Everything You Need to Know about the Tickler FileAUTHOR: Francisco Sáez
What is the Tickler File?
In the Getting Things Done methodology of personal organization (GTD), the Tickler File is a subsystem that allows you to incubate those things that you don’t need or want to remember until a specific time in the future. When you save something in the Tickler File, it’s like sending an email to yourself knowing that you will receive it at the right time in the future.
What’s it for?
The Tickler File complies with the GTD premise of getting out of your head the ideas, actions, projects, events, etc., inputs that you are not going to do anything about right now, keeping the confidence that they can be recovered at the moment when the need for some action arises.
There are two types of items that you can effectively manage with the help of the Tickler File:
- Issues that are not actionable right now, but may be in the future.
- Future actions that you don’t need or want to remember until the right time comes to take action on them.
Uncommitted future issues
These are things that you have not committed to, but would like to consider again at the appropriate time. For example:
- An email advertising an event you would like to attend.
- An idea you have come up with that you can’t do anything about yet.
- Something you’d like to learn about, but now you have other priorities.
You can organize these kinds of items in the Someday/Maybe list or in the Tickler File. If you use the Someday/Maybe list, you must indicate the date you want it to be reconsidered, so that it comes up when you are doing a Weekly Review near that date. If you use the Tickler File, the action will automatically surface on the indicated day.
Choosing one option or another will depend on your personal preferences and the possibilities offered by your GTD system implementation.
Your Calendar is not recommended for these kinds of things, due to the fact that you would be mixing up things you haven’t yet committed with, and actions that have become compromises, spoiling the intentionality of the Calendar. The consistency of the type of items on each list is important. If you mix things here and there, the system becomes messy and you can lose sight of important things.
Committed future actions
It’s about actions you’re going to do. You’ve committed to them, but you can’t do anything until a certain date. For example, congratulate someone on their birthday.
You can organize this type of actions in the Calendar or in the Tickler File. The Calendar can perform exactly the same function, but using the Tickler File will prevent actions that you can’t do anything about until a future date from distracting you and limiting your attention every time you look at your Calendar.
How can you implement the Tickler File?
The physical way to create a Tickler File is through a kind of three-dimensional calendar with 43 folders: 31 numbered from 1 to 31 for each day of the month, and 12 more labeled with the name of each month. The daily folders go before the monthly ones, so that the first folder corresponds to today. The first of the monthly folders is the one for the following month.
Every day you should dump what you have inside your next daily folder in your inbox and move the folder to the end of the daily folders. Likewise, on the first day of each month you should dump everything you have into the next monthly folder in your inbox and move the folder to the end of the monthly folders.
For this to work properly and not lose confidence in the system, you must check and update it every day. Here is a video on how to create and use a system of 43 folders:
Additional software and alternatives
If you are implementing GTD through a digital solution that doesn’t make it easy for you to manage this type of tasks, in addition to the system of 43 folders, you can rely on other digital tools. The two most common options are:
- Use a Google Calendar with the option “send me an email” for these types of items.
- Emulate the 43-folder system with Evernote.
If you know other digital alternatives that can help implement the Tickler File, please write them down in the comments at the end of the post.
In any case, whether you decide to use a physical system or a digital system to complement your system, you will be adding friction to your GTD implementation, since you will have multiple sources of information. My recommendation in this case is simply not to use a Tickler File, relying more on the other GTD lists I mentioned above: the Calendar for committed actions and the Someday/Maybe list for not yet committed stuff.
FacileThings includes the Tickler File as a one more organizational list. You can use this list both to save things that you want to be reminded of in the future, and to save already committed actions that you don’t want or need to see on your lists until a certain date.
To put an item in the Tickler File when you are clarifying it, you only need to assign it a “Start Date” and use the “I will do it” option. The item will be stored in the Tickler File until the specified date. On that day, the item will automatically be moved to the Calendar (if it had a date assigned to it) or to the Next Actions list (if it did not have a date assigned to it). In any case, the item will be automatically activated and you will have it immediately present in the Engage step.
For example, if you have in your Calendar “Congratulate Michael on his birthday” on January 31st, you probably don’t need to see that item until that same day:
You can also type the
:start inline command in the subject text to send an item to the Tickler File:
"Congratulate Michael on his birthday :day jan 31 :start jan 31".
Repetitive tasks can also be generated in the Tickler File until the date you want, using the “Inactive until” field that you will find in the routine editor:
By using the Tickler File in this way, you make both the Calendar and the Next Actions list cleaner. This allows you to have a better focus and avoid distractions in your daily life. And you can forget about it, because actions will automatically return to the right list on the date you wanted.