📅 Date: 2024-02-10 Johnny Decimal sounded great. It sounded like a fantastic way to organise my digital life. I read everything that I could find and had a long hard think about how to implement it. However, it just made my life ever so slightly harder!

Johnny Decimal is a good system

The JD organisational system is outlined on its website, and it is an excellent idea. It allows you to retrieve and store files in an almost address-like way.

The general methodology is to organise your files, emails, notes and whatever else you want to, in a rigid structure, each topic has a number associated with it and each layer deeper increases the number.

In the examples on the website, which I recommend you read because it’s an excellent site, the system appears instantly logical.

The example structure looks like this

Initially, this seems like a brilliant way of doing things. It allows me to simple search for 16.02 (Travel insurance) and have all the related files summoned.

These organised folders are referred to as Areas, Categories and IDs (items) depending on depth, and can be thought of as drawers in a physical cabinet.

I won’t explain more of it here because, if you are interested, you should go and read the website.

There is even a JD Alfred extension to make navigation even easier for macOS/Alfred users

GitHub - bsag/alfred-jd: An Alfred Workflow for the Johnny.Decimal filing system

I was sold. I soaked up all the info that I could, and I implemented the system in my life about a month ago now. I went all-in. Even fiddling with the structure of my Obsidian vault and website to fit in with my new JD life.

But sadly, no

Today, however, I have backtracked and reverted to my previous structure. Not because JD is bad. But because it did not make my life easier. I think, partly, this is because I was already well-organised and have my own ‘topic’ based way for structuring folders. The JD system quite literally added nothing to my workflow except making my filed have number at the beginning.

JD actually slowed me down. I am sure that had I kept using it, I would have began remembering the file addresses and numbers for things but, that’s quite literally more to remember, not less.

Also, on my main computer (macOS) I use Alfred and with a simple CMD+Space, I can start typing what I want. A moment later, it arrives in front of me. The addition of JD did not impact this at all. It was functionally useless to me.

All this is not to imply that I am anti-JD or think it’s without a use case, but for organised power-users it’s just not useful.

I think people who would really benefit from it are teams and office workers who, while dealing with a lot of files, are not usually very good at general file management. A formally enforced system with good guidelines and structure would mean everyone could find things.

Imagine someone asking where ‘the bob documents are’ and you could just reply with something like ‘16.04’ and boom! that’s it, all the information delivered in an easy to remember code. I think that’s great! But for me, it’s just been annoying.

I suggest, even if you are not interested in using JD personally, you should visit the website because it really makes you think about file management in a new way, which I found very entertaining.