Brainstorming Content

I’ve been contemplating the Johnny Decimal system for a while, and I’m going to give it a try.

I have two challenges that are preventing me from moving forward and would like some experienced JDers to help me reason these out.

For brevity, I’ll stick with one challenge per thread: Challenge #1: Brainstorming Content

Johnny writes here that I should write down everything that I do, with the intent to derive areas & categories from them.

But if my goal is to create my own system where I know where everything is: Is it better to ask myself what documents I produce rather than what I do when generating this list?

For context, I’m an electrical engineer turned product strategist. I often take on coding and learning projects, and I produce strategy documents though I’m always evolving those documents & methods.

When listing “what I do”, it’s unclear how granular I should get, not to mention each “what I do” has MANY outputs.

  1. Product Manager (Strategy docs, Planning docs, Market Research, Product Metrics, etc.)
  2. Engineering Manager (Product Description docs, Product Specifications, etc.)
  3. Project Manager (Timelines, templates, checklists, etc.)
  4. Learner (Checklists, learning plans, project plans, projects themselves, etc.)
  5. Email Processor (this feels too granular, but if I follow the instructions verbatim, this would be one of them).
  6. etc…

Listing what I produce would give me:

  1. Product Strategy Documents
  2. Product Planning Documents
  3. Engineering Specifications
  4. Marketing Plans
  5. Project Schedules
  6. Skill Practice & References
  7. etc…

At first glance, this second list seems more concrete to me, and allows me to categorize a lot easier. However, I can see how creating this second list may impede me in the future when I find I must create a new form of document or output.

Would you please expound on the brainstorming part of this exercise for me? Thanks in advance!

An interesting question. I hope my answer isn’t disappointing: do both, together.

So you collect your thoughts, your outputs, your actions, everything. Some of these things will be verbs, some will be nouns. Totally cool: they still relate.

Then when you do come to group them together, sometimes it’s the nouns that will win and sometimes it might be the verbs. It’ll depend on your scenario and your brain.

For example, at home, since practically day 1, I’ve had these categories:

  • 11 Process
  • 14 Knowledge & data

I don’t know why I chose the word ‘process’, and probably wouldn’t recommend it tbh, but it just means ‘get a thing done’. So for example:

  • 11.08 Ship electric piano to Australia
  • 11.10 De-register [some small charity I was involved with]
  • 11.14 Register for a Brexit postal vote

All things to do. The primary use for the ID in this case may well have been my task manager: remember, thanks to your index, you should be thinking of more than just your file system while you do this.

(In modern times I would know whether the primary use was in my task manager because my index would tell me. These items are ~a decade old and I wasn’t doing that then. I’ll expand on this idea in a future site page.)

Then over in 14 world, we have:

  • 14.11 My CV/résumé
  • 14.12 Manual for some power adapter
  • 14.22 Eye prescription

Mostly things over here. Outputs.

So, thinking out loud, I wonder if it would make sense to focus on the what you do at the higher levels — your areas — and as you come ‘down the tree’ to categories and IDs the focus might, or might not, shift to what you produce?

I’m going to create new categories that mirror the site’s structure. I moved this to the new category 14 Build your system.

OK, it appears clear to me now.

Overall, I hear that the answer is “yes-and-yes”.

  1. Capture literally everything I “do” by listing outputs, roles, responsibilities, processes, etc. Because by the time I get to the sorting step, I’ll start to see patterns by up-leveling (from outputs to responsibilities) or down-leveling (from responsibilities to outputs) accordingly.
  2. The main guideline is that each output, role, responsibility, & process interacts with any concrete product I either consume, use, or create.

For the sake of vernacular, a “concrete product” can take a physical form (e.g. papers, moving boxes, etc.) or digital form (e.g. files).

To use a fun example to ensure I get it: If I play League of Legends casually with friends on weekends, I don’t need to create a category for that since it’s all self-contained within the game. Nothing to organize there, even though this is something I DO. So either I shouldn’t list it, or list it and cut it later when I start categorizing.

But if I were planning to become a professional gamer and need to manage concrete products (e.g. practice plans, notes, contracts, etc.), NOW it should be listed and sorted in the next steps.

Does that sound accurate to you?

If you play LoL but it’s 100% casual and you never intend to track a score, ratings, your progress, ownership of your in-game assets, or whatever — I don’t know the game, then you don’t need to consider it.

But it doesn’t hurt to write it down and then discard it later, as you say.

If you do want to ever save anything about it, I would say that League of Legends is almost certainly too narrow for a category.

Gaming feels like a category. Then in there you’d have a bunch of IDs related to LoL and potentially other gaming things.

(Unless you run a LoL club and you’re the League Master or whatever. Then you probably need at least a category, and possibly an entire project. As always, it depends.)

Think of categories like this: once you’re in one, you are where you need to be: you are at the point where I would say that you are organised.

So within a category of Gaming, finding your LoL IDs is trivial. It doesn’t matter if they’re mixed in with some IDs about chess or Minecraft. At this point, you will have no stress finding the things that you need.

I think this mental model can help ‘lift up’ our categorisation. They can often be a level up from where you initially think.

Ooh that’s a good rule which I’ll add to the future ‘build your system’ pages: for every category, ask yourself: can I generalise this and remain organised? Can I lift it up a level?

Walking through the example with me is a great help. Thank you.

For every category, ask yourself: can I generalise this and remain organised? Can I lift it up a level?

I love this distinction. It’s a great self-check I can do to determine if a category is too narrow. I definitely agree that adding a self-eliciting questions checklist would help a newbie go through the creative process of making categories & areas (with the bolded quote above as one of those questions). Then, we could self-check ourselves to refine those categories & areas.

Thanks again!

1 Like

Great idea, I’ll add this to the list!