Comparison: Tickler File vs. Calendar. What to use when?

A tickler file and a calendar are both efficient productivity tools. Used for different purposes, the key to is knowing how and when to use which. Learn more.
a calendar on a desk

Tickler File vs. Calendar?

Tickler file systems and calendars are both useful tools in the personal productivity improvement space. People often ask, when should we use a Tickler File vs. a Calendar? One of the most important decisions that you need to make before catering to that long list of pending tasks and appointments is ‘how to get organized’. Having your tasks for the day sorted and organised is half the battle won. It is tempting to use your calendar to organize not only your appointments but all your tasks. But other tools are more suited in certain situations. Let’s take a look at another tool from the productivity domain: a tickler file is an effective reminder system that acts as an assistant to your daily scheduling and calendaring system.

Most of us are aware that knowing what to do and where to be at a given point of time is the key to effective time management. On the other hand, we are equally aware of our limitations in tracking all our obligations throughout the day. Thus, good calendar management is closely related to effective task list management. It puts in place the bigger picture in a planned fashion. The ability to see a day, week, month or year at a glance lets you opt for both short- and long-term planning with ease. A tickler file, on the other hand, provides you with reminders you need for a future date. 

When to Use a Tickler File?

The concept of using a tickler file is quite simple. Anything that you need to be reminded of on a future date is placed in it. This filing system is best when used for time-sensitive tasks that require action. Specifically designed to store important reminders and documents, common items placed in a Tickler File System include events, due date, birthdays, to-do lists and expiration dates. All you need to do is tap into the corresponding slot on a given day and see what you need to prepare for.

The 43-folders system makes this easy and achievable, enabling you to set reminders up to a year in advance. It contains numbered folders for days of the month and subsequently for the months of the year. A tickler file can be used most effectively when one gets into the habit of putting pending bills, hotel confirmations and e-tickets into respective folders for specific days you need them on. The key to effective usage of a tickler file is to habituate yourself to its usage. Additionally, a tickler file prevents vital files from being neglected as it reminds you to open and view the files on a regular basis. 

When to Use a Calendar?

When the management of your productivity, time and effectiveness is a priority, a calendar is one of the most crucial tools to use. Apart from lining up your appointments smoothly, it helps you stay at the top of your productivity game. The key to making the most out of calendar management is knowing how to use it without making a mess. A Google or an Outlook calendar is highly effective when used for time- and date-specific appointments that need exact scheduling.

On the other hand, a calendar is not meant to be burdened with long task lists and to-dos. It should be reserved for tasks to be performed at a certain time. One of the most important functionalities of a calendar is its usage as a scheduling tool which lets you arrange appointments by sending an invite to the concerned person for the specific date. Additionally, it allows you to give individuals from different time zones accessibility to your calendar, thereby helping them choose a relevant time and date for a meeting. 

What to take care of?

Tickler file

With a plethora of advantages to offer, a tickler file has become an effective reminder system for professionals who need to keep track of their long list of tasks. The most value is created when there are a sufficient number of tasks to be reminded of. If not, multiple folders might be left unused. As with all productivity tools, you need to keep checking it daily and make it a habit, ensuring that you do not miss out on anything. Electronic tickler files can support you through automated reminders. 


As discussed earlier, the key is to use your calendar properly. However, some tend to use it as the ultimate tool for productivity. Others may treat it as a dumpster for everything and anything that needs to be done. This is exactly where the problem lies. Your calendar is not meant to retain every single piece of data required to get things done. They are meant to retain data that are time-specific, where non-completion of the requisite tasks involving the data will render them useless.

Another wrong approach is using a calendar as a to-do-list, which many people tend to do. It is important to understand that a calendar is a vital part of your personal organisation, but not a complete organizational tool. While it can be used to block a certain time span in your schedule, it is not a mode to store all your tasks.


CalendarTickler file
Contains data that is date- and time-specific such as appointments and meetingsContains anything that you need to be reminded of on a future date
The calendar allows you to see events that are upcomingA tickler file reduces complexity by deliberately hiding future tasks that are not relevant now
Focuses on managing your timeFocuses on managing your tasks
GranularityThe granularity level of a calendar’s storage is hours and minutesThe granularity level of a tickler file is days and months
Purpose Highly effective for scheduling appointments and mentioning tasks that need to be performed on a certain dateHighly effective as a reminder system for tasks and associated documents

So what?

So, what’s the answer? Tickler File vs. Calendar? The answer is both. A tickler file and a calendar are both efficient ways of time and task management. Used for different purposes, these help you stay at the top of your game at work and aids the delivery of quality output.

However, the key to getting the best out of both is knowing how and when to use which of them. Use your calender for appointments and meetings. Use your tickler file for time sensitive tasks and reminders.