© Jan Jasper; 2001-2012
Despite the computer's central place in our work, there's still paper clutter on our desks. Our desk clutter includes things to read, client or
matters to discuss at an upcoming meeting, prescriptions to have filled, contracts to read and sign, dry cleaning tickets, insurance
policies to review, and more. Why would we file something we're not done with? So we leave these papers out on the desk, in plain
sight where we won't forget.
An Active File System for Current Papers Will Conquer Desk Clutter
Leaving papers where you can see them only works until more papers land on top. Then you'll only see the top layer.
This causes lost files, wasted time, missed deadlines, and stress. Wouldn't it be great
if there was a system to keep current papers close at hand, yet organized - and reclaim your desk as a work surface?
There is a system, and it's called the tickler file. (If you're buying office supplies online, try seaching for "everyday file.")
a tickler file for years and I don't know how I ever managed without it. It's an open-sided accordion file with 43 slots - 31 are
numbered for the days of the month, followed by 12 slots labeled January to December. The 1-31 slots are always used to hold papers
for the current month; the 12
monthly slots are for future months. During the month of March, for example, the numbered slots hold papers for March, according to
of the month when you'll act on each paper. Every day, first thing in the morning, you remove the papers in that day's slot and also
check the next few days' slots to see what's coming up.
By the end of March, the 1-31 slots are empty, and ready to hold April's papers. Now you'll spend a few minutes doing the monthly
Remove all the papers from the "April" slot, look at when they're due, and insert them into the appropriate 1-31 day slots.
Driving directions to a
meeting on April 7 are put into the 7 slot. An agenda for a meeting on April 14 go in the 14 slot. Some items should be put in
early - a birthday
gift idea for a friend whose birthday is on the 20th should go in the 10 slot - this gives you time to purchase and mail the gift.
What to Use for Your Tickler File
While some people use a standard accordion file, I don't recommend it because it's very difficult to see what's inside. A bona-fide
is much better because it's open on both sides, making it much easier to open up and see the contents. You can open it fully on the
desk or on
your lap. I've noticed that the people who lose things in their tickler files are those who use an accordion folder instead of a real
For Follow-Ups and More
The tickler file was originally designed for people who have a lot of time-sensitive follow-up activity, like sales people. But
that's only a
tiny part of this tool's potential. The tickler file can hold memos on which you're awaiting a response, phone calls to return on
bills to pay (file them several days before the due date), decisions you must make by a certain date (if you're going a seminar,
register in advance), a project you'll begin next month, airline itineraries and tickets, greeting cards to be mailed, dry
things to give to friend you'll see on a certain day, and so on.
Use Your Calendar as a Back-Up
With your desk reclaimed, now you can use your desk as a work surface again, using it only for what you're working on right now.
Everything else has a home in the tickler
file, depending on the date you'll need it. Once you begin to think this way, you'll find more and more uses for your tickler
file. For added
peace of mind, make a note in your calendar for important, time-sensitive items. (If this
system seems too elaborate because you don't have enough
papers to warrant 31 slots for each day of the month, create a simpler version with 4 file folders, one for each week
in the month.)
People ask me how I remember to look in my tickler file everyday. I can't possibly not look - I couldn't function without it.
(I use the Everyday
File and Fast Sorter from Globe-Weis. The one in the picture is Staples's brand, but it works the same way.) It just takes
a little discipline to get started - just like any other good habit.
The seconds it takes to drop papers into the tickler file is nothing compared to the hours it'll save you every week - and the
stress it will spare
you. You'll no longer waste time looking for papers. You'll be on top of things because you can see what's coming up. You'll act
on things before
they're due, rather than at the last minute. You'll find yourself automatically reaching for your tickler file many times each
day. It will make
your life so much easier, you'll wonder how you managed without it.
The tickler file works great for people who think of papers in terms of when things need to be done. If you prefer to organize
your in-progress papers by topic instead, try
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of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press)."
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