The Tickler File System – Tickled to Find I Already Use It

The Tickler File System is a proven concept used throughout the years and reintroduced every once in a while to help people manage their time without forgetting important tasks. A recent popular reinterpretation is by David Allen in his 2002 book Getting Things Done.

The Tickler File System in a nutshell:

  1. Obtain 43 file folders and label 31 of them for each day of the month. Label the additional 12 folders for each month of the year.
  2. Place a reminder of each task you need to complete within the current month in the appropriate daily folder. For example, if you need to follow-up on a phone bill on the 15th of the month place the bill in folder 15. You can use anything you like as the physical reminder, for example, note cards, bills, business cards, etc.
  3. Place items that require follow-up in the future in the corresponding month folder.
  4. Every day check the appropriate folder for tasks that you need to complete that day.
  5. At the start of a new month, take all the items from that month’s folder and distribute them among the appropriate daily folders.

The main ideas are to:

  • keep track of things that you need to do each day and in the future.
  • have a physical reminder that you can see every day.
  • allow you to organize your day by looking at all the tasks that must be done that day.

Today you can use electronic tickler files if you don’t have the space for the physical file folder system or if you just prefer the electronic system and reminders. A great example is Google Calendar. Create a new calendar in Google and assign daily tasks to the appropriate day with reminders. Check the calendar every day for the tasks to complete and organize your time appropriately.

Putting it to the Test – The Tickler File System for One Day

OK, here is where I admit that I basically use this system and have for a long time. I didn’t realize it had a particular name and was prepared to dig out my extra file folders. Having a system in place made the one day test much easier! Here is my Tickler System:

Daytimer – I use a daytimer where I write my tasks and appointments on the day that I need to complete or attend to them and then use different highlighters to color appointments differently from things I need to do. I use a weekly daytimer format that includes an extra column along the side and along the bottom. I like to see not only what I need to do that day, but also what is coming up for the rest of the week. In the side column, I add reminders of things to check on, calls to return, things coming up that I want to keep in my mind, etc. In the bottom column, I add information about appointments and tasks (the location, things I need to bring with me, etc.) that will not fit in the daily space.

Electronic Calendars – I use Google Calendar and the calendar on my phone – they are synched. In Google Calendar, I have a Work calendar, a Family calendar, a Birthday calendar, and a Holiday calendar. I have reminders set for each event, so I am reminded of what is coming up days in advance as well as on the day of the event.

Chalkboard Calendar – I have a large Chalkboard calendar in the kitchen that includes all the family activities, birthdays, holidays, etc. for the month. This calendar serves as a reminder to the whole family so we all know what is going on and can work out who is available for each event.


I didn’t realize I was already using an updated version of The Tickler System, which I originally thought of as old-fashioned when I first read about it.

  1. I use my daytimer and calendars in place of the physical file folders to save space and because I like to see my tasks/events for the entire week (or month in the case of the chalkboard calendar).
  2. I use the chalkboard calendar so the whole family can see tasks/events for the day and month at a glance.

The absolute KEY to this system is that you have to LOOK at the daytimer, calendars, and reminders. If you don’t make it a part of your daily routine, you can still miss things.

How is it possible to miss things with four different reminders for each task and event you ask? Well, it probably means I forgot to check that day, ignored a reminder, or checked and forgot. Maybe that is why you didn’t receive a birthday card this year. Perhaps I should add a fifth reminder!

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