Reducing Stress with Tickler Files

I have been annoyed a bit this week with other faculty members who do not reply to email. My best guess is that these faculty members just lose track of the things they need to do (like respond to my email). So as a public service, I have decided to write about the single best thing that has helped me keep track of what I need to do: tickler file.

I learned about the tickler File from David Allen’s Getting Things Done.. A tickler file is essentially a system where you can write notes to your future self. Here are the basics:

  1. A tickler File consists of 43 folders labelled 1–31 and January–August (31+12 months=43).
  2. The folders labelled 1–31 correspond to the next month. So if today is March 25th and I know that I need to call Buffy on March 27th, I simply write “Call Buffy” (ideally with her phone number) on a sheet of scratch paper and put it in the folder labelled “27.”
  3. If I need to call Buffy on June 6th (and today is March 25th), then I write “Call Buffy on June 6th” and put it in the folder labelled “June.”
  4. I check the folder every day; today (March 25th), I checked the “25” folder; tomorrow I will check the “26” folder.
  5. On the first of April, I will check the “April” folder and distribute the notes to the appropriate 1–31 folders. I do a similar thing on the first of every month.

That is basically it. It is not complex, but it prevents me from forgetting about things; more importantly, it reduces my stress, because I know that I will not forget things.

Finally, I use this for things other than simple tasks like “Call Buffy.” I use it to remind myself to start working on a paper, to remember whose birthday it is, and to let me know what I need to do to prepare for class that day. It allows me to put off non-urgent decisions without worrying that I will forget about them.

My wife has started using my tickler file. She asks me to remind her of things that she needs to do if they are more than a month away.

This is a low-cost, high-reward system. You should start using a tickler file if you haven’t already.

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2 Responses to “Reducing Stress with Tickler Files”

  1. mrdardy Says:

    We have outlook as our mail system at work and it has built-in office reminders. I can simply put an event on the calendar and ask it to remind me at a certain time interval before the event. For example, there is an obligation I have this afternoon and an office reminder popped up as soon as I logged in this morning.

    • bretbenesh Says:

      That certainly works. I personally prefer the analog tickler file, though. The biggest reason is that I don’t want my calendar to get too cluttered; I want to use my calendar to indicate where I need to be, rather than what I need to do (unless I specifically want to set aside time to work on something). So I don’t want to have to schedule “grade papers” in the calendar.

      A second reason why I like the folder system is that it automatically takes care of hard copy for me. That is, I might get a physical paper that I need to read for a committee. If I know that I don’t need to worry about it until later, I can simply put the whole paper into the appropriate folder. I prefer this to entering something into the computer and filing the paper away so I can find it later.

      But this is all person preference; if you have a system that works, use it!

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