the March folder is the one for the current day. The common is that somewhere in the past, I wanted each of these items to come back to me today:

  1. Pledge card for an organization. Sometimes, paperwork needs a little thought and a little time for decisions to percolate. When the card arrived, we weren’t sure of the amount we would pledge. Had it been left on the desk or tacked to a bulletin board, it could quickly blend in to the background. “Let’s see that paperwork again around March 1st” was the result of our discussion. On March 1st, the paperwork is front-and-center, and we are in a better position to make a good decision.
  2. AMEA Archives. One of my roles is that of Historian for the Alabama Music Educators Association. People send me concert programs, convention programs, or photos piecemeal. Rather than handle each item as it arrives, I throw it all in this folder. Once each month, I handle everything in the folder at one sitting. I then refile the folder to resurface about a month later.
  3. Scrapbook. I have maintained scrapbooks of memorabilia dating back to elementary school. Like the AMEA Archives folder, inclusions for the current scrapbook are thrown into a file folder. On the date that folder surfacing in the tickler file, I organize everything in the folder and add it to the current scrapbook.
  4. Sheet of address labels for a client. I have a client to whom I mail an invoice each month. To save time in addressing the envelopes, I printed an entire sheet of labels and put it in the tickler file for when I would need it. After peeling a label for the current invoice, the labels go back into the tickler file to re-surface on the appropriate day next month.
  5. Folder of gift cards and Groupons. This post talks about how I organize items such as Groupons, Social Living vouchers, and gift cards. When the folder surfaces in the tickler files, my wife and I decide which items we want to use during the next week. The folder goes back in a tickler file to re-surface about the same time next week.
  6. Slip from library listing due dates for books borrowed. At checkout, the librarian always prints that little slip of paper listing the items checked out and when they are due. I put that slip in my pocket notepad. I see the slip when cleaning out the notepad at home and file the slip of paper about a week before the books are due. When the slip re-surfaces, I make a decision about which items I want to re-check (electronically from home), and on what date I want to make a trip to the library to return the rest.

March 2
While we are at it, let’s look at what surfaced in today’s folder (Sunday):

  1. Groupon for lunch. When my wife and I looked through the folder of Groupons and gift cards discussed earlier, we decided to use a Groupon for a great gourmet burger place we would visit after church. I immediately put that Groupon in the tickler folder for Sunday where I would see it that day.
  2. Notes scribbled for additions to a summer workshop. When I have good ideas, I trap them immediately, often on paper. After making some notes, I thought I would have time to define those plans on Sunday, and filed that paper accordingly.

March 3, just for good measure
Let’s take a look at just one more day. If I peek ahead to Monday, here is what is waiting for me:

  1. One folder holds credit card receipts, bills,  and checks received. About once a week, those receipts are entered into a financial spreadsheet, bills are paid, and checks are recorded and deposited. Once everything in the folder has been handled, the folder is re-filed.
  2. CDs from computer magazine subscription. As a bonus for re-subscribing to a particular computer magazine, I received a CD of technology-related articles. I chose March 3 as the day I wanted to review the material on that CD.
  3. Reminder card from heating and cooling system. A card came in the mail stating we are due for our every-spring inspection and maintenance. The card included a number to call, along with a statement that this service had been pre-paid. After calling and scheduling an appointment, I filed the card for the date of the appointment, March 3. If any question arises over the work to be done or whether or not we should be writing the repairman a check, the card will clear up all doubt.
  4. DVD I wanted to watch again. We all have those favorite movies we want to re-watch. I pulled one from our collection and threw it in the tickler file to re-surface March 3, the date I thought it would fit best.

What goes in my Tickler File? Paperwork of any kind that I want to see again in the future. My desk stays clear, and I never have to wonder what paperwork needs my attention. I make the decisions about when I need to act on the front end, file the papers, and act on each one when it resurfaces on the appropriate date. It’s worked well for others with whom I have shared the idea.

What about you? Want to give Tickler File a try? If you already use them, I would enjoy hearing about your experiences.