Just about every adult I know has something on the kitchen counter called “the pile.”

You know them: it’s usually stocked full of receipts, original art work, birthday party invites, ads, coupons, and the like, and if you’re one of the lucky ones sporting said counter pile, you’ve definitely plowed through it on numerous occasions, looking for that holiday flyer or the dentist office reminder card you know is there.

Let me show you a trick that virtually eliminates the time-sensitive items from your counter pile.  It’s called a Tickler File, and you can have yours set up in minutes.  It’ll change your paper-sorting life.

How to Set Up Your Tickler File

1. Get 12 file folders and label them by month.

Put your Tickler in an easy-to-access location. A small file box, a little stacking tray, or the very front of your filing cabinet are great spots.  It doesn’t need to be out in plain sight, you just don’t want to forget where you put it.

2. Reference Paper With a “Tickler Symbol” on Your Calendar.

When you get a piece of paper that needs to be accessed or used during a specific month (examples below), reference the accompanying action or event on your calendar, and add a little T with a circle around it. This indicates that the paper you’ll need on that date is in your Tickler.

If you use a digital calendar, you could use parentheses: (T).

Then simply place those time-sensitive papers in the appropriate month’s folder.

Sound easy?  It is.  Now, let’s practice.

1. Smog Check Form

It’s October 10th, and you get a form from the Department of Motor Vehicles, indicating that your registration this year requires a smog check.  The smog check can be done during October or November, but the registration is due on December 12th.

What do you do?

Normally, we’d just stick something like this in “the pile” and hope we remember to get that smog check done in time. Then in January, when we get pulled over by a police officer who’s wondering why our car hasn’t been registered, we plead, “I’m sorry, but have you seen my kitchen counter? I’ll get it done today, promise!”

(We’re not going to do that anymore.)

Instead, we’ll write the registration deadline on our calendar (so we’ll see it coming), and we’ll add “Get a smog check” to the “Errands” section of our context-based list.

We could even add a calendar trigger sometime in November that asks, “Get your smog check yet?”  (Just in case—because we all know how life gets.)

Next to each of those reminders, we add our circled “T” (and since this particular sheet of paper might be in three different folders—October through December— we note the month beside it (see the photo above).

When it’s time to take the car in, we take out the smog check form that needs to be signed from our October Tickler, and happily cross that task off our list.

Lovely, isn’t it?

Here’s another example:

2. Wedding Invitation

Your college friend is getting married on June 22nd, and she sends you a beautiful invitation, complete with a map to the wedding and reception. You need a safe place to keep this invitation, so you don’t end up texting the bride for directions to her wedding the morning of. (Don’t be that person.)

Note the wedding on your June calendar and put your “T” symbol next to it, indicating that any related paperwork can be found in the folder for the month of the wedding.

Let’s do one more.

3. Concert Tickets

You and your friends are going to a concert in the city on August 3rd, and everyone buys their tickets in late May when they go on sale.  You’ve got more than two months before the event, and you don’t want to be scrambling at the last minute, so you print your tickets online and put them in your August Tickler, noting the concert and your Tickler symbol on your calendar.

Get Rid of the Paper Pile Forever

This Tickler idea is so simple, but I never thought of it until I read David Allen’s best-seller, Getting Things Done.  He recommends a Tickler with 43 files, 12 for the months, plus 31 for the days (which cycles and is checked daily). But as a working parent spinning in several different directions every morning, I like to simplify the things I need to check before starting my day.

Twelve files kept in a safe place and one calendar I check daily has taken loads of stress off my plate. Now, when my daughter comes to me in June and hands me a form for the school orchestra that doesn’t need to be turned in until September, I don’t break a sweat.

Our home now has a place for the book order form that’s due in two weeks. We can always find the addresses to birthday parties, and I can easily group papers that need to accompany me on a plane trip.

When we consistently use our Tickler files, we won’t cringe every time we look at that pile on our kitchen counter. In fact, by implementing a few simple organization techniques, we can get to the point where “the pile” won’t even exist. Anything that doesn’t belong in the Tickler can go to the recycling bin.