I’ve mentioned the Tickler File several times before today, first in Organize Your Home Office in 8 Steps, and then again in 8 Tips for Staying Sane When Working at Home. This system helps busy home business owners manage not only time, but also workflow. Hopefully, you’ll be a Tickler File fan after you check out today’s post. So, let’s learn how to Get Organized with a Tickler File!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my policies here. As always, my favorable opinions of helpful organizing tools are 100% my own.
What is a Tickler File
A Tickler File is a series of files used cyclically to sort, organize, store, and manage future tasks and activities. Anything that you need to be reminded of at a future date can go into your Tickler File.
This system helps to centralize tasks and their associated paperwork. It also gets those teetering “to get done” piles off your desk.
A Tickler File is made up of 43 files and a drawer or box to hold the files.
Twelve of the files are labeled with the months of the year and the remaining files are labeled 1-31.
Your Tickler File can help you manage your workflow by acting as an internal mail system. It will hold all of the items related to your “piece of mail” in one place.
I’ve used my Tickler File for:
- Storing important wedding information (map, gift I purchased, whether I wrapped it, and where I stored it, because I’m notorious for forgetting gifts hidden around the house).
- A reminder to check with my husband on our availability to attend an event. I placed the event invitation in the folder dated 8/20. I knew my husband and I would both have our calendars and have time to discuss the event on that day.
- A reminder to renew memberships when I can’t do it right away.
- A place to store important travel information (tickets, reservations, itinerary, etc).
- A reminder and storage mechanism for birthdays and anniversaries and the cards I want to send out for them.
- Storing important meeting information.
- Irregular to-do’s and the items I need to complete them.
- Unpaid bills
How to Put Your Tickler File Together
To create your own Tickler File you’ll need:
- A drawer or file box (I used this one)
- 43 folders (I used these)
- A way to label the files prominently (I used—and love—my Brother P-Touch Label Maker, and I like to use the Black on Clear Tape.)
I used files that were all the same color. Some people prefer to have a different color for the month files. And others just round up whatever files they have on hand. Make this work for you!
You can use hanging files or file folders.
Label 12 of the files with the months, January – December.
Place the current month at the front (August), then continue chronologically. Once you get to December continue with January, February, etc., until you’re out of files.
At the beginning of each new month, place last month’s file in the back and move the current month’s folder to the front (it should all ready be there).
Label the remaining files with numbers 1-31.
Option: If it works better for you and your business or organizing style, you could also replace the daily files with weekly ones. Instead of 31 files behind the month, you’d have 4-5 files corresponding to the weeks of that month.
Now, follow the same process as you did for the monthly files.
Start with the file for the current date (the 19th), then continue through the end of the month.
The files for the days prior to the current date go behind the next month (September), so that you can start assigning tasks to the days at the beginning of September.
I also remove any files corresponding to weekend days, because I don’t check my Tickler File on weekends. I place those files behind the next month and just rearrange files as needed.
How It Works
Now that your Tickler File is set up, you’re ready to put it into action in your home office!
The process of using a Tickler File is fairly simple, and it leaves room for individual adaptations depending on the type of work you do.
Start by going through any items that have a due date. Place those items in the file corresponding to the due date or a couple of days earlier, in case you need some lead time.
If you have items that aren’t due for several months you can place them in the folder of the month they’re due. Just make a habit of checking the month’s file on the 1st of that month.
Now add any non-dated tasks that are on your to-do list or in your get-done pile.
As you get used to using the Tickler File for these types of tasks, you’ll likely find new ways to use it that apply only to you and your business.
For example, I have a lot of big, ongoing projects like seasonal email marketing campaigns, organizational projects, and blog post research and outlines. In the front of my Tickler File I keep 5-8 empty hanging files. When I’m in the middle of these ongoing projects, I convert one of the empty hanging files to the storehouse for all of my papers, research, notes, etc, for that project.
When I want to work on this project, I grab the hanging file, which includes everything I need to work on it (including a project planner; grab yours HERE), and I get to work.
When it’s time to clean up, I just return everything to the hanging file and put it back in the front of my tickler box. No muss. No fuss!
I also use my Tickler Files in conjunction with my Mobile Office. During the school year I tuck the items from each day’s file into my Mobile Office, so that I can work on them while I’m waiting to pick up my kids after their activities.
Create a Routine
The idea of the Tickler File sounds great, but it won’t help you manage your workflow if you don’t create a routine for checking the daily (or weekly) and monthly files.
I like to pull out the following day’s file when I’m writing my to-do list for the next day. I place it on my desk beneath my to-do list, so that I can’t help but see it.
When I open my mail I keep my Tickler File close by, so that I can add a deadline and file those items immediately.
You’ll develop your own routine for remembering to check your tickler files. But until it’s a solid routine, I recommend setting an alarm or two on your phone, calendar, watch, etc. You’ll likely need an external reminder for several weeks.
A Note on Procrastination
Any procrastinators out there? *I’m raising my hand* If you’re prone to procrastination, the Tickler File can become a way for you to put off making even more decisions.
If you’ve moved a task from one daily folder to a later one more than twice, you might want to re-evaluate how meaningful it is to complete that task.
This system will break down quickly if you allow your Tickler File to fill up with procrastinated tasks. And it will become a burden rather than a blessing.
So, now you know how to create and implement a Tickler File! Hopefully, this system becomes a valuable way for you to manage your time and your workflow and helps you to grow your home business!
Make sure you pin this post, so that you can find it when you’re ready to create your tickler file!
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