Forget about files for a minute

So far we've mostly thought about using this system as somewhere to keep your files. But what if you didn't always have to write things in a Word document or create an Excel spreadsheet? What if you just had a place where you could keep little notes about things? What if it was super amazing quick and let you found anything you wanted in an instant?

What I'm about to show you is probably my favourite use of the Johnny.Decimal system. Start using this at work and watch your productivity go through the roof.

What do I mean by notes?

Take our 22.02 Office lease example from before. It's great that we can store those documents in a place where we have any chance of finding them again, but there's probably stuff related to the lease that you don't have in a document anywhere.

What was the phone number of the lawyer that you used? The reference number of the bank transaction when you paid the deposit? Maybe a list of stuff you still need to do to complete the job?

Introducing your digital notepad

That sounds like something from 1992. The digital notepad: it'll replace your facsimilie machine! But listen, this is really useful.

We're going to do this by example. You need some software. It's free, and available for everything. It's called Simplenote. You can get it from here and you should go and do that now. Please please don't think you'll do it later, just do it now.

If you're in a corporate environment and can't install software, or don't want to connect your stuff to "the cloud", there are excellent options for Mac & Windows. I cover them in the [Advanced Concepts] later. For now, follow along with this example so you get the idea.

You should be looking at this

This is my Mac – on Windows or your mobile it'll look a bit different, but the idea's exactly the same. You can delete the welcome note.

52.13 Add a note

That's it. We keep notes here, and we start them with the Johnny.Decimal number. Hopefully one of those cartoon lightbulbs just went off in your head. I'll stick some stuff in my Simplenote and show you one or two quick tricks, and then we're done.

Concepts - Take a note - Simplenote with stuff, unfiltered.png

I've added some items

Pay attention to that Search box at the bottom there. That's the magic.

Now, Simplenote is generally excellent because you can just search for something—just type some words—and it'll filter all of your notes to show those that match. That's brilliant. But what's more brilliant is this.

Concepts - Take a note - Simplenote with stuff, filtered.png

Imagine this when you have hundreds of notes. You can instantly filter to only show only those notes related to a specific category by typing three characters. It doesn't matter what the title of those notes is, because they're categorised by number already.

Of course you can combine this with the standard text search that Simplenote provides. This allows you to narrow down your notes instantly; say you have notes that refer to "client XYZ" all throughout your system (as well as notes about your many other clients), but you only want to see “any contract stuff related to client XYZ”. Just type 22. XYZ in to that Simplenote search box.

Note that Simplenote searches all of the text of all of your notes, not just the titles.

Advanced note taking apps

You may want more. Here's what I personally use – but don't mess about here if you're a beginner, Simplenote does the job. Come back when you're really comfortable with how all this works.

At work (behind a firewall)

For Windows, Resophnotes runs without administrator privileges and will store files locally. It can sync to Simplenote, but I've never tried it. It's a bit rough around the edges but it's real fast. This is what I use every day at work. Free.

At home (or if you're lucky enough to work on a Mac)

For Mac, nvALT is what I use. It synchronises to Simplenote and is quick and simple, but a bit old and not updated often. I think the developers are working on something new, which I'll buy the instant it's available. Free.

For iOS, Simplenote has an app or you can use the beautiful Bear. It also has a MacOS version. Real pretty like. $ > 0.