****ARTICLE@How to Create a Customized Tickler File System

Karen Roehl, Seattle, WA

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.

The information in this article was adapted from a tip sheet written by Kathy Paauw of Paauwerfully Organized, http://www.declutteryourlife.com/.

To manage the papers we need to take action on, it is helpful to put like actions together so you can do each action at the same time. This saves time and energy. 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. Ask yourself, "What do I need to do with this?" You'll soon recognize what action files you need. Label each file with the verb that describes the action required of you, such as:

  • 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
  • Sign Now-Papers brought home from school by the kids to sign

Once you've created this ACTION 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 ACTION FILE), or TOSS it.

Keep your ACTION FILE at your mail station. If you don't have a mail station, create one now. It is important to have one place to process paper in order to develop new habits and so the paper does not spread throughout your home or office. I suggest keeping the ACTION FILE visible by keeping them in a 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.

Schedule into your calendar system when you will take action on these items. Notice how long each action takes in order to become more realistic about how long things really take. That way, when the voices come in and say, "I don't have time to do this right now" you can counteract the voices by saying, "It only takes me 10 minutes to pay my bills."

Have fun with this. Before long, you will have a customized ACTION FILE that includes the actions that you need to take that works alongside your reference file system and will be able to say good-bye to paper piles forever!


Karen Roehl's company is called Life Transformation. As a Clutter Coach and Professional Organizer, she motivates and supports individuals and businesses, including those with a history of chronic disorganization and ADHD, to declutter, organize, simplify, and make peace with their environment. She is also a coach to new organizers. You can call her at (425) 814-9621, e-mail her at kroehl@comcast.net, visit her at http://www.cluttercoach.org/.