Part II: Action Support Folders and Tickler Lists

Date: Monday, November 10, 2008 by GTD Times Staff

Editor’s Note:  This is the second part of a two part series on Action Support Folders and Tickler Lists.  The first part can be found here.

In the prior post I wrote a little about a recent coaching call I had with DAC Certified Coach, Julie Ireland and shared how she recommended that I set up my Tickler List and how I connect those items in it to my calendar where such items have a hard landscape deadline of some sort.

A number of readers chimed in with interesting comments and additional good suggestions – be sure to read the comments from the prior post to see some other excellent ways in which people are making sure that their reminders are doing their job.

Today I wanted to talk a little bit about the other rarely mentioned folder – the Action Support folder and how Julie recommends that it should be used as well as to briefly touch upon another folder that Julie suggested I incorporate into my system the “In Progress” folder.

In Julie’s system Action Support is a highly specific and constrained folder that contains only items for actions that are going to be undertaken in the very near future.  She was careful to distinguish between items in an Action Support folder and items in a Project Folder.  The former, she says should generally contain items specific to individual actions – a shopping list for the next trip to the grocery store for example versus, say a spreadsheet with statistics that is being used as research for a white paper that you are writing.  The latter of course should be placed in a Project Folder specific to that white paper – one among the likely many resources that are being used for that particular complex project.

An estimate for an auto repair would also go in the action support folder provided that this was a one-off occurrence and not a restoration project for instance.

My problem is that I have certain things that I’m doing that require more than say a single document in support of a single task, but perhaps multiple documents in support of a single task.  Let me give you an example:

Right now I’m disputing a bill with my insurance company.  I’m reluctant to call this a project (in spite of the fact that my insurance company is determined to turn it into one!) for two reasons, first because it is just a single situation that should be possible to resolve with a single thirty minute period @phone – however it does require supporting documentation, to wit a bunch of insurance documents that I already have in my (making me) Blue (and) Cross folder.

I’ve already gone to the trouble to pull the documents that I needed out in preparation for the call.  The issue is that every time I sit down at the phone determined to get this solved I dial the number and get a message that it will be thirty minutes before someone can take my call.  I don’t have thirty minutes to sit around on hold during the day – does anyone?

So now I’ve got the paperwork out and ready to go but the call may not be happening for another day or two.  I don’t really want to put the documents back into my BlueX folder only to have to go get them again in a day but I don’t really want to leave them stacked on my desk either (which is what I had been doing anyway prior to my call with Julie).

The In Progress folder is her solution to a situation like this.  I can simply put the documents into this folder (which should never have more than a couple items in it or there’s some other problem that requires more coaching then I am capable of providing) and they’ll be ready to go when I find either that I have thirty minutes during which I suddenly crave an elevator muzak concerto or when I win the game of cell-phone roulette and actually get a real person instead of a machine when I call my delightful insurers.

Julie recommends that the In Progress Folder be located in your in box or somewhere that’s within easy reach so that you can access it at a moment’s notice when your context is appropriate for tackling some task for which you’ve already prepared thanks to this convenient strategy.  It’s a lot better than having a bunch of documents that are too active to put away but not quite ready to be in use that moment.

I’m sure that some of you have other strategies that allow you to deal with similar situations in an equally efficient manner.  Perhaps a few of you would be kind enough to share your methods with other GTDtimes readers?  Let us know in the comments.  Thanks.

3 Responses to “Part II: Action Support Folders and Tickler Lists”

  1. I have a bunch of clear plastic folders, that I am labeling with a pen for each individual ‘In Progress’ Action, and a box residing in arm’s reach that is holding these folders.
    If any one of these ‘In Progress’ items turn into a lengthy story, I move the contents of this specific plastic folder into a regular folder, and this goes into the regular drawer. The plastic folder goes back to the stack, of course.
    This provides me with a small number of ‘In Progress’ folders that can be created and identified and pulled out very quickly and keeps my table neat and clean.


  2. The Planet says:

    Wouldn’t it make more sense to use a context file called @Blue Cross that is only part of your system until the problem is resolved? Then you can easily grab the file at hand rather than rifling through several sets of information in the Progress Folder.

  3. Rick says:

    Here is another way to solve problems like this: use a speaker phone. When you call up Blue Cross and hear it will be 30 minutes just put the call on speaker phone on low volume and continue on to the next task. The volume should be low enough not to annoy you so you can still work, but loud enough to so you can hear when the operator comes on the line. The next task should be one that is interruptible since you don’t exactly know when it will be your turn in the queue. I use the land line for this so as not to waste cell minutes. You can make calls out on your cell if you need to but I try to pick a time when I don’t need to make other calls. If you are worried about missing calls on the land line you can forward your calls temporally to the cell.

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