How I created a trusted follow up system for my deferred tasks

This is how I make sure to never forget a task. With this bullet proof follow-up system I reliably postpone stuff and focus on what is important now.

To organize work effectively, it is of paramount importance to have a working system to defer unurgent and planned tasks to a later date: A trusted follow up system. By using a tickler as my follow up system I created a way to reliably postpone stuff and focus on what is important now.

Postponing tasks is the right thing to do if more important or more urgent issues are on your list. You will also need a follow up system for tasks you delegated. Other situations where you need a good follow up and reminder system are direct sales or outreach. Here you frequently get responses like “Call me again in two months.”

There are many ways to organize this. To do lists, calender notes, sticky notes and reminders are are just a few. In my experience, an underdog of the productivity toolbox is supremely suited for this need: The tickler file.

A tickler file fulfills four important aspects of an effective follow up system:

  1. It is trustworthy
  2. It is simple and easy to use
  3. It is always be available
  4. It hides deferred tasks from you

Thus, it allows you to let go of the tasks mentally as soon as they are in the system. Thus, it helps you to focus on the here and now while keeping future tasks safe and secure. It reliably reproduces them at the right moment.

You must be able to trust the system

The first and foremost requirement for your reminder and follow up system is that you can trust the system 100 %. It should automatically put the deferred tasks in front of you at the right time. You can achieve this through automated reminders or a strong integration into your routines or – ideally – both.

A tickler file is by definition strongly integrated into your routines. As you review daily folders every day, you can not miss a deferred task as long as you use the system. After a few days of habit building it will be difficult for you to skip a day. In case you miss a day, you will get the missed items automatically into your current day’s folder in your electronic tickler file.

In addition, the digital system will remind you to check your folder the way you need it. A morning and an evening reminder are the preferred setting of most people. They make sure to get started with everything at hand and to finish the day with a clean folder.

Follow ups should be simple and easy to manage

A tickler file is easy to use. Even though some find 43 folders intimidating on first sight, it is actually just two types: daily and monthly. You can easily toss any item into whatever list you want. Reviewing the daily list in the morning is simple and quick. It gives you an imediate overview of what’s on your agenda for the day. The folder structure also helps to protect you from over-planning as it discourages you to plan exact dates for tasks further out than a month.

Your follow up system should always be available

Your reminder system should be with you at all times. Not to bother you with frequent reminders, but to allow imidiate input for upcoming topics. If a new task comes to you, you should always decide if you delete, delegate, do or defer it (see two-minute rule). If you decide to defer it, it should go straight into your reminder system.

It should not be seen again until the date you want to take care of it. If you delegate it, you might also want to set a note in a future date. You will want to follow up with your delegee – depending on the accountibily of your co-workers. A tickler file app runs on your smartphone. There are few items that are as reliably with us at all times.

Your follow up system should hide deferred tasks from you

Last but not least, this is the most important feature of a grest deferral and follow up system. And one a tickler file excells in. As soon as you move a task to your reminder and follow up system it you should not bother you anymore. Especially if you have many deferred tasks, it can be daunting to see them in your to-do or next action lists all the time.

The beauty of using a tickler file system for your reminders is, that it allows you to focus completely on today. All deferred tasks and needed follow ups are hidden in future folders. This allows you to keep your focus and concentrate on what is really relevant now. It also prevents your to-do list from growing into a productivity killing list of shame.