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  • Next action lists vs Action files vs Customized tickler file

    Help! I found this article (I've pasted it in below) and thought it would be a good thing to implement, but the more I think about it, the more confused I get. Would it sidetrack my GTD system if I filed things in a desktop file holder rather than or in addition to listing them in a Next Action list? Would this be a way of organizing things if I don't have time to sit down and add them to my NA lists? I like the lists, and I think I'd need to put things on the list, as well as in the files, which would be a duplication of effort, wouldn't it? On the other hand, where would I keep these papers? Is this just a useful idea for someone who wouldn't get around to GTD (of course I see that it covers just a small subset of the GTD system)? But at the same time it seems like a good idea and I'd like to use it without losing the benefits of the GTD system.

    I'm comfortable with not having a perfect, classic GTD system if a variation would work for me, but I just don't want to get myself off on a winding road to nowhere and waste time on something that would be basically inefficient. Plus I'm trying to stop obsessing about little details of implementation and just get to doing what I need to do. But all the same, I want to add in any little extras that would help me be more productive. So I have set up one of the Smead everyday files, and files for Open Invoices, Paid Invoices, and Deposits to be Made (for my business), and a file for my daughter and her issues, in a desktop file box. I am wondering if it would be a good thing to go on with this idea or if I should stop here. And should all these things be in reference files? It's so handy to have them on the desktop or credenza, within arm's reach. Would they or other files fit into the GTD system? But I like to have all of the material close at hand so I can deal with it each day (hopefully). Would they be subsets of the Inbox, to be processed during the Weekly Review or during a daily review (I like the thought of that!)? Or could you keep things there indefinitely until you deal with them? I guess the more I think about this, the more I appreciate that DA has really worked out a system that is a complete answer to what is bothering so many of us, whereas something like this is just a start. But all the same, the action file issue is one that has been bothering me, and I don't really see where it fits into the system.

    I think there is one problem with the standard tickler file, which is that it is entirely date-oriented, and there are things that have nothing to do with dates, but need to be taken care of (which GTD deals with through the context lists). The value of this type of tickler file seems to be that it creates a tickler for the non-dated contexts. But isn't that taken care of with the NA lists? On the other hand, it seems good to have those papers close at hand and in the tickler file so I'll be reminded to deal with them.

    It looks like an approximation to GTD but I wouldn't want to be going through a dozen files a day, pulling the papers out to see if I needed to do anything about them. The NA lists are so much better. (But for some of us with ADD anything is better than nothing!)

    And what other categories would be good? And practical?

    This article is from ADD Resources http://www.addresources.org/article_tickler_roehl.php
    and they have a lot of helpful articles about efficiency and organizing.


    How to Create a Customized Tickler File System
    Karen Roehl
    Seattle, WA—2004

    Terms of Use: This educational material is made available courtesy of the author and Attention Deficit Disorder Resources. You may reprint this article for personal use only.

    There are two components to a good tickler file system. Part of the system includes the dated accordion file. The other part consists of individual hanging folders labeled for your particular repetitive actions. If you aren't sure how to tailor this to your needs, just go through a recently-created pile of papers and mail—things that you didn't have any place to put but didn't want to forget about. You'll soon recognize what action files you need. Label each file with the verb that describes the action required of you. Here are some examples:

    * Pay—a place to put invoices or bills until they are paid
    * Receipts—a place to store your receipts until you submit them for reimbursement or enter them into your expense records.
    * Read
    * Discuss—a folder to put notes in for weekly meetings with the same person. If you meet with several people weekly, you may have individual folders with their names on them.
    * Send—letters to write, returns
    * Photocopy
    * Errands—a folder to hold shopping lists, claim receipts, etc.
    * Call—a place to store phone messages until you have time to return calls.
    * Data Entry—addresses, phone numbers, business cards to enter into address book and/or contact management system.
    * Classes—class lists, classes you are considering to take.
    * Calendars—calendars for classes, school schedules, etc.
    * Offers—coupons, offers
    * Organizing—a place to keep information about decluttering and organizing
    * Future Years—once yearly papers, such as property taxes

    Once you've created this tickler file system, the key is to do two things—put things in and take things out—DAILY! When the mail arrives, you have three choices—FILE it away for future reference, ACT on it now or later (if later, it goes in the tickler file), or TOSS it.

    Identify a specific time each day to check your tickler file—either first thing in the morning, or the night before (for the next day). It takes about 21 days to form a new habit, so I suggest that you write into your calendar "CHECK TICKLER" for whatever time you choose to do this—for at least the next 21 days. At some point it will become second nature to you (like brushing your teeth!) and you won't need the reminder. If you do not keep a calendar, keep your tickler file in a place where you will see it...preferably where you open your mail.

    The front part contains the accordion file with tabs for days of the current month, followed by tabs for months of the year. I have created a Future Years tab behind this (for papers to be handled in 2003 or beyond). The tabs behind that are labeled for specific repetitive action to be taken, as listed above (pay, read, discuss, etc.).

    You can keep your tickler file system in your desk drawer or in a more visible desktop hanging file frame. I like the Oxford Decoflex file frame boxes (found in most office supply stores), which come in several sizes. Your tickler file system needs enough room so you do not have to wedge things in or struggle to take things out. Keep this in mind when purchasing a file frame box for your accordion file and customized hanging files.

  • #2
    Re: Next action lists vs Action files vs Customized tickler

    ggrozier,

    David Allen addresses the topic "Next action lists vs Action files" in his GTD-book in the sub-section "Managing Paper-Based Workflow" (in chapter 7 "Organizing: Setting Up the Right Buckets", sub-chapter "Organizing Action Reminders", section "Using the Original Item as its Own Action Reminder"). He writes that it's mostly a matter of logistics and portability whether to keep the action reminders written on lists or to keep the original papers as their own action reminders in action folders like "pay", "read", "discuss", "send", "photocopy", "errands", "call", and "data entry".

    The trouble starts when you have action folders that don't contain action reminders but papers of the same kind that require different actions , like the folders "receipts", "classes", "calendars", "offers", "organizing", and "future years". These folders are not action folders but folders that contain support material for projects.

    Btw, if you forget about the term "Customized tickler file" and call Karen Roehl's approach what it is, namely "The combination of a follow-up system with action folders and reference files", then you may realize that this method is the traditional paper based work-flow system.

    Hope this helps.

    Rainer

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    • #3
      Re: Next action lists vs Action files vs Customized tickler

      Originally posted by ggrozier
      Would it sidetrack my GTD system if I filed things in a desktop file holder rather than or in addition to listing them in a Next Action list?
      Well, honestly, yes, I think it would. Personally, I see the full and complete Next Action lists as the foundation of GTD. Using filed papers rather than writing an action down on a list has the potential to undermine that full and complete system.

      I believe that writing down a Next Action is superior to using a paper as a reminder. First of all, in reviewing a file every day, you are likely to duplicate and therefore waste effort, because you're essentially mentally re-processing the items in there every time. Let's say that you have bills to pay and keep them in a "Bills to Pay" file. You have to process that dumb file every day, even if there are no bills to pay that day. ("Oh, I don't have to pay this one till the 20th.") You have to keep looking at the same papers over and over again - a potential waste of time. I would be willing to bet that you soon avoid doing this every day, and then forget to pay an important bill.

      Secondly, some bills may not be so straightforward. For example, I may get a mobile phone bill that I think may have an error. The next action is not to write a check; the next action may now be to go online and check my usage to see if it looks right. In processing the bill, I put that action in my system and the bill in my action support file. Without putting that action in my system, I would keep looking at that bill each day, perhaps without deciding what to do about it. There's a high probability that this file would turn into an "amorphous collection of un-doability" and something that I want to avoid looking at.

      Thirdly, writing next actions in context-based lists is better, because you can easily see all your next actions for a context in one eyefull or so. If you choose actions to do by going through papers in a folder one by one, you may miss something more important in another folder. You can't see the bigger picture of potential actions that includes many different folder categories.

      Originally posted by ggrozier
      On the other hand, where would I keep these papers? Is this just a useful idea for someone who wouldn't get around to GTD (of course I see that it covers just a small subset of the GTD system)? But at the same time it seems like a good idea and I'd like to use it without losing the benefits of the GTD system. . .It's so handy to have them on the desktop or credenza, within arm's reach.
      The pieces of this filing system that apply to you look like a good way of organizing action support material and project support material. This is where something like this fits (neatly!) into the GTD system. I do something kind of like this for action support materials.

      But 2 caveats: 1) action support materials within arm's reach need to be kept lean and current. And 2) It's unbelievably helpful to have the actions themselves on your lists! Lists are much easier to refer to than papers in files. A NA "Check Verizon wireless charges" is much faster to grasp than looking at the bill.

      Originally posted by ggrozier
      Would they be subsets of the Inbox, to be processed during the Weekly Review or during a daily review (I like the thought of that!)? Or could you keep things there indefinitely until you deal with them?
      Having subsets of the Inbox seems like redundant effort. First, you'd have to process an item to determine what Inbox. Later, you'd have to process it again to determine what to do with it and to put it in your system. It's really important to have only as many Inboxes as you need. You don't want to spend your whole life collecting, partially processing, and then re-processing.

      Keep things indefinitely until you deal with them? Nooooooooooooooo!!!!!! This will certainly turn into an amorphous mass of un-doability! Newer and more urgent things will crowd out the older, forgotten ones. But nothing is forgotten if it's in your system, on one of your lists!

      Let's say you get something in the mail you don't want to deal with right now, but may want to someday. Write the action on your Someday/Maybe list, and file the support material. Include on your S/M list a note as to where you filed the support material. This is just a better way.

      Yes, keep action support material within arm's reach, and filed so as to help you find it easily. But you can only keep so much stuff within arm's reach. My rule of thumb is that I clear my desk surface of support material at the end of each day. Action Support materials, kept in portable files and stacked boxes on my desk, have to be kept lean and current, also, which I do during Weekly Review. If you keep papers for everything you may ever want to do within arm's reach, it's gonna be hard to find the papers for the thing you want and need to do right now. So for me, desk surface = place for things I'm working on right now. Portable file and desktop stacked boxes = place for things I'm working on within a week or two. Reference files = support for everything else that has its stake in the ground on a list somewhere, and will not be forgotten.

      Hope this helps.

      -andersons

      Comment


      • #4
        Thanks for helping me

        Your answers cleared up my confusion. I went back and re-read chapter seven, and thought it all over for several days, and I'm going to keep my minimal essential business files, and now I'm thinking of them in terms of action support files, next to my desk, along with my tickler file.

        And I'm going to totally clear off my desk of everything except my computer this morning, and keep it that way. The in-box and action support files and tickler file can go on a table next to the desk. The desk keeps getting so cluttered up with things I've been working on or leave out that I only have a few square inches of clear space. It clutters up my mind and I can't get anything done.

        Thanks for the ideas and for clearing it up in my mind.

        --Glenda

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