A question that often comes up in workshops as well as on my blog is this one: How do you suggest people use their calendar (planner) in conjunction with the tickler (1-31) files? Sometimes I wonder if I am duplicating my efforts by using a calendar and the tickler files. It seems like the tickler file is a good place to keep the papers that go along with the tasks, but there still feels like there’s some redundancy when I prioritize my to-dos that are in the form of paper and the daily to-dos on my calendar. What are your thoughts in this area?
First of all, there is not a perfect tool or a perfect system. There are myriad options available and each one of us has to figure out what tool (or combination of tools) will work for us. So, this answer is based on my experimentation with the two main tools the question above refers to – a planner and a tickler file system.
For many years, I was the planner queen and only used my tickler file as the place to keep physical items that I would need on a certain day, but not really to remind me to do things. I always put reminders in my planner as tasks for that day (on the Prioritized Daily Task List, or PDTL, in Franklin Covey language).
Then, I tried using the tickler file as my main reminder and moved away from using a task list as much…although I did still use a planner; this is the period of time I found some redundancy as well. And, frankly, redundancy is better than having things fall through the cracks.
Julie Morgenstern, author of many books including Never Check Email in the Morning (and Other Unexpected Strategies for Making Your Work Life Work and Organizing from the Inside Out, 2nd ed: The Foolproof System For Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life says that what we need to do is “anchor” our systems. In her book she says,
“The real key to finding information is having only one place to look. Yet establishing any consistency to your information management system is a challenge because there are so many mediums to work with – paper files, computer documents, email, voice mail, hand-written notes, business cards. When any one document can be found in multiple locations, you are bound to have trouble putting your hands on information when you need it. To avoid confusion, anchor your organizing system either in paper files or on the computer, depending on what makes more sense for your work and what is most comfortable for you. While some jobs are 90 percent computer, 10 percent hard copy, others are just the opposite. Do what’s most natural for you.”
I love the concept of “anchoring” your system…and doing what is most natural for you. You can apply the ‘anchoring’ concept to the 1-31/January-December (tickler file) & the calendar/planner conundrum. Anchor your system one place or the other, whichever seems most natural to you.
Anchoring the system in your planner: This means that you will put all of your appointments and tasks into your planner, along with descriptive information, as needed. Then, the accompanying materials (or the paper telling exactly where they are located) can be in your 1-31 file. Since your system is anchored in your planner (be that paper or electronic), as you get to your day, you take a look at what you’ve listed on your Prioritized Daily Task List (PDTL) and then you get out all the materials in the day’s tickler slot. If, by any chance, you’ve dropped something in your tickler file that you hadn’t already listed on your PDTL, then you add it at that time.
Next, you take a look at your entire day, including appointments, etc., and then prioritize what your tasks are for the day. Some people use a numbering system; others use a combination of letters and numbers (A1 is a very high priority and the first one you’ll do; B2 is important, and will be the second one you do in the B group–after completing all your “A” tasks). If you get to a task (or an appointment) and you need some accompanying items, you have them ready in your tickler file.
Anchoring the system in the tickler file: You will find your “Next action” sheets, your project sheets, agendas, documents you need to work with, etc. all in your tickler file–and will use that as the way of reminding yourself of what you need to do. Each morning (or the previous afternoon), when you pull out everything from the file, you will prioritize what you need to do, based on the time available and the urgency/importance of the item. You will order your day by putting your project sheets, documents, or other physical reminders in order – or by making a ‘to-do’ list from the items you’ve now been reminded of after viewing what’s stashed in your tickler file.
Experiment with both systems and see which one is a better ‘anchor’ for you. And remember, you can always change your mind if the way you’re doing something is not working for you – or you get tired of it.