Clear the Paper Clutter with a Tickler File

I love a good digital system (especially when it comes to record-keeping) but sometimes you just can’t escape the paper. My inbox this week was a good example of that. After digitizing the handwritten notes, recycling the brochures I didn’t need, and scanning the tax-related receipts, I still had several documents that weren’t good candidates for digitization:

  • A completed application to bring to a meeting on Tuesday
  • A printed certificate I am required to show before taking a CPR/First Aid skills test
  • A coupon for running shoes I will be buying later in the week

So what’s an empty-inbox-loving-girl to do when she’s got paper that just has to stay in paper form? She uses a tickler file, of course!

A tickler file is a rotating file system that allows me to file physical documents up to a year in advance and have them “delivered” back right when I need them, without having to go searching for them. No house elf required.

My Tickler File

tickler file and foldersMy tickler file consists of a file box and 43 folders. Twelve of the folders are labeled with the months of the year and the other folders are labeled with the numbers 1 through 31 for the days.

Note: When I first put together my tickler file system 5ish years ago, I had a smaller box so I could only fit the thinner, manila folders. I have since upgraded to a sturdier and slightly larger box and I now put the month folders inside a hanging folder to make things easier to organize. However, the non-hanging, manila folders tend to slouch down inside the box, which I find annoying. I have considered upgrading to all hanging folders with tab labels because they are just easier to access and identify.

If I was starting from scratch, this is what I would get a box like this one and two 25-packs of hanging folders (aff. links) and call it a day.

Working from the Tickler File System

On January 1, a tickler file would be set up with the January folder, followed by the 1-31 folders, and then the February-December folders. As each day passes, folders get moved, so the current day’s folder is always in the front. Months get moved to the very back of the box and day folders get moved behind the upcoming month.

Since it’s the middle of July, today my tickler files looks like this: tickler file

When I start my work day, I pull out the front day folder, which has today’s date (“17”), empty its contents into my inbox, and move the numbered folder to its new place behind the “August” and “1”-“16” folders. When I reach the end of the July, I will also grab the August folder and distribute its contents through the daily folders for that month.

For a “proper” tickler file, “July” would be at the back so I could file something away for July of next year, but this is where the slouching folders causes me trouble…I have to keep the month folder in front so the folders don’t slide down. (Gotta order those hanging folders!)

Filing with the Tickler File System

A tickler file is not intended for reference materials that you have to keep for many years (like insurance policies or tax-related receipts—these things require a more permanent solution), instead it’s for items that have a specific purpose and will need to be accessed at a certain time in the future.

I’m talking about things like:

  • Concert and event tickets
  • Sheet music or worksheets to give to students at upcoming lessons
  • Post office tracking receipts that can thrown out after the item has reached its destination
  • Birthday cards to be mailed (Tip: File cards on the day you need to mail them!)
  • Checks that have been electronically deposited but need to be kept until they are verified

In other words… it’s for the kinds of things that often end up pinned to bulletin boards, stuck to the refrigerator, or taped to a computer monitor with the very best of intentions but still somehow manage to disappear when you actually need them…

Someday I hope my office will be completely paper-free, but until then the tickler file keeps those random papers out of sight and out of mind until just the right time. If you are motivated to set up your own tickler file system, I’d love to see a picture on the Music Studio Startup Facebook page!

What other systems do you use to keep your physical space clutter-free?

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