How I use the Tickler File to Remind me of All the Little & Big things in my Life.

I have found the Tickler file to be an immense stress buster. It’s a brilliant tool when it comes to forgetting about something I need to do someday later and then remembering about it just the day I need to. There are two types of tickler file I maintain. One is a digital one and the other is a paper based one.

My Paper Based Tickler file:

Here’s a picture of the open drawer of my physical Paper based Tickler file. You may click it to see the full-size image.

I’ve set it up using standard Mercury Filing Cabinets, available at Pan Furniture store, with Surya Filing Folders.

To get those nice neat labels I’ve used Brother QL Label Printer or you can also use the DYMO LabelWriter 400, both of which should be available at the well-stocked stationery store. I’ve seen the labelers at the shelves of Staples, here in Bangalore.

I’m probably not making full use of it as I probably can and as David Allen does. What I currently have in my Tickler file is:

Affirmations and other Positive messages: I currently have printed out Affirmations from Susan Jeffers e-book “Why Affirmatins are so powerful“, placed it randomly in my Tickler File.

Reminders for Events: Misc invitations and seminars brochures which I need to be reminded of just a few days before to decide if I can make it or not.

Notes that I’ve decided to Process later: Some notes which I have taken during meetings, conferences which I did not have the mental-stamina to process right away I have put it to be processed some other day. When the later day comes up, I pickup the notes from my tickler file, and process them by asking:
– Is there any Project in this that I need to undertake?
– What is the Next Action on this?
– Or is this purely reference that I need to file away.

Digital Tickler File:
My Digital Tickler File is simply a Category in my Outlook that is named ‘@ATickler’. Here’s a screenshot below.

As you can see I currently have 112 items in my Tickler file. All these are things I need to do on a specific day only. I wouldn’t want to do the items before the day specified, that would be too soon and after the day specified, the item would just expire.

Therefore on that day, these tasks appear in Yellow in the Tasks pane of the Calendar view of my Outlook screen as can be seen below. I either complete the task that day while right-clicking the task and checking it complete. Or make a conscious decision to take up the task some other day and then right click once again and select the day to which it should remind me again.

Some examples from my 112 Tickler items are:
Reminder to expect Reports: I have a weekly/monthly reminder to expect the cashflow reports from my Accounts department.
So if I don’t receive it, I can followup on them.

Reminder for Backups: I have a monthly reminder to backup the hard-disk of my MacBook.

Reminder on the expiration of any subscription: I’m currently trying out the Aweber emailing service, I’ve put a reminder after a month to unsusbcribe if I’m not pleased with the service or not using it to it’s full potential.

Reminder to clean up my ipod ‘ToListen’ playlist & to Sync it: Review all unheard podcasts and tag the good ones as “ToListen”.
I’m subscribed to a number of spiritual, business, personality development podcasts. Currently I’m easily subscribed to some 40 odd podcasts. (side note: Five of which I listen to regularly I’ve blogged about here.) To get maximum value so that I hear the ones just what is most relevant to my needs, I have created a Tickler task that reminds me on a particular day every week to browse through these podcasts and tag the (using TuneTag for Macintosh only, sorry.
) podcasts I fancy as ‘ToListen’ and sync my ipod to it. Therefore next time I’m in my car I don’t need to go through the 50 podcasts I’m subscribed to see which of them should I listen to. I just open up my ‘ToListen’ playlist, select any one podcast/speech/Audiobook from the 10 I had pre-selected and hit play.

Misc FAQs on Tickler File:
Why is it called a Tickler File?

David Allen of GTD fame calls it that as it helps him get stuff out of his face when he doesn’t need to see it and then when the time is right it tickles him and the stuff come back into his face as he needs to see it then.

Isn’t the Tickler file just a glorified reminder system?
Yes, and a highly efficient and effective one too. The beauty of using this system is one you actually use the Tickler file to it’s limits. Use it to remind you 100% of the stuff you need to be reminded about. When you eventually have it set it up like that, you’ll finally taste what it feels like to have nothing on your mind.

Why have two Tickler Filing systems (ie a digital and a physical-paper-based one)? Isn’t it creating more work for oneself?
It’s highly efficient. When my hands are on my keyboard and if there’s something that I remember that I need to do on a particular day, I use the following quick steps to place my Tickler item:
1. Cmd + Tab to go to my Outlook screen (Alt+Tab for Windows users)
2. Crtl + Shift + K to create a new task
3. I type in my reminder in the new task that’s created.
4. Hit alt+d and type in the date for the reminder (tip: Outlook recognises text like tomorrow, next day, next week, even First Sunday of December, which it then converts to the relevant day).
5. Press alt+s to save and close the task.
6. Finally press Cmd+Tab to get back to what I’m currently doing (again Alt+Tab for Windows users.

That may look like it takes a lot of time, but after a couple of attempts, actually takes less than a minute to do.

Similarly, when my hands are not on my keyboard and I’m clearing away papers from my intray, all I need to do is swivel to my tickler file and get it out of my face by dropping it in to the relevant day folder it belongs to.

Why I use Outlook Tasks in a paritcular category, rather than putting it my Outlook Calendar?
– I can review or just scan all my items in my Tickler file if I ever want to.
– Very often a Tickler item gets converted to an @Agenda, or @Errands or @Waiting For and it’s quicker to changed it from a @ATickler into the other category if it’s a task already.
– The default filter function in the blackberry is very powerful. It’s really easy to zone into a particular Tickler item I need to from my blackberry as well if it’s Task item rather than if it’s a Calendar item.

If you would like some clarification to set up this system for efficient working for yourself, post your question in the comments below. I’ll be pleased to answer them.


  1. sa
    u will never have the joy of finding something /remembering something which u had thought as irretrivably lost :)

    Forgetting is a blessing too …
    May HE help us to decide /remember those things which we shd do & forget those things that are less important we need not do …with or w/o a tickler

  2. Salaams Abbas Bhai!

    Forgetting is a blessing indeed and Mashallah that’s a lovely dua. Ameen!


  3. Hi,

    I am trying to get on the GTD band wagon. Read the book twice and am ready to implement. Unfortunately, I can’t find the right kind of folders anywhere to build a tickler file and an alphabetic reference system. What are you recommendations to build the reference and tickler system in Bangalore?

    Thanks in advance.


  4. Hello Shoan,

    I can feel your pain. I have searched high and low for the optimum Filing Drawer and Folders to design my GTD filing system. After many trial runs with many different products, I have found using standard Mercury Filing Cabinets, available at Pan Furniture store, with Surya Filing Folders, work best.

    Mercury Filing cabinets are available at the Pan Furniture Store on Langford Road. Pictures of their filing cabinets and complete address is available at their website here:

    Surya File Folders are generally available at most stationary outlets. I have personally seen them at Gangarams and William Penn (in Koramangala). Here’s a picture of one of my Surya File Folders:

  5. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s possible to stay away from any sort of regular filing cabinet it you have a deluge of papers. Ofcourse if you manage papers just enough to fit a few box files then probably you can devise another system.

    There’s a small plastic piece that comes with the folder, I print the label using a Brother Labeler and stick it on that plastic piece. Explained in this image here:

  6. This is cool. I’m developing a tickler system for a small company using Outlook 2010 with Business Contact Manager, and I like a lot of your ideas. Are you still using this? Has it changed much over time?

    (FYI: This page is the #1 response when you Google “tickler system outlook”.)

  7. Hey Joey, :-)
    Thanks, I had used the Tickler system in Outlook for years. However, now I have moved to Upvise. Why I moved to Upvise and what is that all about are detailed in this blog post here.

    However, other than the software, my workflow is pretty much the same.

    So glad to hear you find the above post useful. Comments like yours just warms up a bloggers heart.

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