The Joy of Tickling

43foldersexampleThis post was originally on my Live Journal but I thought I’d update it and post it here, because I’m kind of evangelical about the subject. The Tickler File, for anyone who wants to never lose a plane ticket or forget a bill again.

It’s an old idea (I mean it’s about paper!) but it’s still around, because it’s simple, brilliant and just works. It’s endorsed by Dave Allen of Getting Things Done organising system fame.

A tickler is a set of folders

  • 31 folders marked 1 to 31 – i.e. days of the month.
  • 12 marked January to December.
  • I also add one for beyond this year.

They work especially well as suspension files in a drawer, or a document box. You use it to keep pieces of time sensitive paper where you will find them when they are needed. What do I mean by time sensitive paper? No, it’s not something used by The Doctor. It’s things like travel tickets, concert tickets, bills to pay. Basically things that you receive that aren’t for use today and that you need to put away somewhere not only safe but where you’ll find them again on the day you need them even if you forget they exist!

Let’s say your kid comes home from school on Friday before half term with a form you have to complete and send back with them when they return to school in a week’s time. So you fill it in, but where do you put it then? Pin it on a noticeboard? Put it away somewhere safe? (Which usually means “where it will never be seen again.”) Put it in the kid’s school bag? None of those options will actually remind you on that Monday to make sure it goes to the school. And if it’s in the bag, what are the odds the kiddo decides on the Monday that said bag is totally lame and takes a different one.

The tickler solves that. You put the form into the folder for the appropriate date, say the 16th. Then you can entirely forget about it. Along comes the 16th. You do your daily check of what’s in the tickler file folder for today’s date and there’s the form, ready to go back to school.

Other examples

  • You get a bill on the 1st of the month that you need to pay on the 18th of the same month, so you put it in the folder for the 18th.
  • You book up a concert for next month, you put the tickets in the folder for that month.
  • You book a holiday for next year, you put the tickets etc into the folder for Next Year.
  • You know you’re going to town on the 10th, so you put cheques to pay into the bank in the folder for the 10th. Maybe you’ve also got some shopping vouchers/coupons you can use while you’re in town. You put them in the folder for the 10th too.
  • You plan a daytrip and print off maps and information about where you’re going. You put them in the day or the month folder for when you’re taking the trip.
  • A letter for a hospital appointment.
  • Polling card for elections.
  • Birthday cards. You found a perfect card for someone, but it’s not their birthday for six months. Get it anyway and stick it in the tickler.
  • Collection tickets for the dry cleaner/laundry.
  • You can even put in items other than paper as long as they will fit! Visting your friend on Sunday and need to return a DVD you borrowed? If it will fit in, put it in.

At the end of the month
At the end of the current month, you take out the items that are in the folder for the coming month and put them into the appropriate day folders for the coming month.

If youre using suspension files it’s recommended that as you check a day, or move the items from a month folder, you move that folder to the back so you always have today’s folder at the front of the day folders and next month’s at the front of the month folders.

At the end of the year
Eventually at the end of the year you should only have items in the Next Year and Beyond folder. At that point you move January items into the day folders and the rest into the appropriate month folders.

There are two disciplines required for using a tickler to best effect

Putting stuff in there
Don’t just open your mail and put those tickets, or appointment letters or party invites down to put in the tickler later. Put them straight in. Try to stick with the principle of handling any piece of paper only one where you can. Out of the envelope into the tickler.

Daily checking
The key to using a tickler file effectively is to check it every day. Some check the next day’s folder the night before, others check first thing in the morning. It’s up to you, but the key is to make sure you do it every day. You might need to set yourself up a prompt to do it – a reminder in your phone or something. I have a daily reminder, because I’d still forget otherwise! Once you get into the habit, and you make sure you’re putting all your time sensitive bits of paper in there, the system requires no further thought. You put things in and forget about them, then when the day comes the tickler presents them to you. It just works.

There may be less paper around these days, but there’s still plenty of annoying bits of paper to keep track of in our lives. And hell to pay if you lose them. Who’s ended up turning the house upside down the day before a holiday looking for those plane tickets you got six months ago? Who needs that kind of stress? You’ll never do that again if you use a tickler. It’s great for busy people and especially families. It’s great for creative people, because it’s another way to get all the mundane crap organised in a way that means you can entirely forget about it and think creative thoughts instead.

Well, I hope this has been helpful to people. There’s plenty of info on the web about setting up and using a tickler if you want to check out more.

Wikipedia page on tickler files.
43 Folders Wiki
How to set up your tickler file
Lifehack on the tickler file


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