The Tickler File–The Key to a Clutter-free Refrigerator

A Community Contribution from April Perry

Just about every mother I know has a refrigerator that is completely covered with party invitations, handouts for school assignments, reminders for community events, coupons, and about 50 other things calling out, “Me! Me! Me!” We’re so afraid of the “out of mind, out of sight” rule, that we want to keep everything that needs our attention smack dab in the middle of the kitchen.

Although this tactic might help us feel slightly organized, the drawbacks greatly outnumber the benefits. For example, how are moms supposed to calmly make it through the dinner hour when every time they turn around, they’re reminded of all the things they’re not doing? How are they going to remember which items have associated computer work or which ones require a run to the grocery store? What happens if an important notice gets buried under alphabet magnets–or stolen by a toddler looking for something to color? It just doesn’t work.

That’s where the Tickler File comes in. It saved my life. I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before, but it’s brilliant. You just put items that need your attention into date-specific folders, and you “mail” them to yourself. My stress level has literally been cut in half since I implemented the GTD Tickler system, and as I’ve introduced the idea to my friends (who also have colorfully-decorated refrigerators), their eyes have lit up with excitement at the possibility of finally having a system to keep track of all their madness.

Here are a few Tickler ideas that have worked for me and lots of other moms out there:

(1) Simply take 12 folders and label them January through December. The “official” way to build a Tickler involves 43 files–31 for days, 12 for months, but some moms feel overwhelmed by such a large number of folders, and they’re so busy dancing from breakfast to clean-up to carpool, that they won’t get around to checking their tickler until everything in it is out of date. Maybe we’ll try this gain once the children have grown up….

(2) Make sure that everything in your Tickler is referenced on your calendar. Because moms may not be checking their Tickler every day, they want to be sure to note all “tickled” items on their calendars (which they will be checking every day). A small capital T with a circle around it is a simple symbol to use. That way, if the middle school is hosting a holiday dance in December, and if they’ve sent home an order form for photographs at the event, you know exactly what to do with it. You record the dance time and date on your calendar, put a “Tickler Symbol” next to the event, and place the order form in your December Tickler. Voila! No more rushing out the door with keys and corsage–screaming, “How much money do I need to send for photos?” Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

(3) Use your Tickler to create the family of your dreams. It’s true…the Tickler has this power. You know all those ideas you get at the absolute wrong time of year? The holiday decorations you discover in July? The summer activities you read about in October? The New Years’ traditions you dream up on February 27th? You don’t have to waste those “light bulb moments” anymore. Write them down, put them in the appropriate month’s Tickler, and write a little trigger on your calendar to “Check Tickler for GREAT ideas.”

The Tickler File works. It will be one of your best friends. (And as an added benefit, “Tickler” is fun to say!) Thank you, David Allen.

April Perry is the mother of four children and co-director of She is a regular contributor to GTD Times.