It’s very easy to set up a tickler file, but learning to use it effectively and make it an essential part of your work flow is another matter. One sign that you aren’t using your tickler file effectively is that it’s empty every morning when you check it. I found this to be the case for myself sometimes, and if it’s empty 3 or 4 days in a row, chances are that my desk is not clean. There is something on my desk that has been there overnight, probably several nights, that does not need to be there.
The purpose of the tickler file is to get things that you’re not ready to work on or decide on out of sight and out of mind until just the right time. The tickler file is a way to intentionally postpone action on a document until an appropriate date in the future. See this post for more information on how to set up and use the tickler file.
If this is the situation you’re in and you’re wondering how to make your use of the tickler file system more effective, here are some tips.
Clear Your Desk Daily
First, make it a rule that your desk will be clean everyday before you leave. This can be accomplished by simply picking up everything on your desk and putting it in tomorrow’s tickler file. However, you can take it a step further by quickly looking at each thing that you’re picking up and deciding if there is anything that you know you won’t get to tomorrow, and putting that in a future day’s folder. Flyers and handouts for meetings that aren’t happening for a few weeks, mail that you aren’t ready to send, and forms that you aren’t ready to fill out are a great example of this type of material.
Tracking for Follow-Up
Second, think of things that you have forgotten to do recently, and how you could have used the tickler file to remind yourself of them. For example, today I addressed an internal mail envelope to the appropriate person and put it in my tickler file for a day next week with some papers that I need to send down to the central office. I’m waiting for other people to give me their forms too, so I’m not ready to send the envelope yet. The tickler file reminds both that I need to send the papers that I do have and that I’m waiting for more.
Third, if I notice that I’m moving something from one tickler file to the next every single day, chances are I’m less than fully committed to dealing with it. When you get the feeling that you are tired of seeing something, that’s a good indication that either you aren’t committed to doing it (in which case you should just decide not to do it), or you should just sit down and dedicate some time to getting it done because it’s important.
Deciding not to do something by default – by postponing it indefinitely – wastes time and mental energy. I think it’s better to decide immediately when something is not worth your time.
Finally, if you have a pile of things you’re still not getting it done in a timely manner, it may be time to implement next action stickies. The basic idea is simple: get a sticky note and write what you will physically do with that document, on the note. Stick it on the document, and take care of it immediately or the following day.
Dr. Frank Buck goes into more depth on how to use a tickler file to handle recurring tasks and organize notes in his great book Get Organized!
Do you have a tickler file? How do you use it?