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How to Set Up a (Beautiful!) Tickler File

How to Set Up a (Beautiful!) Tickler File

The age-old tickler filing system may not have the sexiest name, but it is a powerful time management tool to track tasks. Following are nine steps to turn the old fashioned filing system into a customized machine to help you organize your daily tasks.

1. Make space for 50-60 hanging file folders in the easiest-to-access place in your office.

2. Gather 50 high-quality hanging file folders (in your favorite color or colors) & 50 clear tabs. (The daily files consume 43 folders: 12 for the months & 31 for the days. Most people have another half-dozen or so files they add to complete their system.)

3. Customize & print your tickler tabs (we have several to choose from at the bottom of this post), and then slip them between the plastic flaps.

4. Then insert the tabs into the front (Illustration 1) of the hanging file folder. Consider using straight-line techniques or color to separate the months from the days from the extras (Illustration 2).

5. Arrange the hanging file folders in their space in this order or in an order you prefer: Scrap Paper –> Waiting for Response –> 1-31 –> Jan-Dec –> Other

6. Rotate the files so the day you are experiencing is the day at the front (Illustration 3).

7. Convert your current tasks to reminder sheets (one per sheet) & drop into your trusty new system. When you’re stuck, ask, “when is the next time I want to be reminded to this?” (You go through a lot of paper in the beginning, but this subsides the more you use the system.)

8. Commit to using the system every day.

9. Rejoice in the liberation & peace of mind you just created.

Select one of these tickler tab sets by clicking the image you want. Further customize after opening. Test print. And then print a final copy on Avery 5167 Return Address labels. You’ll make all your colleagues jealous!

tickler tabs pink  tickler tabs green purple brown  tickler tabs orange green brown

tickler labels blue gold lime  tickler tabs blue gold red  Tickler tabs blue green purple

What tickler tricks do you think others should know?


  • By John Broadwater 30 Nov 2010

    This is very helpful–and I like the printable tabs. However, in Illustration 3, isn’t the file rotated to NOVEMBER 6 – not October? 
    Thanks! John

  • By Jan Wencel 30 Nov 2010

    Glad this was helpful, John. 
    The way most folks rotate their files, the illustration does represent October 6. You see, the number files at the front are for the current month…and then the number files behind the November tab are for November. So if you had something to complete on November 5, you drop it into the 5 folder. If you had something to complete on November 16, then you’d drop it into the November file…and distribute into the 16 slot when the November tab rotated to the front. Make sense? 
    When you’re rotating on a daily basis, the initial confusion about how things flow disappears. 
    If you’ve got another way to rotate, please share. If you’d like a verbal explanation, please call.

  • By Martha Cook 26 Jul 2011

    Nice article! I bought a wire mesh file holder that is prettier than most of the plastic stuff. If I have to look at it every day I might as well like it! I hope this works. I’m fairly organized underneath but have a lot of in-progress papers and deadlines that I can’t keep up with. I hope this helps!

  • By Jan Wencel 27 Jul 2011

    I like your choice of holders. The mesh are one of my favorites. You’ll probably want to choose pretty folders, too. Black or gray can surprisingly look sharp…especially against the metal. Then when you add the colorful labels, you’ll feel like royalty…and will hopefully be drawn to the activities just a pinch more. : ) 
    Do not hesitate to call with questions or to celebrate your success. 
    Tickler powers activate!

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