An Assistant's Secret Weapon: The Tickler File

I am a woman of routine (relatively). I may not wake up at 6:02am every morning but when I wake up I do pretty much the same thing every day. Sure, one day I may go for a run and another day curl my hair, but by the time I have walked out the door at 8:45 ish I have my checklist completed:

  • dressed
  • hair done
  • deodorant, makeup, jewelry and perfume on

And even my oldest daughter runs through the checklist to make sure I have everything in hand:

  • phone
  • keys
  • sunglasses
  • wallet
  • computer
  • coffee

Though the little details of my morning may change from day to day (did I eat peanut butter on toast or on an english muffin?), when I get to work it's a different story.

There is just one thing that MUST get done EVERY DAY (even if "my first five minutes of my day" never happen). Without this, I may make it through the day, but without direction, without organization and probably I will not get done what I NEED to get done. This one thing that I do is check my tickler file. I live and breathe (that is a weirdly dramatic statement to "live and breathe" but this is one time I would say) by my tickler file. This and my Google Tasks* remind me what must be done for the day to be accomplishing.

My coworkers think the phrase "tickler file" is hilarious, but my mom had one in our home and it was something I have known all my life as the secret to organization. I actually have two- one at home and one at work. I don't check my home one as often, but the one at the office is checked daily.

What is a "Tickler File"?

Wikipedia uses this definition- "a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action. Documents within the folders of a tickler file can be to-do lists, pending bills, unpaid invoices, travel tickets, hotel reservations, meeting information, birthday reminders, coupons, claim tickets, call-back notes, follow-up reminders, maintenance reminders, or any other papers that require future action. Each day, the folder having the current date is retrieved from the tickler file so that any documents within it may be acted on. Essentially, a tickler file provides a way to send a reminder to oneself in the future—"tickling" one's memory."

You can see mine above and can order one here. The important thing for me is to have one that has both the days (1-31) and months tabbed.

What's in it?

As I mentioned I have one at the office (used more frequently) and at home. I keep EVERY paper reminder in this file. I also sometimes will keep folders or files in it as well.

In my office: I keep printed emails that have meeting information on them in the date that the meeting happens. I keep follow up call memos that I need to remember to call people. Expenditures are due every Wednesday in our offices so if there is something I need to submit the next week I will file it on Tuesday.

As I type this, I feel like I am making it sound more complicated than it is. Basically, all those papers that clutter your desk and you need to remember to do something with them but just not today, maybe a week from now or in December... I file these things in my tickler file. It keeps my desk clean, helps me to go to ONE PLACE to find things, and allows me to focus only on what I need to do today, and not worry about tomorrow (see Matthew 6:34)

At Home: I still am working on this, but I keep birthday cards (I try to do all cards at the beginning of the month) that need to be sent out but not too early, in the date a week before the birthday. There are recipes that I want to try on a certain day. I also have three folders in my tickler file at home called "To Buy", "To Make", "To Do". These are items I saw in a magazine that I want to get (maybe as a christmas gift) or do with the family (on a weekend). I keep them stashed in the tickler for a rainy day.

How do I use it?

Literally EVERY MORNING (I would encourage you to implement routines/habits in your day to keep you organized), when I get up, I check my home tickler to see if there is some bill I need to pay or card to send. When I get to the office, it is something I do within the first five minutes. I pull out all the papers that are in THAT DAY ONLY! This is so helpful because I am not worrying about things that don't have to get done until next week, I am only doing the things that I need to do today. That pile sits on my desk (hopefully dwindling as it gets completed) throughout the day. New papers that come in throughout the day that need to be filed will sit on top of the tickler in my drawer until the end of the day. In the last five minutes of my day any items that remain (because they weren't able to get done, or need follow up) and any new papers will get filed into the appropriate date in my tickler file. Nothing left on my desk, nothing to stress over.


This may be crazy but I have notes about things for 2016 in there or future events that haven't happened- like a gift that my friend asked for when she has her baby (she isn't pregnant yet) and a card I want to give my daughter when she graduates high school (she is 2).

I tell people "when I die, just check my tickler file."


Now I recognize I may be a little obsessive about this office supply, but it has been a lifesaver to my workload AND my psyche. I cannot speak enough about how it has helped me FOCUS and stay ORGANIZED. I would HIGHLY recommend it as a tool for your workplace and your home life!

What about You/Your Help: is there any one office supply that you could not live without? What is it and why?

How do you remember important dates, details, things to do?