When we kept everything on paper, organised people had these things called filing cabinets. They stored all of their documents in them in a structured way so that they could find them again.

Now those same people store all of their files in arbitrarily named folders on their company's shared drive and wonder why they can't find anything.

Nobody can find anything any more

Thousands of emails. Hundreds of files. File structures created on a whim and six layers deep. Duplication of content, lost content. We thought search would save us from this nightmare, but we were wrong.

The frustration I see in organisations is palpable. The time and energy wasted is unimaginable.

It's time to get organised. Here's how

This is just an overview: we'll get to the details shortly

There are a couple of core concepts, and they're so simple you'll wonder why you haven't thought of them before.

It's worth mentioning at this point that all of this is free, and you can implement it now without any additional tools.

Your boss is going to love you.

Step 1: Divide everything in to ten things

Take everything you need to organise and sort it in to, at most, ten large buckets. Put a label on each bucket. Make sure the buckets are unambiguously different. This forces you to group things quite broadly, but that's the point.

We call these buckets your areas. An area might be Finance.

Step 2: In each area, divide in ten again

Go through each bucket and repeat the process. This creates your categories. A category might be Tax Returns.

So now we have ten areas which contain ten categories each. That's a hundred categories at the very most. It is very unlikely you will end up with a hundred categories.

Categories are the key

What's a category? It's just a collection of stuff. Book drafts. Travel itineraries. Lease agreements. Test reports. Contracts. Any type of work you do can become a category.

The point is that you've defined these categories, each of which is contained within a broader area. You do this when you set up your system, which we'll get to shortly.

We give each category a number. Remember they're grouped in tens, so our first ten categories will be numbers 10-19 and they will all be related to each other.

Let's say 10-19 is our Finance area. Category 11 might be Tax returns, 12 Payroll, and so on.

We also know that 42 will not be a finance-related category. This is the power of the system: you know where you absolutely should not bother looking to find your data.

Now we bring in the numbers

A Johnny.Decimal number looks like this:


They're short, memorable, and can be spoken out loud. They're always two digits, a decimal point, and two more digits. Say it like “forty-two eighteen” or “twelve dot oh-three”.


Before the decimal: category

The decimal point is there to break the number up, but more importantly to remind you that the number before the decimal is the important part. It's the category.

The category tells you which area it's in, because all areas start with the same number. Your category starts with a 1? That's something to do with Finance.

At a glance, you know what the number contains. You'll be astonished at how many of your category numbers you remember.

After the decimal: ID

The number after the decimal is just a counter. We call it the ID: it starts at .01 and increases with each thing you create.

In these examples, 42.18 is the 18th thing you've saved in your 42 category. That might be 42 Sales proposals, in which case you might have 42.18 Proposal for Acme Co.

The 3rd thing you've saved in your 12 Payroll category might be 12.03 Payroll schedule for 2017. The title of the thing doesn't link to the ID—remember, it's just a counter.

I get the idea, but why bother?

Many, many reasons. This page is getting a bit long, so why don't we move along to the part where I tell you all the amazing things you can do.