Areas and categories
Let’s take a deeper look at the structure of the Johnny.Decimal system.
We’ll start with categories — the blue boxes that we put our folders in. They’re the most important Johnny.Decimal concept.
What are you here to do?
When you sit down at your computer you have a task in mind. You need to pay a bill, or save the output of a music project, or update your insurance claim.
You’re doing some work, even if you’re not at work, so for simplicity that’s how we’ll refer to it.
The goal of Johnny.Decimal is to get you to the place where you do this work. And to get you there quickly, with no stress.
That place is a category.
What’s a category?
It’s a collection of similar stuff: travel documents; insurance policies; marketing material for your small business; cool sounds that you use in your music production.
Any type of ‘work’ you do can become a category.
Design broad categories
When you sit down to work, your goal is to get to this category as quickly as possible.
So we should prefer fewer, broader categories over more, granular ones.
If you design your system with categories of
savings, you’ve created ambiguity.
Compress these categories in to the single
finance and the ambiguity disappears.
Category = organised
A category is as organised as you need to be.
When you get there, you still have a bunch of folders. But now these folders all relate to the same thing, and they’re ordered in the sequence that you created them.
So even if you have to scan a dozen folders to find the one you need, this is no bother. It might take ten seconds.
Later, we’ll see how your index removes even this minor inconvenience.
You really want me to categorise everything?
If you can’t categorise something that you’re doing, it implies that you don’t really know what it is.
That’s weird. Why are you doing it?
I’m not saying that categorisation of all of your stuff is easy. If it was easy we’d already be doing it. But I’m telling you that it is possible and necessary if you ever want to find your stuff again.
But it could be this or that!
A common objection to this system is that life is ambiguous. If I’ve got a car and a house and they both have an insurance policy, do I go with
Insurance > Car and
Insurance > House or
Car > Insurance and
House > Insurance
or something else? And how will I ever remember?!
In reality, you just decide, and you get on with it. You choose which of these schemes makes the most sense to your brain.
It’s not like you’re ever paralysed with indecision due to a panoply of options: that’s the entire point of the structure of Johnny.Decimal.
Also, you’re human. Humans are smart. You’ll be okay.
Areas group categories. Your areas should be really, really broad.
They’ll probably (but not necessarily) line up with the areas of your life.
When designing a system it might feel more natural to think about your categories first, and then group those categories in to areas: what you’d call a bottom-up approach.
But if you want to think top-down — areas then categories — that’ll also work.
How areas are named
We group all of the categories from
19 in to an area, so we number that area
Of course everything also has a title, so this becomes something like
10-19 Life administration
20-29 Home business
Structure vs. content
What we’ve just discussed — areas and categories — is the number before the decimal. This gives your system its structure.
This means a smart stranger can immediately find anything just by its full Johnny.Decimal number. Because, remember, at the first level of your system only your area folders are visible.
So if you tell them that something is at
16.01, it can only possibly be in the area numbered
10-19. From there it’s in the category numbered
16, and then it’s item number
The number after the decimal is the ID, and that’s where you store your content. Let’s take a look at that on the next page.
00-09does exist; I’ll discuss it later in the advanced topics. ↩