Tickler file

tickler file

What should you do with letters, invoices, bills etc where some action is needed but it’s in the future?
Where should you keep those items so they don’t get lost?
Getting Things Done system suggests to use a tickler file.

What’s tickler file?

It’s set of 43 folders where you store items that you need to be reminded of in the future. The main categories would include invoices, bills, leaflets, coupons , air tickets, hotel confirmations, various forms etc.
There are 31 folders for each day of current month and 12 for every month. Then each day, respective folders are reviewed to check what is for today.
As with many GTD behaviours the key to success with tickler file is to review it regularly and keep it updated. A one tip that has been mentioned by David Allen and Jason Womack to make using tickler more fun was to put randomly some money into folders. You would get those surprises where 10-20 dollar bill would pop up so you could buy a nice coffee or something.

Tickler in the age of bits

For many people tickler file would be the most physical element of GTD implementation. There is a bunch of folders, there are some trays or box to hold those. However in today’s age less and less things come in paper format. We can opt for email delivery of bills, scan invoices, coupon codes from favourite shops, etc. All this makes setting up a full blown tickler not practical.

With advent of digital solutions for managing tasks and calendar setting up a tickler file in an electronic format is very simple. Just create calendar in Google Calendar or Outlook and call it "tickler" and your are done. Every time you will need to set a reminder for bill or a invoice  but don’t want to clog your main calendar view leave the memo in that special calendar.

The problem and a solution

The problem arises with the few things that still come in in paper form. Probably there isn’t a lot of them, perhaps a handful in a  year maybe a dozen or two. Setting up a 43 folder cabinet to simply manage occasional letters and leaflets would cause more hassle that benefit and would quickly be abandoned.

However to keep things organised you shouldn’t left stuff lying around even if this is just a couple of letters or forms. It’s quite likely that when you need that bill or that invoice you wont be able to find it. Still you need some sort of solution.

Why not making the most out of electronic and paper by supplementing first with the second .
Use an electronic calendar to record dates and setup reminders. Every time you get a reminder from your tickler calendar go to your folder (see below) pick up the item and complete the necessary action.  You should leverage your current approach so there is no need to change your behaviours.

With the papers put them in a folder that will serve as a storage solution for all items you need to keep track of. Anything you would need reminder of later is stored there. 

Depending on the number of items coming your way you can setup 1 or more folders to be able to find things easily enough. If you need more folders you could use: two for every six month, three folders for every four months and four folders for every 3 months.

With this limited number of folders the whole system is simple and there is very little overhead  – it’s just maximum of four folders.

If you find that four folders is not enough to handle the stream of papers consider one of the two things. Either set up a folder for each month to divide those documents or examine ways to reduce the number of things that reach you in paper form. Perhaps some things can be eliminated completely or simply be send as .pdf file.

Tickler file is a useful way to keep track of bills, coupons, vouchers and invoices. Although it’s very much tied to the physical world of paper it can be successfully adapted into the world where electronic calendars and devices dominate.

Special Thanks to  AMcDermott for inspiring the idea for this post.