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

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 is a system of labeled folders that hold tasks that need attention at a specific date and time in the future. It is also known as the 43 Folders System and is based on David Allen’s GTD (Getting Things Done) tickler file system. In this context, a tickler file is the core system for managing deferred tasks during the inbox cleaning process.

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.

A 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 was 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

You’ll be able to think more clearly and act more effectively when you’re not feeling overwhelmed. Keeping things organized in a tickler file is a great way to ensure that the right information is available to you when you need it. You can label items and file them according to when they need to be recalled, and you’ll never miss an important deadline or forget something important.

Task management by day, month, or year

A tickler file system is an effective way to manage tasks and organize your to-do lists. It consists of 43 file folders – up to 31 folders for each day of the month and 12 for each month. By filing tasks in their respective folders, you can easily keep track of your jobs, ideas, and other thoughts in a timely manner. In this way, a tickler file serves as an efficient GTD task manager.

Better project management

Project managers often find themselves juggling multiple projects. It’s important to be able to start, manage, and track progress on these projects efficiently in order to meet deadlines and achieve desired outcomes. A tickler file system can be an invaluable tool for managing tasks and prioritizing them based on their urgency. Whether a job needs to be addressed immediately or can wait for a later time, the 43-folder file system can make sure it gets done.

Traditional vs. GTD Electronic Tickler System

In David Allen’s book, he explains how GTD utilizes a paper system. Some individuals still opt for the traditional method of setting up a GTD tickler file system with physical folders. On the other hand, others manage their tasks with digital tools and applications. It is also possible to use a combination of both or select one based on prior experience, personal preference, and organizational needs.

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, totaling up to 31. Similarly, 12 files or folders are created for each month of the year. This combination of data gives an accumulative value of 43 files/folders in the system.

The benefit of having 43 divisions is that they cover the entire duration of a year. This allows you to organize thoughts and prioritize tasks more easily, leading to greater clarity and order.

How do you make a tickler file system for GTD?

A tickler file can be a great way to keep your random thoughts and ideas organized. Deciding between a physical file or a digital device, or both to use as your tickler file is an important step in setting up your system.

If you’re looking for software or an app version, check out fortythree.me. It has all the tools you need.

And if you prefer building a tickler file manually, here’s 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 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 tickler 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 a tickler system software for seamless productivity and low cost.


A tickler system that functions as your personal digital filing system for GTD is essential for managing both your time and tasks. It creates a streamlined approach to taking notes, tracking progress, and following up on tasks.

Creating and learning how to use one is easy and doesn’t take much time. You can begin by gathering and labeling 43 file folders, or if you prefer, you can use an electronic tickler system like fortythree.me to build an electronic filing system.

So use this 43-folder file type of system because they are an invaluable tool for staying organized and ensuring that important tasks, topics, and projects are followed up on.