Build your system – introduction
To build your own system, it should now be clear that you need to:
- Break everything up in to, at most, ten areas.
- Break those areas up in to, at most, ten categories.1
- Assign numbers to those areas and categories.
- Start creating items and assigning Johnny.Decimal IDs.
- Track your numbers somewhere.
It isn’t much more complicated than that.
Advice: don’t rush the process
I’ve done this a lot and the best piece of advice I can give is: take your time.
When you start a new system, you don’t know what you don’t know. It takes time to recognise patterns and understand the scope of the task at hand.
If you rush in, you’ll create categories that are too broad or narrow. You’ll mis-categorise things. You’ll miss things.
You’ll end up having to change it later, which is possible, but not ideal.
Most of my systems are with me for a couple of years. Many last a lot longer. Take the time at the start to get it right.
Step 1: write everything down
Your first goal is to get everything out of everyone’s brains. And I mean everything: the more the better at this stage. If in doubt, write it down.
I find it easier if you’re already planning, or working on, a project. If you haven’t started it’s more difficult. (Also, this means it’s never too late to get organised.)
Write down everything that you do. Whenever a new thing comes up that you haven’t written down, make a new note.
These notes only need to be short: one line. Just enough to jog your memory when you review them later.
Use sticky notes, or a mind map
During this period of discovery you need a frictionless way to record all of these notes.
Sticky notes work great. They’re easy to re-arrange later and there’s nothing quicker than a sticky note and a pencil.
Stick them on the wall of your office and let everyone add to them.
If you use a mind map, don’t be tempted to organise things yet. Just write it all down in a big flat list.
Involve the whole team
If you’re doing this for a project at work, don’t do it in isolation.
More people = more ideas. At this stage, more is better. Involve everybody.
A cool boss lets everyone cover their office wall in sticky notes.
Minimum: 1 week
Do not spend less than a week on this step.
When you run out of new things to write down, you’re finished. Not before.
Here’s how your project would look if all the things were emoji. You’ve spent a week sticking notes to your wall.
Fun! But also chaos. Quickly, find the turtle. Now pretend the turtle is your project schedule. Not so fun any more.
This is life without Johnny.Decimal. Thank goodness you’re here.
Step 2: group things together
The next step is to group similar things together. Let this happen naturally: don’t have the concept of areas or categories or whatever else in mind.
Just bring things together that feel like they should be together.
This is why sticky notes or mind maps work so well.
There’s no ‘right way’ to do this
You will doubtless find a few different ways to organise your items.
We’ve gone with colours as the first level of organisation here, but we could also have chosen animals, people, and symbols. Or round, square, and random shapes. Or some other way.
Choose what feels natural. Involve the team. Build consensus. (Not everybody has to agree. At some point you just have to make a decision.)
Again, you don’t have to rush this. Sort things and sleep on it.
Step 3: do it again
Now that we’ve grouped things once, do it again.
And there we have it: a Johnny.Decimal structure.
11 Symbols & signs
11.01'Prohibited' in Japanese
11.03Blood type A
11.04Blood type B
12 Household things
12.04Glass of red wine
13 Sports equipment
13.02Table tennis bat
14 Red-haired people
32.04Wheelchair going real fast
33.03Are all the blue animals fish?
33.05I know, I know, the dolphin is a mammal. I was just checking that you were paying attention
34.01Business shirt in the classic 90s combo of blue with a yellow tie – nice
34.04Pants or trousers, depending where you live
Now find that turtle
turtle project schedule is now much easier to find, and has a unique ID number that you can use everywhere.
Boss: “Hey Ruby, where’s the schedule?”
You: “Twenty-two oh-four.”
You might end up doing it the other way round: categories then areas. It doesn’t matter. ↩