How I use my tickler file

Here are the concrete steps how I use my tickler file on a working day. Implementing a tickler file was a liberating blow for me. It allowed me to stay on top of an immense inflow of tasks and opportunities. It organizes everything into a simple yet powerful structure. If you are unsure, what a tickler file is, make sure to check this article first.

This process is very powerful for several reasons. It is a simple structure that provides reliability. It ensures nothing is forgotten. It reduces multi-tasking and stress levels. And allows it allows to integrate productivity boosters like the pomodoro technique.

I’m a human and on some days, I divert from this schedule. And of course, I must incorporate meetings etc. into my day. But I assure you, I get so much more done when I get close to this way of doing things.

For me, the day starts always with the last thing I do at the evening before. The reason is that I need to have a clear picture of how the day starts before I dive into the day. This way I can make sure that my day starts out the way I want. I am not only driven by external forces and emergencies.

So here is the process:

This way, my tickler integrates smoothly into my workflow. It provides overview and structure without creating excess overview like many other task management and project management approaches.

1. Chose No. 1 task for tomorrow.

After finishing the last item in my tickler file, I check the list for tomorrow. I select one task to be done first thing in the morning. Then I do whatever I like to spend the evening and later have a good night’s sleep.

2. In the morning: Do my morning routine.

Some people put great effort into their morning routines. For me it’s simple: Get up, get coffee, write for 30 minutes. Writing regularly is a habit I am currently building. So in the future this may change. But I guess I will keep the 30 minutes dedicated to something that matters to me in the future.

3. Do the No. 1 thing selected in the evening

Afterwards, I do the No. 1 task selected the day before. I dive right into it. Morning times are well suited for focused work without distractions. Also, putting the No. 1 task first, helps me to push an important project forward.

4. Check and clean my inboxes

After these first achievements, it is time to check my inboxes. I do this systematically and strictly follow the inbox zero principle. I strongly suggest you follow it too. Delete the irrelevant, do very small items right away, delegate where possible and defer the rest by putting the new items in your tickler file to follow up later.

5. Sort my priorities for today

Now I have a look at my today’s folders. Only this one folder! I sort the tasks into the order I want to work on them. Usually, it is enough to do that intuitively. If not, I do a quick prioritization.

6. Evaluate the workload

Now I make a check if my list is doable. There is absolutely no sense in setting up a to do list that is full of unrealistic targets. If it is unrealistic, I need to shorten it. I decide, what to postpone by moving it to a future folder. In some case I even delete some of the items to follow the 80/20 rule better.

7. Working down the list.

I am now set up. I have already had my first achievement for the day and got consistency for an important habit. Both will help me in the long term. And I know exactly what I want to get done today. So, it is time to get things done. I start working the list from top to bottom one by one.

8. Have a short Break every ninety minutes

About every ninety I have a short break of five to ten minutes. I get up to get something to drink and move my body a little. And I let some fresh air in. An important rule for the breaks: No media consumption. No social media, no news, no reddit, no whatever. This too easily drives down a rabbit hole extending my break form a few minutes to half an hour or more.

9. Check my inboxes.

I check my inboxes at a clear schedule. Besides the morning (see above), I check them around noon and about an hour before I stop working. For me this works perfectly well because I do rarely need to deal with emergencies that require attention within five minutes. I do quick screenings of my inbox to filter out emergencies. These are just very brief scans. This schedule to check e-mails works great for me, but yours might be different. You need to adjust it to your work, your role, and your culture.

10. Stay focused.

This way I work down the list. One by one, I achieve the things wanted for the day. Ticking them of in my daily folder and seeing it getting clear step by step is a motivator. During the day, I make sure to be able to focus and not being distracted too much.

Having a clear system like this and focusing on the topics that are important to you will push your abilities to new levels.