General Home Office Ideas Productivity

My GTD Tickler File: 17 Folders Instead of 43

Regular readers of this blog know very well about how I read David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity back at the end of 2002 and how it radically changed my life and how I work.

One of the tools David recommends for in the GTD system is a set of 43 manila folders—thirty-one of them labeled with the numbers 1 through 31 and twelve of them labeled with the names of the months. It’s a system that allows one to easily file a piece of paper so it will be seen at a later date. Each morning, the worker opens the folder for that particular day (and also opens the month folder on the first day of the month), empties the contents into the desktop inbox, and puts the folder in the back. Whenever you have a piece of paper or a note you want to see later, you just file it in the correct numbered folder (if you want to see it in the next month) or in one of the month-named folders if you want to see it up to a year later. I set up a tickler file like this and I’ve been using it for many years.

For the past several years I haven’t been checking my tickler file every day; I’ve only checked my tickler file about once a week, usually on Monday, when I would check the 7 folders for the upcoming week. Part of this is probably due to the fact that I travel so much, but I’m almost always at home on Monday morning (or at least Sunday evening) and another part is probably due to the fact that I don’t use much paper and therefore don’t have a lot of paper reminders I need to see.

A month or so ago I made a change to my tickler file system. I put away the folders numbered 1 through 31 and created five more folders labeled Week1 through Week 5 (see photo below). This has been working very well for me. It still works exactly the same, except I only need to check it once a week instead of once a day. When I do my weekly review and plan, I know what paper needs to be handled for the entire coming week because I’ve seen it already. When I file a piece of paper, I just put in the week or month folder in which I want to see it.

It’s still not practical for me to go totally electronic for some of these things, but for those pieces of paper I do want to see later, this works very well. I expect that before long I’ll be moving this tickler into Evernote where I’ll just use it for scanned (or photographed) paper things I want to see at a later time. Even in Evernote I don’t think I’ll return to 43 folders (or labels) for a tickler because 17 accomplishes the same thing, coordinates with the weekly review and plan better, is easier to maintain, and is less overwhelming to check and use.

Are you still using a 43-folder tickler file (either paper or electronic)? Do you think a 17-folder tickler might work better for you? Are you going to try it? Are you already doing this or doing something similar?

Update [May 13, 2012]: There was some discussion on Twitter about how weeks that span months are handled. Although I use the words “Week 1”, “Week 2”, etc…, a more correct terminology might be “1st Monday”, “2nd Monday”, “3rd Monday”, “4th Monday”, and “5th Monday”. So, if a week does span multiple months, it doesn’t really matter. However, for some people I could see where there could be some confusion with this method, especially in a month like the current month (May, 2012) where the first day of the month is on Tuesday and the last day is on Thursday. The first and last weeks are each only lacking one day being a regular full work week. I emptied my Week 1 folder on Monday, May 7th, and I’ll enpty my Week 4 folder on Monday, May 28th. Since there aren’t five Mondays in the month, I’ll empty the Week 5 folder on Monday, May 28th as well, just in case I put something in there by mistake. Also, since June starts in the middle of that week, I’ll also empty the June folder on Monday, May 28th. I’ll always empty the month folder before the first day of the month unless the first day of the month is a Monday (at which time I’ll empty the Week 1 folder and the month folder at the same time). I hope this helps clarify some things.

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