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I'm in the process of implementing my GTD process, and I'm starting to run in to items that I want to put in a tickler file. The implementation of a physical tickler file makes tons of sense, but its unwieldy for me to have a physical tickler file. I'm trying to set everything up using remember the milk, but I'm willing to lean on other tools to complete the task. I've taken a brief look at the "Tickler file for email" question, but I was wondering what other alternatives people would recommend, or have had success with, in particular, using remember the milk?

I realize that StackExchange is not the place to ask for recommendations, but I'm at a loss: What does a digital tickler file look like, and what tools / techniques can people recommend?

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Recommendations that are not related to making particular choices and to solve an actual problem are welcome. –  Tom Wijsman Aug 23 '11 at 10:06

7 Answers 7

A digital tickler file can be implemented in various ways:

  • Use your calendar (Outlook calendar for example). Create All-Day events to hold the items to pop-up in a desired date in the future. You can categorize those All-Day tickler events so they can be easily searched for. Each event can hold text, links, actual items such as email/documents. Everyday you will potentially have a tickler calendar event to open and process.
  • There are task managers allowing for scheduling items to a future date while taking them off the radar until that date. Such tools can act as a tickler file within your GTD projects/NA system.
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RTM is simply ninja for implementing a tickler file, so if you use Remember the Milk you're all set.

Use the due date meta tag to force an item to pop up when you would have filed it in your tickler. This answer on RTM implementation explains how (see the due dates and repeat and smart lists headers.

Due dates and repeat can be entered in natural language, e.g. ^tomorrow or ^June 30 or *weekly. If I have a task that I've though of now but don't need to see until a certain date (i.e. it's not yet a next action but will be by date certain), then I use this meta data field (Note: the due date as I use it dictates when the item shows up, not when it's due--more on this in the smart lists section).

Then you just use smart lists to pull up items that are dueBefore:Now OR due:Never.

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Smart lists in RTM are really powerful. I have a setup similar to the one in this answer, explained here. –  Magnus Feb 23 '12 at 13:10

If you are planning on using a tickler file as described by Allen, then you will want to file stuff (reading material etc.) for later. So IMHO simple calendering doesn't cut it.

I keep a tickler file on my desktop that has sub-folders. Since you don't have physical limitations on the number of folders (i.e.: you don't have to use 43 folders) you can name each folder with the date when the material inside gets interesting. So if you have 50 PDF files each of which gets relevant at a different date in the future you would use 50 folders.

If the due date of the next files is super-far into the future you can remind yourself of looking into the folder by adding an appointment to your calendering. Or you can incorporate it into your morning ritual.

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To me using the due date in a todo application to implement a tickler file seems a bit weird—semantically because a tickler file is for having a task start on a specific day as opposed to being due on a specific day, and functionally because you'll probably have to work against the system to set up the right kind of behavior where tickler file items are invisible to you until the specified date (which is the whole point of a tickler file).

Things and OmniFocus are the only apps that I know of that let you specify both start dates for tasks (in addition to due dates) and handle them properly.

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The Windows program MLO (MyLifeOrganized) also has separate start and due dates. –  Belisama Mar 22 '12 at 22:04

I use two methods, depending on whether the thing I'm being tickled about is part of a project or stand-alone.

  • If the task is part of a GTD project, I keep it with the rest of my project tasks. For me, that means a list on Remember The Milk, with a due date of when I want to be tickled.

    The things that normally fall into this category are where I'm waiting on something that has a specific deadline before I can progress my project, but where the next action thereafter will be on me (so it doesn't go into my "@Waiting for" list). Recent examples would be my suit being ready from the dry cleaners, or to talk to a specific person about something when I know I'm going to see them that day.

  • If the tickle is something that stands alone, it goes into a specific Google Calendar. This is for things that need to remind me of something (eg a voucher runs out in a couple of weeks, or that I need to pay the council tax).

If there's physical material involved, I'll file that with the rest of my project/reference material, and note in the electronic tickle where it's been filed. IIRC Allen talks about using his tickle file for concert tickets; in contrast I have a reference file called "Tickets", so when I'm tickled about them, I know where to look.

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Folks,

The topic is a little dated, but thought you might find this useful if you're still looking for a digital tickler file : http://albatrossflavour.com/blog/tickler

Hope you find it useful!

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I don't use Remember the Milk and therefore can not give you special tips how to use that system.

General Approach

A general approach, that I'm finding very helpful to

  • note all important things to avoid forgetting them and getting a "clear mind"
  • to get reminded about the right things at the right time in the future without always having to scan a very long list of TODOs

is the one from Michael Linenberger:

I've already mentioned it here: http://productivity.stackexchange.com/a/1880/566

Manage Your Workday Now (formerly Total Workday Control) is an alternative to GTD: see: http://michaellinenberger.com/ there is also a free ebook "The one minute todo list" from the same author, which explains the basics of M. Linenbergers system: http://masteryourworkday.com/dont-buy-my-new-book-let-me-explain-why-also-free-version-available

I highly recommend reading the free ebook and if it sounds good to you, his longer book "Master Your Workday Now" is also worth reading.

I'm using a similar system:

  • a "scheduled" date in the future lets the items appear on my task list at a certain day.
  • a "deadline" date is only used, if there is a real "hard deadline" defined for the task or project

This is kind of an electronic tickler file, as TODOs can be sorted by date and will appear (as described by M. Linenberger) at a certain date in my "field of view" and if its not yet the time to do them, I change the date to the future again and defer the task easily. (that's, what Linenberger calls strategic deferral )

Tickler system

For your tickler system, it is IMHO a question of available technology.

I also find it important (and that is also one of the key aspect's in Linenberger's method) to NOT let tasks stay hidden in your e-mail inbox in mails still marked unread although you've already read them, etc.

If you read an e-mail, directly extract the tasks from it and note them in your "system" etc. More about the workflow can be found in Linenbergers book.

My system, which I'm very happy with: I'm using Emacs org-mode for keeping notes and managing my tasks and projects. Each task or note can have an attachment directory, where documents are stored, so for larger projects I then link the corresponding directory and can easily access it with one keyboard shortcut.

Thougts about e-mail handling:

Furthermore (I have to use MS Outlook for e-mails at work) I have an Outlook macro which copies a Hyperlink to the selected email(s) into the clipboard. I can insert that Hyperlink into a task in org-mode and thus access e-mails later very quickly.

At home, I've started moving e-mails out of the e-mail-software (MacOS X, drag&drop to a folder) to store them directly with other information of a project. Having e-mail separately makes managing lots of projects in parallel very difficult. Drag&Drop also works with MS Outlook on Windows, however I'm still having problems with the created filenames (which are often long), so I'm working on a VBA macro to easily save e-mails on disk and at the same time clean the filename and prepend the current date&time of the e-mail to the file name for easier sorting.

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