Numbers: before the decimal
Let’s look again at the format of our numbers. It’s crucial that you understand why they look like they do.
The complete Johnny.Decimal number
Just as a reminder, every Johnny.Decimal number looks like this.
23.24 31.70 22.39 13.04 31.71 21.02 22.38 13.03 23.21 23.22 32.56 12.34 12.35 21.01 32.55 23.23
In words, we have any two digits, followed by a decimal point, followed by two more digits.
Here are a bunch of random numbers from a theoretical system.
Group things together (categories)
Johnny.Decimal is all about grouping similar things together, so let’s start to do that.
All the 12 numbers All the 13 numbers 12.34 12.35 13.03 13.04 All the 21 numbers All the 22 numbers 21.01 21.02 22.38 22.39 All the 23 numbers All the 31 numbers 23.21 23.22 31.70 31.71 23.23 23.24 All the 32 numbers 32.55 32.56
Do it again (areas)
That’s starting to look more like something organised and a bit less like a bunch of random numbers. Let’s take it one step further.
All the 10-19 numbers All the 12 numbers 12.34 12.35 All the 13 numbers 13.03 13.04 All the 20-29 numbers All the 21 numbers 21.01 21.02 All the 22 numbers 22.38 22.39 All the 23 numbers 23.21 23.22 23.23 23.24 All the 30-39 numbers All the 31 numbers 31.70 31.71 All the 32 numbers 32.55 32.56
You can almost imagine this looking like a set of folders.
If you didn’t care about anything except the 22 numbers, you could just collapse the others like this.
Of course, we’ve done this backwards
When we decide to organise something with Johnny.Decimal, we don’t start with a bunch of numbers. We start like this:
- First, we divide everything in our system in to (at most) ten large buckets of stuff. We call those our areas, and we assign each area a range like 10-19, 30-39 ... 90-99.
- Then, within each area, we break things up again in to (at most) ten more buckets. We call them categories and we assign them numbers like 11, 12 ... 19.
- Finally, we assign each individual thing in our system to a category, and give it a unique number. We start at .01 within each category, and work our way up through the numbers.
Let’s use a small company as an example, and write it out minus the numbers.
Folder This is a... ------------------------------------------------ Finance AREA Tax returns CATEGORY Payroll CATEGORY September ’17 payroll UNIQUE THING October ’17 payroll UNIQUE THING Bookkeeping CATEGORY Administration AREA Company registration CATEGORY Contracts CATEGORY Cleaning contract UNIQUE THING Office lease UNIQUE THING Staffing CATEGORY Marketing AREA ...etc. ...etc.
All we really do with Johnny.Decimal—and if at this point you’ve realised this and are thinking, “hang on, all he’s done is put numbers in front of things” well then you’re not far wrong—is put numbers in front of things.
But that is everything. It transforms the way you think about and use everything. Trust me.
Let’s put numbers in front of the system we just built above.
Folder This is a... ------------------------------------------------ 10-19 Finance AREA 11 Tax returns CATEGORY 12 Payroll CATEGORY 12.01 September ’17 payroll FULL J.D ID 12.02 October ’17 payroll FULL J.D ID 13 Bookkeeping CATEGORY 20-29 Administration AREA 21 Company registration CATEGORY 22 Contracts CATEGORY 22.01 Cleaning contract FULL J.D ID 22.02 Office lease FULL J.D ID 23 Staffing CATEGORY 30-39 Marketing AREA ...etc. ...etc.
So long, cursed alphabet
What does this achieve? For one, it’s removed our dependence on the alphabet. The alphabet is a fine thing but it’s a terrible way to sort your files because things move around. Today we have:
Administration Finance Marketing
...and tomorrow the exports department come along and do this:
Administration Exports ← new folder! Finance Marketing
...and Finance isn’t the second thing in the list any more. This sounds like a small thing, but it makes it impossible for your brain to learn where something will be.
The Johnny.Decimal version
This is better:
10-19 Administration 20-29 Finance 30-39 Marketing 40-49 Exports
Because our folders all start with a number, they’ll sort in very predictable way1. This concept applies throughout the system.
1. I’ve seen many shared drives with numbers at the beginning of the folders: people are already solving the curse of the alphabet. They’re just not going far enough.
20, 60, 30, 90, whatever
At this point you might be wondering, well, why is Finance all of the numbers from 20-29 and why is Exports 40-49? What do those numbers mean? And the answer is that they mean nothing. They’re just numbers. 40 isn’t better or worse than 20.
On this page I’ve talked mostly about the way that we structure our areas and categories. By now you should have a good high-level understanding. You have categories of things and each category belongs to one area only. Areas group categories together.
All of this happens before the decimal. Those two digits of the number are the category, and the first digit of the number tells you which area it’s in.
What we’ve done here is organise a bunch of ‘stuff’ in to something with structure; we’ve created, essentially, a very simple database.