Time-sensitivity is a huge hassle when attempting to be effective and efficient. The tasks, projects, and events that are dependent on a certain date or time very easily fall through the cracks. There has to be a way to snooze tasks and be reminded at the right time. There must be a system that will allow you to only think about something on the day it must be done. For this, we have the tickler file.
You may have implemented some sort of tickler file already to snooze tasks. If you ever used an email client to clear an email and remind you of it at a certain date, you’ve tickled it. The key to this feature is that the email disappeared for that period of time. It wasn’t in your inbox cluttering things up and also reminding you on that date, it simply snoozed and was out of sight until the specified time.
Other unbeknownst ticklers I’ve come across are when we put a task on a calendar to be reminded of it on that day. This is certainly not the recommended method and can be extremely improved with the help of a more sophisticated tickling system. I’ve even seen managers use their email client’s send later feature to send themselves an email acting as a tickled reminder for when it finally shows up in their inbox — certainly, a clever and roundabout way to achieve something so easily accomplished with the proper know-how.
Just to clear the air especially since the word tickle is probably becoming semantically satiated, the term literally is referring to tickling your memory. Imagine sleeping, getting tickled in a sensitive area, and waking up alert and understanding some action has to be taken on something — your tickler file does this for you, every day.
The Physical Tickler
A literal tickler file system isn’t very popular among techies but I have come across quite a few tickler file cabinets that prove to be very effective for the people who set them up.
The overall idea of a physical file system is that you’ll have one drawer dedicated to your ticklers. It’ll contain 43 folders each titled 1 – 31, and the remaining each month of the year. Every day of the year is going to have, essentially, its very own folder. Setting up the system might be confusing, keeping up with it is much easier.
The structure will include all day folders in the front of your cabinet followed by the months behind. It takes a bit of imagination but understanding the fluidity of the daily folders, emptying them out, and then the new entity they represent without actually changing is the key to having success with your tickler file.
Keeping up with the physical cabinet is easy so long as you actually keep up with it. It’s imperative that the current date’s file is dumped on your day’s task manager and recycled to the back of the day files. Once a certain date rolls around and you replace it with the next date, that current date represents the next month’s date — if you’re following along, you may realize that this cabinet will contain living and breathing files and folders at all times. Your tickler file cabinet is never compelted and should never be paused.
My personal physical file management system does not include a tickler folder structure at the moment. I do have a cabinet with (unfortunately) physical files and objects I need to organize and I’m going to easily know where they can be found once I’m prompted to do something from my task management system. There’d be no need to include something you need for a task to be in the tickler file if it’s already a managed task and that you’ll know where to find all the appropriate items.
The Digital Tickler
For something that involves a lot of dates, requires reminders, and can carry anything from files, tasks, events, and more, digital is the easiest way to get up and running with your tickler file. Snoozing tasks, being reminded about certain things that are blocked until another thing is taken care of, and merely remembering certain dates are all candidates for a tickle and can all be managed with a digital tickler file.
One of the best things about digital tickling is that it can most likely be achieved with whichever system you’re currently using. If you’re not already using a task management solution, start digging into that rabbit hole and you’ll easily be able to apply these principles to most apps and programs out there.
As we mentioned before, snoozing emails is essentially a loosely-managed tickling system. The downside of relying on something like your email client for tickling is mostly that it’s only email. You may find you want to tickle objects, events, and things that can’t be sent and snoozed through email. For things like that is where you need a much more flexible system that is ready to take in all the arbitrary text, images, and links you can throw at it.
Your Current Tracker
If you’re currently working with a task management or to-do list app, you can be sure to tickle things correctly and properly within that system. Be sure to adhere to your current methodology so when your things start tickling they are tickling in the right place. If you set a one-night-only event to remind you a few days before, but that task only showed up in your inbox and not in the Events context, you may never come across it.
Knowing where things live and how to access them is a fundamental goal when building your system in the first place and it’s even more important when you have things from the future coming in that are expecting to fall into place and into a system you understand how to manage.
Types of Tickling
When you set something to remind you at some point in the future there are a few methods that this can be done.
If getting this tickle in front of you as soon as possible and certainly being reminded of it at a definite time no matter what, you may consider being tickled with a reminder attached. This is where some people may get confused and make calendar events — this isn’t an event, it’s a tickle. This is also where some people may get confused and set plain old reminders — no again, this isn’t a pill you might forget to take.
Getting a reminder for something you’ve tickled is like forcing you to review. It’s saying:
Hi, you made this task a while back and now it’s finally time to take some action on it. I know you couldn’t get to it back then but now there are no more blockers and you can return to getting it done!
Here, I left a link to the project in your task manager so you can pick up right where you left off.
Notice how it relates back to the overall project and is within the context of the previous goals. Picking up where we left off is a big thing to consider when setting things to tickle. The next-big thing would be to be sure there aren’t any blockers and reminders assist with that as well
You already have to be a proactive and trustworthy person to make this work but it’s the method I find most enjoyable.
If you’re adhering to your productivity system correctly, you’re probably practicing a weekly review where you go through your inbox, and projects to be sure nothing is falling through the cracks. When you tickle something silently you can ensure it shows up in the review stage but doesn’t disrupt your flow during the week.
Imagine tickling something so that it merely shows up next time you perform some cleanup. It’s the perfect balance of subtle urgency since it’s something new that has to be taken care of, but also relaxing and comforting — you relied on your system to remind you of this, it did, and now we can take action on it.
Tickler files are not something everyone uses but certainly something everyone needs. The ones that are not utilizing the tickler file system are those that have no system in place to properly manage it in the first place. The great thing about adhering to a tickling system is that you can get up and running with whatever tools you have on your device right now — if you do not have a device, a drawer with some cheap files and folders can get the job done and keep you maximally productive.
The idea of the tickler file has been practiced, refined, and toyed with for years. Although you may never have the perfect textbook rendition of the tickler file, no matter how it is working, if it is working for you then it is effective.