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Tickle your way to better organization

GTD, Organization, Time ManagementEdward Kiledjian2 Comments
We live in an era of information and often times it may feel like we are being overwhelmed by information. Many years ago, I reached an inflection point in my career. I had reached a point where I was constantly overwhelmed with my tasks and information. I did not know what to do, how to handle it and often felt like my work life was out of control. I decided that I needed to find better ways of doing things and so I embarked on a multi year journey to study and learn as many time management, work management and information frameworks as I can. I bought dozens of books, CDs and software.

I found my information management solution and will be writing articles about them in 2011. The first topic I am covering is something called a Tickler File. It is a super simple concept that can be immediately implemented without “practice”. Once you learn about it, you can use it immediately.

What is a Tickler File
A Tickler File is a series of folders labelled by days and months. It allows you to file documents, bills, letters according to a future date at which they will have to be handled.

The daily folders are numbered from 1 until 31.
The monthly folders are from January to December.

How do I sort a Tickler File
Let’s say the date is January 1, 2011. January has 31 days so I would place all of my folders labelled with days in the front and then the folders labelled with the months right after. Since we are already in January, you would sort the folders from : February to December and place the one labelled January right after.

How do I use a Tickler File
Since it is January 1, the first thing you would do in the morning is open the folder labelled “1”. You take out all of the items from that folder, place it in your inbox for action today and move the [now empty] folder after the one labelled February.

Anything you take out of the folder should be handled that day. Pushing an action back should be an exception.

Now on January 2, you would do the same except with the folder labelled “2”. If you are going on vacation or won’t be in the office for a couple of days, look ahead in the folders (for the days you will be missing) and make sure you either take off the items or “reschedule” them to a later date.

Let’s say it is now January 31, you should have used all of the day folders (which are now behind the month folder labelled February). On February 1, you first take a look at the Folder labelled February and must decide on what to do with the items in it. Once you have taken care of those, you move the folder labelled February to the back (exposing the daily folders you moved here in January.) Since you are February 1, you open the first folder labelled “1” and moved the folder behind March.

What goes into the monthly folders?
The contents of the daily folders are easy to understand but you may be asking yourself what goes into the monthly folders.

You use the monthly folders for tasks that must be handled in a future month but do not necessarily have a drop dead date. Let’s say you have a software license that expires in March but you know it will take you a couple of weeks to renegotiate it and you tell yourself you should look at it “sometime in February”. Then you would place the contract with a note in the February folder. When you get to February 1, you open the February monthly folder first, find the contract and decide which day it should be handled within that month. You sort it in the day folder and you’re done.

What about digital?
What we have just talked about can be done physically for paper type work (invoices, contracts, etc) and/or can be implemented digitally. It is so simple, you can easily implement this on any platform using the Operating Systems folder structure. Just create the appropriate folder structure and voila.

After years of searching, I use a tool called PersonalBrain ( for all my digital filling and time management. I have actually implemented a tickler file in there in addition to a customized version of the ‘Getting Things Done’ methodology. I will write about PB and GTD in a future article. Right now the important thing is for you to understand that you can implement this without any expensive or fancy software.

The challenges
The system itself is super easy to implement and use. After reading the above, you are a pro at it already. The real challenge comes from starting it and committing to use it. Old habits die hard. At first you have to remember to put info into the system and remember to check it every morning (first thing).

Having taught this to hundreds of people, I noticed that the more people used it, the more useful it became and the more committed they became to maintaining it. So the important step is to use it. Use whatever mechanism you want to remind you [at the beginning] that you need to check and maintain the system. Some people have put Post-it reminders on their coffee mugs, others have set-up reminders in their calendaring system, etc.

The tickler system should be easily accessible yet not in the way. I have both a physical tickler and a digital one. I maintain both because not everything I work with can be digitized and kept digitally yet (legal reasons). My physical one is in a filling cabinet that I can access by swivelling my work chair and my digital one is in a top level structure in my main Digital Brain (i.e. PersonalBrain software).