A birthday invitation that’s a month away, an agenda you need for a meeting next week, tickets to the Giants game coming up this summer; where do you keep these items and how do you remember where you put them?  A tickler file is the answer, and according to David Allen, productivity guru, “This is a system that allows you to almost literally mail something to yourself, for receipt on some designated day in the future.”  What a cool concept!  You probably rarely get useful mail anymore:-)

43 Folders – Create a folder for each month of the year (January-December) and each day of the month (1-31), and voila, you’ve set up a “43 Folders” tickler system. Now you have a place to put all those important papers that you need to keep, but don’t need to look at or deal with until the near future (the itinerary for your trip next month, a quarterly tax bill, tickets to the outdoor summer musical, etc.). The folders “tickle” your memory about things you need to act on each day.

Setting Up Folders – You can create your system using hanging folders with tabbed months and days, file folders labeled appropriately, or you can purchase a pre-made tickler system (a little expensive for something that’s easy to make, but convenient none the less.)

Arranging 43 Folders – Let’s say you set up your 43 Folders on May 15th, the first folder is the “today” folder or “15”.  That is followed by 16-31, then the next month (June), which is followed by 1-14, then July-May.  Place the May items you need to remember in the corresponding day folder and the other items in their respective months.  At the end of the month move June items into the corresponding day folder and move the June folder to the back of your drawer behind May.

Items to include in 43 Folders

  • Tickets (sporting events, plays, travel)
  • Events you might want to attend in the future
  • Travel directions for appointments on a particular day
  • Agendas for meetings on a particular day
  • Items you might want to buy in the future
  • Bills you need to pay on a particular day (property taxes, quarterly taxes, etc.)
  • Cards you need to mail for birthdays and anniversaries

Items should be placed in your tickler on the day you need to act on them.  Some items. like show tickets, will go in the folder for the day you need them.  Other items, like your mom’s birthday card, will go into a folder a few days ahead of when the item is due so you have time to mail the item or carry-out your plan of action.

Make it a Habit – Consistency is key to the 43 Folder tickler system.  You have to check your tickler file daily for you to trust it and for it to be effective.  Look at it regularly in the same way you check your calendar the night before or first thing in the morning.  It only takes a second to retrieve the items that need action on a particular day and move the “today” folder behind yesterday’s folder.

Keep it Close By – You want to make sure to use your tickler system, so locate it in a place you can easily check it, like in your desk file drawer or a dedicated desktop file holder.

A tickler file or 43 Folders may sound like a complicated system, but in reality it’s not.  Once you get in the habit of using it, you won’t be back in that panicked state searching for that lost bill you need to pay or the tickets you need for a romantic evening out with your spouse.  You’ll know where things are when you need them save a little sanity in the process.