My physical Tickler file

One elegant way to manage nonactionable items that may need an action in the future is the tickler file.David Allen

As explained in Getting Things Done (the book), this three-dimensional version of a calendar […] allows you to hold physical reminders of things that you want to see or remember. The key here, as highlighted by the author himself, is the physical nature of these kinds of stuff. Indeed, as described in GTD using OneNote my way, I already have a Tickler section in OneNote and a digital Tickler file. They are very convenient and fulfill their purpose as reminders; still, there are things that they cannot handle – physical things for that matter.

For instance, I didn’t know where to put my physician’s prescriptions (for an appointment with a specialist). I have tried to clip them in my A5 physical planner, but they ended up with bent edges (or worse) – and I was lucky not to lose any! I have tried to put them in an in-tray on my desk, but given the language barrier (see The Link post format), I could not figure out which one was what in this pile of documents. So, once again, I turn to David Allen’s book…

Setting Up a Tickler File
If you are doing this in a physical system, you need forty-three folders—thirty-one labeled “1” through “31,” and twelve more labeled with the names of the months of the year.

The big advantage of using file folders for your tickler system is that they allow you to store actual documents (the form that needs to be filled out on a certain day, the meeting agenda that needs to be reviewed then, the invoice that you’re holding payment on until that day, etc.).David Allen

And yet, something was bothering me with this system, or at least the image I had of it – look for “Tickler file” in Google Image. They all use 12 hanging file folders for the months, in which they put the daily folders; the whole system being placed in either a cabinet or a big box. I do not have that luxury – space! I also wanted to have 1/12-cut tabs hanging file folders – or similar – for the months and 1/31-cut tabs file folders for the days.

Unfortunately, there is no such thing as basic 1/3-cut tab manila file folders where I live. Granted, I could have ordered them online (from any other country); still, I wanted them now 1. So, I agreed to work with what was available here: 240 g/m² file folders without tabs. So, not only they are more bulky than the classic folders (around 163 g/m²), but I also had to draw and cut the tabs by myself. However, I found something better than the 12 hanging file folders (for the month): a 13-pocket accordion file holder organizer!

“Why is this better?”
“Because it takes less space than a file cabinet and it is transportable!”

Now, I do not know if there are 1/31-cut tab manila file folders out there (I only know about 31-tab dividers), but my system while not as neat as it could be (and heavier than it could be), is perfectly functional! I have all the documents I need at hand on a certain day in my new portable tickler file!

The tickler file demands only a one-second-per-day new behavior to make it work, and it has a payoff value exponentially greater than the personal investment.David Allen

And if you wonder, what I put on the 13th pocket, I use it to store the non-used daily folder. Like this, a quick look is enough for me to know if I have something for the following day 2, without the need to dig into the daily folder, discover it’s empty, and move it to the next month.

My system takes less than one second per day!

I love this so much that I implemented it to my digital tickler file as well. I created a 13th folder called Days, in which I put all the 31 “Day” folders. Because I use an icon for these folders (months and days) that shows whether the folder is full or empty, I know immediately that I don’t have to bother opening them. Nor to move them daily!


In keeping with the improvement of my GTD system (see My OneNote GTD setup 2.0), I have also updated my Tickler section in OneNote. First, instead of having two 6-column tables (above each other; 6 months up and 6 months down), I created a single-column table (the size I wanted) that I duplicated to obtain six identical tables. I put them side by side (attached) to replace my first 6-column table and duplicate the whole thing to obtain my other 6 months (below).

“Why? What is the improvement? I don’t get it.”

One thing that was bothering me with my original setup, that is with my 6-column tables, was the (bad) habit of OneNote adjusting the size of the column while you type. The disgraceful result is a table with no uniform column width – with some way too big and some way too small. With the above approach, the 2X6 tables look exactly like my two 6-column tables, and more importantly, will keep the dimensions (width) I have set them with.

Some things you can’t do with tables
Column widths cannot be made the same width automatically.
Rows are automatically adjusted according to the size of text within them.
You cannot set column widths using number values.

Another modification I have implemented was to declutter these tables by removing all the birthdays or other fixed-date recurring events. Now, I have a clear view of what really matters – I don’t mean that birthdays or anniversaries do not; they do matter!

“But what if you forgot to celebrate someone’s birthday, or even worse, your wedding anniversary?”
“No worry! I have moved all this info from my OneNote tickler tables to …”

Yes, to my Skiff calendar! It is actually way more suitable here (as opposed to my OneNote tables) because I can set up reminders. I can even have specific colors for each category, making the info readily accessible on a glimpse (at my calendar). And, as you already know, the Skiff calendar, which is on my phone (hence, always with me), is private and secure!


1 I managed to block a one-hour period during the holidays to tackle this mini-project (built a physical tickler file) and took advantage of one visit to the local mall (during the same period) to shop for the necessary material (well aware – thanks to my online search on the type of folders available in this country – that my choice will be very limited). ^
2 I check it in the evening indeed – for the following day; thus preparing everything in advance (to save time the following morning). ^

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