This article was originally published at SimpleProductivityBlog.com. It’s been updated.
If you’re expecting an article about feathers or a rickety roller coaster or (heaven forbid) a millipede or something like that, sorry, not going to happen.
I want to talk about the tickler file, a file that allows you to file things for the future…and find them.
Why 43 Folders?
Most traditional tickler files have 43 folders. The 43 folders comes from a set of file folders, one for each day of the month (31 total) and one for each month (12). 12 + 31 = 43.
The original tickler system had you make the folders. If something needed attention on the 9th of this month, you put it in the folder labeled “9”. If it needed to be dealt with in June, you put it in the “June” folder. At the beginning of each day, you emptied out your number folder to be dealt with. At the beginning of month, you put the contents of the month folder into the appropriate number folder.
It’s a great system for dealing with paper.
But What If You Don’t Have That Much Paper?
Some of us just don’t deal with that much paper, because many things are digital these days. But for the things that aren’t digital, you may need to hold on to the paper copy. Things such as prescriptions or birthday cards, for example.
If you have very little paper to deal with, you can always try an alternate system:
1 Folder + Reminder Tickler
This is the other extreme from the tickler system. In this system you put everything into one file folder (or box) called Tickler, and make notes in your task list to remind you to deal with it on the appropriate day. The note would have to say not only what you needed to do, but also what supporting materials were in the file so you can locate them.
This will work if you have very few paper items to deal with; as a good rule of thumb, less than 10.
The 12 Folder + Reminder System
If you have a few items a month, but not enough to justify the day folders, you can use a 12 folder system. Label each folder for a month, and then put a reminder in your task list to “process tickler” near the beginning of the month. (I actually do this on the last Monday of the month to give me time to get early birthday cards in the mail).
At the beginning of the month, you can process the items on their appropriate day in your electronic system, much as you would for the one month folder of the paper system. The only difference is you would leave the item in the tickler folder instead of moving it. When the reminder comes up, you look in the month folder to find your paperwork.
How I Use the 12 Folder System
I have been using the 12 folder system for years. I use it from everything from birthday cards, magazine and prescription renewals, and even the free calendars that get sent from various charities (all filed in “December”).
On the last Monday of the month, I check the tickler file for the next month, and then make notes in Remember The Milk of what I need to do. If there’s a birthday card, for example, I put an entry a week before the person’s birthday in RTM saying “Send birthday card (tickler)”, noting the person’s name. Then I just have to pull it out, put a stamp on it and send it.
Tickler files are a great way to manage paper. Use
- 31 folders if you have a lot of paper to manager, needed just about every day.
- 1 folder + a reminder system if you have little paper to manage (less than 10 items)
- 12 folders + a reminder system if you have a few items a month to deal with.
Over To You
Do you use a tickler file? Could you benefit from one? If you can, set one up today.
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