Why a Tickler File System is Essential for GTD (Getting Things Done)

Learn how in GTD, a tickler file system fulfills its core function: Having a central follow up system to remind you of tasks and topics at the right time.
GTD Tickler File Example Image
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Getting Things Done (GTD) is a task management strategy and time management system defined by David Allen, a business expert in time management and productivity. Allen wrote a book with the same title on Productivity – Getting Things Done (The Art of Stress-Free Productivity). Allen’s work teaches business owners how to improve their productivity with a GTD Tickler File system.

When it comes to Allen’s GTD system, knowing about a tickler system significantly enhances the applicability of his principles. It is one of the core tools for a properly set up of getting things done system.

A tickler file holds labeled folders inside. Each record consists of tasks that need attention at a specific date and time in the future. A tickler file also refers to the 43 Folders System. The use of a tickler file for task management refers to David’s GTD tickler system. In this context, a tickler file is the core system to manage tasks that is deferred task during the inbox cleaning.

A tickler file aims at better task management in professional environments. While technological advancements have revamped task management, professionals still believe Allen’s tickler filing system helps them seamlessly manage their official routines.

Brief history of the tickler file system

The use of tickler cards links back to the twentieth century. To manage legal tasks, the law agents used to create cards labeled with assignments. Later on, the concept is derived and expanded by various authors, especially those having written books for productivity and self-help. Allen proposed it as a key system to organize the follow-up on deferred tasks and topics.

Why a tickler system is essential for Getting Things Done (GTD)

Better Thoughts and Task Management

Your brain can’t act better in stressful environments. You need to keep things on file, on time, in a specific order that helps you remind things at the right moment. You can put random stuff on a tickler file, labeled, and arranged under respective time frames, and be sure to get them back from the file at the right time.

Task management, Daily, Monthly, or Annually

In a tickler file system, you can arrange your tasks in 43 file folders. You can create files for 31 days of a month. Similarly, you can organize tasks for 12 months, and hence the system also refers to a 43 file folder framework. All the jobs, to-do lists, or random thoughts are kept in their particular time-framed folders. This way, a tickler file serves as your GTD task manager

Better Project Management

It’s normal to run multiple projects at once. In official environments, it becomes a prominent concern to start, manage, and track projects’ outcomes at optimal times. With a tickler file system, project managers can prioritize their tasks based on their respective urgency. If a job needs immediate attention or needs to fix at a later time, the tickler system has got you covered.

Traditional vs. GTD Electronic Filing system

In David Allen’s book, he describes how gtd organizes in a paper system. Some people still prefer the conventional way of starting a GTD tickler file system with physical folders. In contrast, others manage their tasks with digital devices and software. You can also use a mixture of both or choose one depending on prior knowledge, employee’s interest, and official requirements.

How does the 43 folder division work in a GTD tickler file?

A tickler File system is composed of a file or document for each day of a month (31). In the same manner, files or folders are created for 12 months of a year. This combination of data gives an accumulative value of 43 files/folders in the tickler system.

The beauty of 43 divisions is to cover the entire duration of a year. You can organize random thoughts for clarity, order, and priority concerns.

How do you make a tickler file system for GTD

A tickler File helps you organize your random memory. However, when it comes to making a tickler File, you should first decide on its nature – whether you would like to use a traditional physical file framework or use digital devices for the purpose.

If you aim at using a digital device or app for the purpose, an app like fortythree.me brings everything needed with it.

If you prefer building a tickler file manually, here is what you need to do.

  1. Collect 43 physical file folders – 31 for days of a month and 12 for the months in a year.
  2. Label the files according to its nature with the numbers of the days and the names of the months.
  3. Put all necessary and relevant to-do lists in appropriate folders.
  4. Arrange your files in order – keep records with close deadlines on top.
  5. Check the folders regularly, rearrange, and update data accordingly.

Traditional vs. Digital tickler system


The traditional tickler File system consists of 43 files and folders – 31 for monthly days and 12 for months. On the other hand, a Digital tickler File system involves the use of a tool, device, or smartphone app to create and manage a GTD electronic filing system.


Both systems are different from each other – in terms of system requirements, arranging and managing routines, and the way you keep the system in place – one involves file folders while the other consists of digital assets. However, conventional or digital systems work in the same manner.


Using a tickler file system depends on the skill set. The traditional system requires the management of files and folders in a specific order. As compared to the traditional method, if you prefer to use digital apps, you should never miss out on using software systems for seamless productivity and low cost.


A tickler system working as your GTD digital filing system is vital for time and task management. It provides a seamless routine to note, track and follow up your tasks.

Arranging a tickler file system is not time-consuming. You can create and learn using a tickler system on basic levels. You can start by collecting and labeling 43 file folders or use a smartphone app for building a GTD electronic filing system.

Once implemented a tickler file can be of extremely high value to organize and secure the follow-up on important tasks, topics, and projects.

Learn more about how a Tickler System can help you GTD (Get Things Done)