Johnny•Decimal

Tracking your numbers

When you’re assigning new Johnny.Decimal numbers to different types of files and objects, you need to know that the number is unique.

You don’t want to have to look in your file system, your email, and your notes to check what the next available number in a category is: you need a central index.

It’s an index, not an inventory

The purpose of this index is not to record the individual contents of every single Johnny.Decimal item: it is only to record the IDs that you have assigned.

Your database needs to record this level of information:

10-19 My area
   11 My category
      11.01 My first ID
      11.02 My second ID

You don’t need to track what is in each of your JD folders:

10-19 My area
   11 My category
      11.01 My first ID
Document.doc
Picture.jpg
Spreadsheet.xls
11.02 My second ID

Your file system is not your index

You might think that your folder structure—in Finder or Windows Explorer—is this index, but it isn’t.

You will create Johnny.Decimal numbers to save things that aren’t files. That might be an email, a note, a physical object, or anything else. These numbers must be tracked centrally.

Searching for things

When you’re saving all sorts of items in your system, you won’t always remember where they are. Did you save the office contract in your email, or your shared drive? You might look in your drive, not see the contract, and think you didn’t save it.

The whole point of the Johnny.Decimal system is to remove this frustration.

Having a central index allows you to search for items by title, or filter your entire list by area or category. This lets you see, immediately, what you’ve saved.

If your system also tells you where that item is, then all the better.


What do we use?

I’ll be honest, there isn’t a great solution to this yet. I’m in the process of writing something specifically to support this system1, but until then we have to make do with other tools.

  1. Sign up to the mailing list or follow @johnnydecimal on Twitter for updates.

Use your notes

Simply create a blank note in your note system for each new number that you create. This has worked well for me in the past. It’s quick, searchable, and uses a system you already have.

It also has the side-effect of encouraging you to use your notes, which will make you more efficient.

AirTable (or any other database)

You can use any database system you like. Airtable2 is a great online database which I use for all sorts of things.

I’ve created a template database which you can use as a starter. You can copy it from here.

  1. That link earns me a $10 referral credit if you sign up. If you’d rather not do that, that’s cool: just go to airtable.com. You can copy the template database either way.

Excel or Google Sheets

Screenshot of a spreadsheet showing columns with area, category, ID, and title.

Create a spreadsheet and save your numbers there. This is a really simple solution, but it isn’t very clever.

At work: SharePoint lists

If you work for a large organisation, you may be able to ask your IT people to create you a list in SharePoint. This can work very well, and has the advantage of being visible to your entire team.


Subscribe for updates

Sign up to my very low volume mailing list and I’ll let you know when I finally develop custom software for this thing.


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