Monday GTD moment: The tickler file circa 1888

This is the first of what will hopefully turn into a weekly feature here at Casting Out Nines — a Monday morning post on workflow/task management in general and GTD in particular. Hopefully a GTD post will get everyone out there motivated to manage our time and work better through the week.

The tickler file is one of the more memorable characters in David Allen’s Getting Things Done. It consists of 43 different folders — twleve of them labeled by month and the rest labelled 1-31 for the day — which you use as a system for physical items from your inbox that you choose to defer to a later date. The tickler file is set up with the current day up front and then subsequent days behind; the months are at the back, next month first. If you have an item from the physical inbox you are deferring to a later date, just chuck it in the appropriate folder, and — this is what makes it work — every morning, check the current day’s folder for stuff, then move that folder to the back of the folders listed by day. (And yes, this is where the name for Merlin Mann’s productivity blog came from.)

I didn’t “get” the tickler file at first when I started using GTD — perhaps it sounded too much like something a naughty Office Depot employee would have stashed in his underwear drawer. But lately I’ve been making myself include the tickler file as part of my morning getting-into-the-office routine, and it is paying dividends. College faculty still live in a world that is centered on physical artifacts — student papers, official memos, items sent for review by publishers and routed around by departments, even non-paper items like CD’s still probably outnumber electronic “stuff”. So have a tickler file as part of my trusted system allows me to safely chuck away physical, non-trash stuff that I’m deferring until later.

But, did you know that the tickler file is not original to GTD? Witness this graphic:

That’s an image from US Patent 377335 for, yes, a tickler file. So this was a good idea even back then — a time we normally think of as less stressful and overloaded with work, but I suppose there must have been “stuff” to deal with even that long ago.

Have a productive day!

[ht Unclutterer]


Filed under GTD, Profhacks, Weekly features

5 responses to “Monday GTD moment: The tickler file circa 1888

  1. Jami

    I didnt realize this “system” has a name… I started using this just out of common sense 5 years ago and now I couldnt live without it!! It really dictates my every day and keeps me from loosing important stuff.

  2. I think a tickler is a great idea and I used one years ago. But an electronic system is so much easier. I just click on my GTD’s calendar button and I see all of the tasks tucked electronically into today’s date automatically. I use a system that allows me to view my entire GTD at work on my Win machine, at home on my Macs and even on my cell phone. And another app lets me call in tasks to my GTD without any writing or typing, great for those thoughts that hit me while driving. I’ve written about my experiences with GTD in a blog post at John

  3. An electronic system might be easier, but it can’t handle non-electronic items. Like I said in the article, most of us still live in a world full of physical artifacts and the tickler file is to physical stuff what the calendar is to electronic stuff.

  4. Pingback: Monday GTD moment: Handling grading in GTD « Casting Out Nines

  5. Hmmmm. not too sure about this. Might have to sit back and see how this pans out.