Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Desk Organization: ACTION and TICKLER File

I love organization. Simply Love it. No, wait... LOVE it!! But I have one area that I've struggled with forever trying to keep clean and organized. My desk. Yes, those who have read this blog for the last year or so know that I've blogged on it before, vowing to keep it clean and that by writing it on the world wide web I would be held accountable. Hmmm... it's a bit better, but I'm not there yet. 

I'm sure 99% of this is due to my habits when I'm actually at the desk itself. I come here to create... create pictures, create blog posts, create ideas, etc. And somehow, I never leave any time to actually organize and clean the desk. When I'm in that creative mode, I fill every second until I must leave it all, thereby doing what I want to do, not necessarily what I need to do.

But I want an organized desk! In fact, I'm desperate for it! I know I'll be even more creative and productive when I'm not surrounded by clutter - which drives me crazy, by the way. My family would say it actually makes me irritable. Oh, I've felt doomed to live like this forever! But I know there must be a solution out there, somewhere...

My newest endeavor? An ACTION and TICKLER File...

It's really two different kinds of files that I've combined into one basket on my desk - all for easy reference. Keep in mind this is not the same as my regular files which are in drawers below. This is for getting into several times a day, kind of a stopping off point for all that paperwork that clutters my desk. This is where I'm beginning because the paperwork really is the main culprit. 

You're probably thinking "Girlfriend, you're going to file that stuff twice now! Are you crazy?" Well, if it gets me to keep papers from becoming piles on my desk, I guess so. And if I end up looking at that paper and saying to myself "Just file it now", then hey... the battle's won, right? Here's two reasons why I really think this might work: 

1) it's pretty  
2) it fits how I work 

I like pretty. I like pretty almost as much as organizing. So, I'm thinking this might keep me motivated. And second, the key for this desk organization method to work is if it fits how I'm already doing things when working at my desk! Any method I establish must take into account how I handle papers naturally. 

This is huge. I'm old enough that I'm not likely going to change certain habits enough to break out of this cycle without it meeting those habits half way. So if I tend to be in a hurry and just drop a paper on my desk while rushing off to cook dinner, I need an easy place right on my desk to drop that paper. I've tried just a paper basket, but then the papers get all mixed up and I have to go through each one just to find what I'm looking for. However, I naturally tend to make messy piles of various things - a pile of recipes, a pile of bills, a pile of magazine articles,etc. With the ACTION file, it's quick and easy for sorting and dropping.

Let me break down the ACTION file for you. The lovely sunflower folders in front have different labels:

• Act
• File
• Pay
• Respond
• Use
• Copy 

Other ideas you could put on these files might be:

• Complete
• Wait
• Decide
• Send
• Do
• Read

It's up to you. If I added a "send" file, my letters would never make it to the mailbox. I know myself pretty well. I naturally put them in my purse, so I'm not going to change what I already do since it works fine for me. And to me, some of these seem redundant, so I don't use them, but use what works for you. Think about how your brain thinks and how you work at your desk. 

Next, I plan to schedule a regular day to go through my ACTION file and make sure it's cleaned out weekly. This is the new habit I must initiate. 

Now let's talk about the TICKLER file... 

What is a TICKLER file? According to Google, it's a collection of date-labeled file folders organized in a way that allows time-sensitive documents to be filed according to the future date on which each document needs action. Mine are the manilla colored files in the back of the basket. There are 12 monthly files (or rather files that act as dividers) and 31 daily folders. I actually used the kind of folders that are closed on the sides so that items don't fall out, but you could use regular manilla files. Each file gets a number on it to correspond with the day of the month. 

How do you set it up and how does it work? Whatever the month is, that file acts as a divider and goes in front. Then all the days of the month come behind it (in order, of course), and behind these comes the rest of the months. On the first (file #1), when the day arrives, you look in your file to see what you placed in there to do that day. When the day is over, move the file behind the divider for the next month (in this case, it went behind March because it's February right now). Each day, you go to the next file that is now in front, just behind the monthly divider, and check what you have in there that needs to be done that day. When the day is over, move it behind the next month, keeping them in order. 

Can you give me an example? Anytime something comes across your desk that will need action on a specific day or sometime in the future, choose the date you want to view it and put it in that daily file. If it's three months from now, just add it to that monthly file. For example, I need a registration paper on June 23rd for a conference but it's mid February right now; I'm doomed to loose it if I don't have a plan. So I file the registration paper in the June file. Then when May 24th arrives and I've moved the 23rd file behind June, I can add that paper to the 23rd file or better yet, wait until June first arrives and check for any papers that have accumulated in the June file and sort them into the various dates for that month. Does this make sense?

I had forgotten that I actually used a TICKLER file when I worked at an insurance office years and years ago. And it was wonderfully helpful. I just wish I had thought of using this at home sooner; it came to mind when browsing for desk organization ideas and I happened upon Cathy Anderson's site Just Organize Your Stuff. (And to the reader who reminded me a few months ago about her filing system - Thank you!!). You can download or purchase her pre-made filing systems or you can make your own. 

Well, now that I've got that done, I'm off to purge and reorganize my regular files. Ughh! But it will feel so good when it's done! I've got some more ideas, so hopefully a few posts will follow.

Do you use an ACTION or TICKLER file? Please tell us how it works for you!


  1. When I was working in sales, I used a similar system to keep track of all my appointments, contacts, and calls to make. Especially if I had someone ask me to follow up with them in "x" amount of time. You can get pre-printed dividers for a 4"x6" index card box. Then just use blank or lined index cards to write all the pertinent information -- ie: name, phone, to-do or to-call, and notes for that client. I found it worked REALLY well for me. And I knew first thing in the morning I just pulled out all the index cards for that day and once I worked through them, I could move on to the next task.

    It would also work really well to remember birthdays, to-dos, and car maintenance. I even had a card in there to remind me to change the water filter every three months. Just put it in "April" and when you get there, it's an automatic reminder.

    Hope your new system works for you!

    City Roots, Country Life

  2. Great idea! I'll have to think on that. Paperwork is a problem in my house.

  3. Ticklers can work if youre diligent. Good luck!

    Ps pretty trumps organized.

  4. Impressive and inspiring. Perhaps I need to work on this pile on my desk:)

  5. Oh Amy, my brain is overloaded. I love, love, love the idea of being organized but I am so far from it. I am still working on it and I don't plan on giving up. When I feel ready for this post I will revisit it. ;)
    Great post by the way.

  6. I think I need to implement one of these, as well. My brain is churning on how to use one for my son and his schedule/schoolwork. Thanks!

  7. Please tell us where ever did you purchase those pretty file folders / tabs?
    This looks like a worthy system to try out.

  8. Pamela,
    My local office supply store had the pretty sunflower files, but I've seen them online. The labels are from "Just Organize Your Stuff" (link is in the bottom of my post). I made the number labels on my computer.

  9. Amy, I love your organizing posts! You have an absolute gift in making the everyday absolutely beautiful! Thanks for the inspiration :)

  10. What a wonderful article. This has inspired me to get my office in order (I have paper piles everywhere). I anticipate from that more order in my whole life.

  11. I love it!! My desk is in constant disarray. I cannot manage to stop myself from piling papers upon papers! Organizing in a fun, pretty way definitely helps me keep it nice. Thanks for the ideas :)

  12. Amy, *great* post! I too love to organize and to be organized. I have recently started to use Google Calendar (for family appointments, menu planning, birthdays,Tom's work schedule... etc.) and Toodledo for my to do lists. I think your "tickler" idea would mesh nicely with all of this for the physical papers that I need to deal with. Thanks *so* much for sharing this.

    One question: where did you find the perfect-sized basket for your folders? *Love* how everything went together!

    I recently found your blog~ as a fellow homesteader I have really enjoyed your posts. If I have time this weekend I might write a "homesteady" post and link up with your "Barn Hop" on Monday~ sounds like fun!

  13. I actually already had it - can you believe it? But I originally got it at Michael's. I use Google Calendar, too - love it! Everyone in the family can view it on their own and it's color coded, too!

    I look forward to seeing you at the Barn Hop!

  14. I have been inspired by you today..thank you. I went out today, and acquired some folders and a lovely basket in which to hold them for my desk. I hope it will help us become more organized...my husband a receipt horder and little scraps of paper....ugh! The desk already looks better with just the basket on it and the folders inside....

  15. Faith,
    I've got a few receipt ideas yet to come! Stay tuned!

  16. I do not have the daily files...i'm afraid I would lose or overlook something with so many folders. Also, they would take too long to search if I need something sooner than expected. I have a monthly Pend file and two Action folders: To Do and Waiting for Reply. So, at the beginning of each month, I pull all the papers from that month's Pend folder. Then I do one of three things - handle the item right that second, like call to make my annual physical appointment; put it in the To Do folder, pay a bill, run an errand, etc., when I have the time; or put it in the Waiting for Reply folder. The last folder is for reminders like, this is the month we should receive the car registration renewal bill.

    I really like your blog. Thank you for all the help and inspiration. I have used several of your ideas. I LOVE to be organized!!

    Best regards, Barbara

    1. Excellent ideas you shared, Barbara! Thank you! I may have to add something like it to my tickler file. I could see a modified version working for both. When I only use the three you mentioned, by "To Do" file gets bigger and bigger and then I avoid it. Breaking it down into the Tickler file motiviates me a bit more, but I realize everyone is different.

  17. Barbara, wonderful post and we share our love for JOYS! I am also working with a Tickler File and it's changed my piles into smiles. I'm sharing your post in my blog and FB page right now! Have a Happy Valentine's Day!



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