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Articles to Help You Be More Productive

Enjoy these articles? There are many more available:
  • Time Management Article Collection
  • Microsoft Outlook and Email Article Collection
  • Managing Paper Article Collection
  • Computer Tips Article Collection
  • Less-Paper Office Article Collection
  • Computer & Email
  • Get the Most from Microsoft Outlook

  • Beware the Empty Inbox

  • Get the Most from Your Handheld

  • Do Digital Organizers Save Time - Or Waste It?

  • Efficient E-mail Habits

  • Transitioning from Paper to Digital Information Storage

  • Faxing Without a Fax Machine

  • Getting Your Files When You're On The Go

  • Business & the Office
  • Time Tactics for the Office

  • Keeping Track of Delegated Tasks

  • Controlling Interruptions

  • Keeping Track of Your Customers & Prospects

  • Do Your Employees Really Need Customer Service Training?

  • Paper Management
  • Action Files Prevent Desk Clutter

  • Reclaim Your Desktop with a Tickler File

  • What To Do With All Those Business Cards?

  • Managing Project Folders - A Surprising Tip that Works

  • Time Management & Organizing
  • The Power of Planning Ahead

  • Words of Wisdom You Should Ignore

  • Coping with Information Overload

  • Thirteen No-Tech Time Management Tips

  • Stop Desk Clutter With a Tickler File
    © 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 project work, 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.") I've used 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 the day 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 ritual: 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 tickler file 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 tickler file.

    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 specific dates, 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, you must register in advance), a project you'll begin next month, airline itineraries and tickets, greeting cards to be mailed, dry cleaning tickets, 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 Action Files.

    This article is available for a one-time reprint or internet posting if you include my copyright notice, provide a link to www.janjasper.com and identify me as follows: "Jan Jasper, a productivity expert in the New York City area, is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press)." Read Terms and Conditions for details.
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    About the Author:
    Productivity coach Jan Jasper has been helping busy people work smarter, not harder since 1988. Her customized approach guides clients to manage time, tasks, and information more effectively. She also provides Microsoft Outlook customization for clients. Jan is the author of Take Back Your Time: How to Regain Control of Work, Information, & Technology (St. Martin's Press). She recently completed a North American media tour as the national efficiency spokesperson for IKON Office Solutions, Inc. She has appeared on radio and TV all over North America and is quoted regularly in print. Jan is an adjunct instructor at New York University.

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