Tickler files and file system

Tickler files are documents commonly used in office environments to keep track of business activities. It's somewhat similar to an action schedule, and is useful to maintain control over appointments, bills, tasks, documents and so on with the the plethora of papers and activities that makes a typical office mise en scène. If you have an appointment with your customer ten days forth, a tickler file will be there (perhaps the day before?) to remind you. If your telecom account is due to next Friday, there will be a tickler file not letting you forget to pay it.

That said, a tickler file system is just a method to keep that tickler files organized in such a way that the activities they represent are not passed by. Tickler file system sets can be organized by trend of activity, that is, you can set up a file system for the pending accounts, another to the appointments schedule, and so forth.

What it consists of

A tickler file systems consists of:
  • A set of tickler file cards - The number of file cards will depend mainly on the frequency in which the activity repeats itself along the period the file system covers.
  • A set of divider cards - These could be one for each month, one for each day. You might also define one for each week in the month, for example, if there is the need.
  • A metal or acrylic box - A simple box, suitable to accomodate the cards above.
Implementing it

In the file cards, you should write some data about the activity which that card should remind you of (say, for example: "To pay the phone bill") and give other details about such an activity: to what company should the payment be made, what are the related phone numbers, etc. Then you place the card in the appropriate slot (the one representig the date in which the activity should take place). For example, a card regarding an account due to March 14, 2003, should be put behind the 14h "day card" into the "March, 2003" slot. Every time a new activity is set, or created, you should add an entry in the trickle file system as quickly as possible (note that updating the file system can also be a registered activity) .

Using it

This tracking scheme will do you no good if you don't check the box in every workday. At a convenient hour, you should draw all the file cards form the current day's slot and start working on them, one by one.

A not so pleasant example of its effectiveness

A telemarketer sets up a trickle file system to keep track of the phone calls he must make to his potential costumers. He creates file cards, one to each call he has to make, and place them in the trickle box. When he calls the numbers on the cards, either he sets up an appointment, or he cannot contact the person for some reason, or the people say they are not interested in the offer. In this last case, the seller asks them if he could call them back six months later to check if they have changed their mind. The innocent (yet believing in his own cleverness) ones always say "yes, you can call me in six months, why not.", because they are sure the seller will not remember them anymore next week, let alone in six months!

And the seller probably would forget to call without a file card to remember him, indeed. With the tickler system, however, all he has to do is to move the card six months ahead in the box, and you bet the phone will ring six months forth...


vaguely based on the webpage at http://www.mlmbigdog.com/Tickler.html

A tickler file is a great device to help you organise yourself. It's kind of like a rolling 3d calendar into which you can put not only reminders of things to do, but often the things themselves. I've been using one for only a few weeks now, but I've already seen huge benefits.

It's basically a collection of folders, files, pockets or whatever you'd like to use. When you know you'll need a reminder in the future you pop it in the correct folder and forget about it. Automagically, it turns up exactly when you need it.

Construction of a tickler file

My personal tickler file is actually a collection of plastic pockets in an A4 folder. You can make yours however you like, the idea is exacty the same. The example I'll use is using folders.

  1. Get hold of 43 folders

  2. Label thirty-one of them with the numbers 1 to 31. These will represent the next thirty-one days.

  3. Label the rest with the months of the year

  4. Now put them in order. The first folder will represent tomorrow. As I write this, the date is the 10th of November, so my first file is file 11.

  5. Follow this with the other day-folders from tomorrow to 31 in ascending order.

  6. The next folder will represent next month. So for me, that's the December folder.

  7. Then add the folders from one to today in ascending order again.

  8. Finally add the other eleven months folder, starting with the month after next (January for me) until you run out.

Hopefully, if you were looking at your folders on the 10th of November (like I am), they'd be in an order a bit like this:

11 12 13 ... 30 31 Dec 1 2 3 ... 10 Jan Feb ... Nov

Phew! So, how does one use such a system?

It's O.K. It is a bit of a job to set it up. Getting all the folders can be annoying and seems a waste seeing as there's nothing in them; but it's important that you set it up exactly like this or it won't help, and it's a lot easier to maintain afterwards.

The idea is simple. You have folders which represent the next thirty-one days and the next twelve months. Often you have things -- paper, forms, etc -- now, but you don't want them now. Unfortunately, you know you will want them in the future and you'll probably have forgotten. This is no longer a problem. If it's something you'll want in the next thirty-one days then pop it in the correct numbered file. If it's something you'll want in the next few months, pop it in the correctly labled month file.

Now, here's the important bit. Every morning -- and you really must do it every morning, or it won't work -- take one the front folder. This folder is full of all the things you wanted to have today. Dump it all out and put the folder back at the end of the numbered files before the months.

If it's the first day of a new month, you'll find that month's folder is at the front. Take that and the number one. It's quite likely that things that appear in a month file will simply want to be 'bounced back' to further down the month. Then you put that month file right to the back, and the number one goes behind next month's file.

So what should I put in my file?

There's all sorts of useful things you can put in your file and have it automagically turn up on the correct day.

  • Train / concert tickets appear on the day you need them.
  • Your pay or expenses claim form pops up when you are supposed to hand it in.
  • Reminders of someone's birthday a few days before.
  • Cheque receipts appear on the day they clear.
  • Last month's (paid) phone bill appears when you should be paying this month's.
  • Ideas you had about something pop up the day you have a meeting about it.
  • Something you want to deal with or read but don't have time right now? Move it back a couple of weeks.
  • Anything else your feeble brain can think of.

If you are a forgetful or disorganised person, I really suggest trying something like this. From experience I can tell you it really works; especially a portable version in a ring binder like mine that you can carry around in your bag.

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