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How to Create a Tickler File Using Evernote
Did you know that a tickler file can help boost your productivity? You can create the old school version or set up an Evernote tickler file instead.
And, since small business owners tend to manage a wide variety of tasks, having a system that “tickles” your memory can be pretty important. Keep reading to get started.
A tickler file is 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. ~Wikipedia
How to Set Up a Paper Tickler File
If you’re ready to get more accomplished and need a way to make sure that important tasks don’t fall through the cracks, you may want to start using a tickler file. Btw, if you want to steps to create a tickler file using Evernote, you can skip this introduction and scroll down to How to Create an Evernote Tickler File.
To set up a paper tickler file, you’ll need 43 folders (yep, 43):
- 31 folders for each day of the month AND
- 12 folders for each month of the year
You can write the days of the month or months of the year on the appropriate folder tabs, or if your handwriting suggests that you should have been a doctor in a previous life, consider using the label maker. =)
Your folders can be placed in your file cabinet or in several accordion (expanded) files. In fact, there are accordion files that come with pre-numbered tabs (for each day of the month), so you could simply purchase 12 of them.
There’s no right or wrong way to manage this, so it’s really up to you and what you prefer.
How to Use a Tickler File
Once you’ve created your 43 folders, you can then can go about the business of putting things in each of them.What can you put in the folders? Anything, really.
If you want to be reminded of a task or action that you have to take — no matter what it is — you can put that item (a note or index card with instructions or related information) in your tickler file. Keep in mind that you can put things in folders well in advance so there’s no need to wait until a particular date draws near to add your reminders.
Documents within the folders of a tickler file can be to-do lists, pending bills, unpaid invoices, travel tickets, hotel reservations, meeting information, birthday reminders, coupons, claim tickets, call-back notes, follow-up reminders, maintenance reminders, or any other papers that require future action. ~Wikipedia
At the start of each day, simply pull out the contents of the corresponding file so that you can work on that day’s task(s). And, then move that now empty folder to the back of the remaining ones. That way, the next day’s folder is in front and easily accessible.
At the end of the current month, move on to the first day of the subsequent month. Repeat the process until you complete all the tasks through the end of the year. Then … onward to the new year!
How to Create an Evernote Tickler File
If you’d rather use an app to create your tickler file system, you can create it using Evernote (referral link). You’ll spend a bit of time up front setting up things up, but once you’re done, all folders will be ready for you to use now and in the future.
Here are the Evernote features you’ll be using:
Step #1 – Create notebooks
To start creating your Evernote tickler file, first create 12 notebooks for each month of the year. They might get lost in the shuffle of your other notebooks, so consider numbering them, like this:
… and so on.
The notebooks will be in chronological order *except* for “10 October,” “11 November,” and “12 December.” Those three will be positioned under “1 January.” If you choose to include the year (e.g., “1 January 2013”), you’ll have to rename the notebooks for subsequent years.
*Update: Reader Brandie K. suggested placing a zero before each number to get things to line up chronologically (e.g., 01, 02, 03, and so on) … and it works. =)
Step #2 – Stack the notebooks
To continue setting up your Evernote tickler file, stack the 12 notebooks you just created. Drag “January” to “February to create a new stack. Name that stack “Tickler.” You can also click drop-downop down arrow on the right of each notebook, select “Add to Stack” (or “New Stack”), and click on the stack you want to add the notebooks to.
Step #3 – Create notes
Then, create 31 notes for each day of each month (you’ll see 31 in parentheses next to each month that has 31 notes). Simply give each note a numerical name:
… and so on.
The notes may be in reverse order, so change your view (click on “View Options” at the bottom of your page) and sort by “Date Created (oldest first).” Or, you can start with 31 and then work backward.
Step #4 – Create a shortcut
Your final step will be to create a shortcut. You’ll have two options here.
1. Add the stacked notebooks (“Tickler”) as a shortcut so that you don’t have to go searching for it. This means a link to your tickler file will be added to the shortcut menu (above the notebooks menu).
Instead of adding a shortcut, you can put a period (“.”) or other symbol in front of the Tickler label so that it jumps to the top of your notebook list (another way for you to find it easily).
… OR …
2. Add a shortcut for the current month to the shortcut menu.
One more thing
You do have the option of not stacking your notebooks. You could skip that step — just create 12 individual notebooks — and then add the shortcut for the current month to the shortcut menu. And, once the current month is over, you would then replace that shortcut with the shortcut for the new month.
Of course, not stacking your notebooks would mean that the remaining notebooks would be mingling and out in the open with your other (non-related) notebooks. If you’re okay with that, then go for it.
However you decide to create your tickler file in Evernote, you will need to get in the habit of adding reminders to specific days. So, consider adding an alert or reminder to your smartphone to fill up your “files.”
If you’ve created an Evernote tickler file, leave a comment and share how it’s working for you.
*This post was written on April 30, 2012 and refreshed on March 5, 2014. And again on July 21, 2020.
This Post Has 23 Comments
I wonder if instead of “1” for January, you used “01” and then the numbers would line up how they are supposed to? I’ve done that with Windows folders and it works beautifully!
Thanks for that tip, Brandie. I will try that and update the post. Grazie! =)
After all this efforts, if you must have reminders for the process to work, I feel whole exercise is futile. I have hundreds of notes & emails in Evernote with each one having at least 4 tags to help me keep track. I add reminder to each note if it’s due for any task or just leave it without it. On the due date, your notebook and smart phone will notify you of reminders along with relevant note for the same task. I create a task as well for each note and am using TaskTracker which syncs with my Evernote account and notifies me of pending tasks with oldest first.
Hi Anup – If you have a system that’s working for you, definitely keep using it. And, it sounds like you have a solid routine with built-in alerts already.
But, for folks who are looking to try something new, I suspect they will need to initially set up reminders until the new system becomes a regular part of their routine.
I’ll have to check out TaskTracker … thanks for sharing that as well as what’s been working for you. I’m sure other readers will find that helpful. =)
I’ve done this with one folder called Tickler and tags 01-Jan, 02-Feb, etc. Each month I can either search for the tag or sort the folder by tag and schedule the items, move or copy them to my active items folder. The reminder feature automaically stacks items at the top of a folder by reminder date….and it means I only have to check the tickler folder at start of month. Another way to tickle is with IFTTT or other trigger services. If date/time then create note in evernote. You have to trust your system but you also have to use it….and the idea is to uncomplicate life.
Hi Criss – Thanks for the reminder about IFTTT. We’re always looking for great recipes to share. And, you are right – you have to use the system or else (just like anything else), it won’t work. Thanks for stopping by. =)
Deb, I did the same type of system but using Tags instead of Notebooks. I “stacked” tags under the name *MONTH, then under that, I have 12 tags: *M01, *M02, etc. Then when I’m adding a future follow up to a note, I type *M and the list 01-12 pops up so I can click the proper month.
Then I did tags for the days, under a stacked tag list titled *DAILY and created 31 tags: *D01, *D02 all the way through *D31. Then I can add a tag quickly by typing *D0 and a list pops up; if the follow up date is from 1-11, I type *D1 and get the *D10-19 list to pick from, and so on with *D2 and *D3.
Between the 25th & 30th of each month, I do a monthly prep review and find the notes tagged with the new month coming up; I review them and assign the proper *Daily tag as needed. Then during the month, I review the *Daily tags when I do my weekly and daily planning
For monthly recurring items I just assign them a *daily tag and no month tag and I see them each month.
I love that you do a review on specific days. And, by using tags, you can free up notebooks to be used for other files. How long have you been using your tickler file system in Evernote?
Thanks for sharing your set up. =)
Do you see an impact to this process with the introduction in Evernote of reminder dates?
Hi David – Sorry for the delayed reply! Your comment was locked up in spam. =/ Are you using reminders in Evernote with a tickler file?
In fact, there are accordion files that come with pre-numbered tabs (for each day of the month), so you could simply purchase 12 of them.
You don’t need 12, you only need one! Also purchase an accordion/concertina/expanding file with dividers Jan to Dec – and two clips.
To set up the system, put the clips on the current month and day. In each file, anything up to AND INCLUDING the clips is NEXT year/month, thereafter THIS year/month. Using the clips means you’ll always know what you’re up to, even if you forgot to check the system for a day or two.
Each day, simply retrieve whatever is in the section for that day and then move up the clip. Towards the end of the month, look at next month’s papers and distribute as much as possible. e.g. if today is the 23rd, anything relating to 24th onwards will need to stay in next month’s folder for the time being. Doing this avoids first-day-of-the-month panic, since anything for the 1st (and 2nd, 3rd, etc) is already there – note that anything added to the system for 1st of next month will be put straight into 1, not the month.
Once the beginning of the month comes around, simply distribute any remaining papers in the final week and move up the clip so the division is ready for that month next year.
Using a paper tickler file can work very well. Thanks for sharing, Colin. =)
Allison, I think a tickler system is a great idea for bills, assignments, and anything that is time sensitive. You could probably create a system of tags too that might work if one didn’t want to have a lot of notebooks in their Evernote account!
Hi Jonathan – Nice to connect with another ECC. =) And, I agree — tags can work really well. There’s no one right way to do things with Evernote … it’s up to the user to find the solution/flow that fits with their brain. Thanks for stopping by. =)
Hi Deb and other contributors. Thanks for this very helpful discussion. I’m an absolute beginner here and I think I’m missing something basic.
I’ve just installed Evernote, set up notebooks for each month (“01 Jan”, “02 Feb” …) and stacked them (stack is called “.Tickler”). I’ve then created 31 daily Notes (titled “01”, “02” …).
Then I start putting items into the daily notes, e.g. into the “17” Note inside the “01 Jan” notebook I type two things, each on a separate line:
>> sort out system backup
>> finish book cover
If I don’t get to do “finish book cover” for some reason on the 17th of Jan, do I cut and paste that line entry to a different Note, e.g. to “20” so I’m tickled about it on 20th of Jan?
If this is the mechanism for moving things, I don’t get how reminders can help (or even tags) if they only apply to the Note, not the items I’ve typed into the note. I feel like I need single task Notebooks nested inside the daily notebooks.
Please help me sort out this blur. Thanks.
Hi Michael – Apologies for the delayed reply! First, thanks for dropping by and jumping into this blog post. Second, there’s no right or wrong way to do this. The right way is the one that makes sense to you. Keep in mind that whenever you start any new system, you’ll need to allow time to fit it into your workflow and make adjustments as needed.
That said, you have options.
1) Leave the task in the original note and use the Evernote reminder to ping you. When you add a reminder, it will move that note to the top of your list. If you miss your ping, you can reset your Evernote reminder OR use an external reminder (like an alarm on your phone) to remind you to get back to it. You’ll probably need a regular habit of checking your tickler at the end of each day to see what was missed and what’s coming up.
2) Copy/paste the task in an upcoming note. Set the reminder. Lather, rinse, repeat. This doesn’t sound like an option you’d prefer, but it’s an option none the less.
3) You could change things up and use a specific set of tags to help you find the tasks you should be working on. Again, you’ll have to regularly check to see what’s coming down the pike using the keyword system you’ve set up.
4) Create a notebook called “Tasks” and add individual notes (to do’s) to that notebook. Broken record time — you still have to look at that notebook and use tags (date tag perhaps) and/or a reminder to get the tasks done.
Hope this helps! … and please come back to let me know what you decided to do. =)
It’s great this topic is still relevant after several years! I learned about tickler files and how to use them about 6-years ago but never could make it work for me since my work has always been more fluid. I use Evernote a ton and really never thought about using it to build a tickler file system! I may have to try again!
My challenge is the reminders in Evernote. I haven’t trained myself yet for those reminders to be critical enough to check urgently.
Thanks for a great how-to!
Hi Erik – How long have you been using the reminders? When you start a new system, it can take a little while to build it into your routine. To see if the reminders really work, well, you’ve just to just get up and do it when Evernote pings you! =) Thanks for stopping by and please come back to let me know how you like using the tickler file in Evernote.
Funny, I just set up a simular system. I googled to see if anyone had a better set up. What I did that was different, is I have 31 note books for days and 12 notebooks for Months, then I stacked them all in a tickler stack. This way I could drag actual notes into specific days or months.
The only problem, and why I was googling, was I would love to stack the dates into the months as a stack in a stack. This would allow me to view the note say on the 3rd next month, instead, i have to pile them into specific months, then on the first, or the end of the previous month, I would then further deffer them into a specific date.
I’m going to try it out for a bit. Sometimes my todo’s get cluttered up with stuff I don’t really want to look at, but not devalue enough to put into a someday maybe, now I tickle them for the future to re integrate into the system.
Thanks for your write up on the topic, I am glad it works for you, and I feel like im on the write track.
Hey Cameron – Thanks for stopping by. =) Have you tried using reminders in Evernote?
I’m confused. If you have reminders in Evernote, why do you need to set up folders etc.? Just write or scan your note, and set the reminder for the day you need to deal with it. You need the folders in the paper system because you can’t add reminders to an individual piece of paper in a stack.
Hi Michael – Reminders in Evernote are great … except that you can’t add a reminder to individual items/tasks when you’re setting up Evernote to mirror a traditional tickler file. Your idea can work as well and simplifies things (without the tickler file set up). Thanks for sharing and stopping by. =)