J.D system for professors/academics?

I’m a university professor and, after reading all the (very neat and clear) content at the website, would like to give the J.D system a try. I generate a lot of files, notes, etc. at my job (and also personal life) and typically have serious problems finding stuff, so it looks really useful.

But before rushing to design my own system and probably failing or making many suboptimal decisions that I would need to change later (meaning overhead due to re-indexing everything, and also needing to re-remember categories) I would like to know if there are any other academics using this that could share an example of their systems for inspiration. After all, even if we teach/do research in very different fields, the structure of our jobs is not so different (this graph was made by someone roughly in my antipodes and still reflects what I do quite well: What does a Lecturer/Professor actually do? - BioTrib). So I’m sure if anyone has tried before, they could give good tips on what to do and, especially, on things that seem like good ideas and fail.

Some questions that come to my mind (and it could also be helpful to get some feedback from non-academics who know the system, if you have an answer to these…) are:

  • Academic duties are typically grouped in a quite natural way into either three categories (teaching, research and service, as in the drawing above) or four (teaching, research, service and admin). The latter grouping is perhaps a better model of how we use time, but I suppose the first grouping looks better in the sense that admin will typically relate to either teaching, research or service, and having it separate could create ambiguities (is the purchase paperwork for a research computer admin or research?) but I wonder what other people think.

  • Three or four categories (plus maybe one personal category for non-work stuff) maybe sounds like too little for the base system and that more nesting levels would be needed (a lot could go under research, for example), so… better to have them as projects? Or to use the projects system but with lower-level things as projects (301 teaching of course 1, 302 teaching of course 2, etc.)?

  • Should research/teaching things be grouped by subject or by “kind of thing”? For example, under research, is it better to have categories like “data”, “software”, “experiments”, “papers”, “reviews”, etc.? Or is it better to have “research on giraffes”, “research on elephants”, “research on crocodiles” and inside “research on giraffes” I would have the data, experiments, paper, reviews, etc. related to giraffes? (not really a zoologist, just using a visual example for clarity).

I would be grateful for answers to any of these! Otherwise I guess I will just go with one solution that feels right and hope that it works for me, but it would be useful to learn from the experience of others. Thanks!

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Welcome! Cool diagram … this isn’t my area so I can’t help specifically but others have talked about teaching as a general concept so hopefully you’ll get some responses.

If not, let us know how you go? One day … when work gives more more time … I’d love to build a proper library of content like this.

I am an academic and I use the PRO.AC.ID format. I’ll share my example setup later when I’m a bit more awake and have a bit more coffee in my system :slight_smile:

I’d be very grateful if you can do that!

I’m still figuring it out myself also, but I have “10-19 academic research” with these subfolders so far:

10 conferences
11 research projects (subfolders labeled by general topic or collaborator)
12 grants and fellowships
13 academic organizations
14 publications (published or in process of being written)
15 sources and data
16 CFPs

For teaching, I have one folder “90 courses taught”, with subfolders for specific classes, and sub-subfolders labeled by semester/year (in violation of the standard JD recommendations).

Interested to see others’ setups as well.

Thanks a lot for this example.

@ks84, any chance to see yours?

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Apologies for the late reply. I got busy with stuff so didn’t have a chance to reply. A caveat here is that I consider my system still to be in its early stages so it might change significantly as I learn more. For the time being, here is my overall setup:

├── 100-199 Personal
├── 200-209 EU Projects
│   ├── 201 Project 1
│   └── 202 Project 2
├── 210-219 RCUKProjects
│   ├── 211 Project 1
│   ├── 212 Project 2
├── 300-399 Teaching
│   ├── 301 Module 1
│   ├── 302 Module 2
├── 900 Miscellaneous

A typical module setup looks like this:

├── 302 Module 2
│   ├── 10-19 Administration
│   │   ├── 11 Notes
│   │   ├── 12 Sign Up Sheets
│   │   ├── 13 Reporting
│   │   │   ├── 302.13.01 Module Report
│   │   │   └── 302.13.99 Resources
│   │   └── 19 Miscellaneous
│   ├── 20-29 Teaching Materials
│   │   ├── 21 Lectures
│   │   │   ├── 302.21.01 Block Zero
│   │   │   ├── 302.21.02 Introduction
│   │   │   ├── 302.21.03 MachineLearning
│   │   └── 22 Tutorials
│   ├── 30-39 Assessments
│   │   ├── 31 Component A
│   │   │   ├── 302.31.01 Exam
│   │   │   ├── 302.31.02 Marking
│   │   │   └── 302.31.03 Resit Exam
│   │   └── 32 Component B
│   │       ├── 302.32.01 B1 Poster
│   │       ├── 302.32.02 B2 Group Project
│   │       └── 302.32.03 B2 Resit
│   ├── 40-49 Resources
│   └── 90-99 Miscellaneous
│       └── 91 Archive
│           └── 302.91.2020.7z

It should be self-explanatory but if you have any questions or anything is not clear please do ask.


Thanks a lot! It looks very sensible. I think it’s indeed self-explanatory, except what’s the difference between Personal and Miscellaneous? Just as a curiosity.

Also, where would research that isn’t directly related to a particular project go? Miscellaneous? And what happens if for example you write a paper that can be considered to be part both of an EU project and a national project? (or perhaps this doesn’t happen in your particular research discipline. In mine, it’s common that a given paper is “affiliated” with several projects, both in formal terms -taking funding from all of them- and in practice -because project themes can overlap).

I’m thinking about the design of my own system and hope to be able to post it here soon…

Personal is anything to do with my personal life, such as identity documents, stuff related to the home, my wife etc. Miscellaneous is basically for stuff that I don’t think easily fits into any of the other categories and likely not worth the trouble of creating a separate project for.

And, well, regarding the publication, I haven’t come across that situation yet so I haven’t really thought about it. If I’m not wrong this problem has been discussed on this forum before; namely how to deal with stuff that falls into several projects or categories. I believe one suggestion was to put symlinks or aliases under all the different categories so it’s accessible from all of them and also shows up under them.

And for non-project related papers I’d probably allocate another chunk, say 221-239 to them and put them under there.

I have settled on a bunch of areas/categories so I’m sharing them here in case they could be useful for someone else, although I suppose they will still move around a bit (even though I tried to design the system carefully, now that I’m physically moving files around I sometimes feel the need to add a category or merge two…). Feedback is also welcome if anyone wants to provide it, of course, although right now I’m rather confident that this is a good approximation of the system I want even if details might change.

In the file system, I’m going to give a try to not having area folders as mentioned in a different thread, only category folders. But areas are still present in my index, of course, as they are needed to make sense of the numbers.

  • 00-09 Meta

    • 00 Index
  • 10-19 Personal

    • 11 Photos and Videos
    • 12 (Censored hobby/interest 1)
    • 13 (Censored hobby/interest 2)
    • 14 Purchases
    • 15 Personal Bureaucracy
    • 16 Learning
    • 17 Creativity
    • 18 Finance and Banking
    • 19 Events
  • 20-29 Research

    • 21 Ideas
    • 22 Publications
      • 21.21 2021 …
    • 23 Presentations
      • 22.21 2021 …
    • 24 Reviews
      • 24.21 2021 …
    • 25 Posters
    • 26 Data and Sources
    • 27 Bibliography
    • 28 Grant Requests
  • 30-39 Teaching

    • 31 Course Materials
    • 32 Grades
    • 33 Organization (assignment of hours, timetables, etc.)
    • 34 BSc/MSc Theses
    • 35 PhD Theses
  • 40-49 Admin-Bureaucracy

    • 41 Certificates
    • 42 Promotions
    • 43 Evaluations
    • 44 Reports
    • 45 Timesheets (I might merge this into Reports if needed, as this area is quite full)
    • 46 Conference Registrations (I might move this into Miscellaneous near Travel, or merge it with Travel, if needed, as registering for an event is typically linked to travelling to the event - well, at least pre-COVID).
    • 47 Project Budgeting and Accounting
    • 48 Hiring (Offers and candidates)
    • 49 CVs
  • 50-59 Service / Other academic duties

    • 51 Event Organization
    • 52 Evaluations of Grants, etc.
    • 53 Evaluations of BSc, MSc, Phd Theses
    • 54 Letters (recommendation, etc.)
    • 55 Press and Dissemination
  • 90-99 Miscellaneous

    • 91 Travel (I put this here because I might travel for teaching, research, admin or personal reasons, but I think it makes sense to have boarding cards, hotel reservations, visas, etc. in the same place rather than all over the tree).

I’m not sure if you meant to do that but shouldn’t this be 22.21 2021? And the same for the other one?

Btw, if you don’t mind sharing, I’m interested in seeing how you organise your ideas. Mind sharing an example or two?

Yes, those are typos. I moved those categories around a bit and forgot to rename.

You mean the internal organization of the “21 Ideas”? (Now renamed to “Ideas and drafts”, see below). At the moment it’s still work in progress (my -perhaps ambitious- goal is not only to use the system from now on but to organize my existing data, at least in the data partition and cloud drive that I currently use, and I have a lot of stuff to organize) but I’m just creating items for individual research ideas. For each idea, what I store there are basically preliminary notes, links to material and drafts (because if the idea ends up being fruitful and I make a publication out of it, then that would go to the Publications category, if I present it somewhere that would go to Presentations, etc.)

I hope this clarifies your question, but otherwise feel free to ask.

By the way, the whole thing has evolved (because as I actually reorganize things, I notice things that I hadn’t noticed before, even thought I gave everything quite a bit of thought). Right now it looks like this:

  • 00-09 Meta

    • 00 Index
  • 10-19 Personal

    • 11 Photos and Videos
    • 12 (Censored hobby/interest 1)
    • 13 (Censored hobby/interest 2)
    • 14 Purchases
    • 15 Personal and Family Bureaucracy
    • 17 Learning
    • 18 Creativity
    • 19 Events
  • 20-29 Research Materials

    • 21 Ideas and Drafts
    • 22 Datasets
    • 23 Experiments
    • 24 Bibliography
    • 25 Third-Party Research Software
  • 30-39 Research Outputs

    • 31 Publications
      • 31.21 2021 …
    • 32 Presentations
      • 32.21 2021 …
    • 33 Posters
    • 34 Reviews/MetaReviews
      • 33.21 2021 …
    • 35 Software
    • 36 Grant Requests
  • 40-49 Teaching

    • 41 Course Materials
    • 42 Grades
    • 43 Organization (assignment of hours, timetables, etc.)
    • 44 BSc/MSc Theses
    • 45 PhD Theses
    • 46 New Degrees and Curricula
    • 48 Teaching Publications
    • 49 Teaching Projects
  • 50-59 Admin-Bureaucracy

    • 51 Certificates
    • 52 Promotions
    • 53 Evaluations
    • 54 Reports and Timesheets
    • 55 Misc/Day to Day Admin
    • 56 Conference/Event Registrations
    • 57 Project Budgeting, Accounting, QA and Misc
    • 58 Hiring (Offers and candidates)
    • 59 CV
  • 60-69 Service / Other academic duties

    • 61 Event Organization
    • 62 Outgoing Grant Evaluations
    • 63 Outgoing Thesis Evaluations
    • 64 Outgoing Letters and Certificates (recommendation, etc.)
    • 65 Press and Dissemination
    • 66 Invited Talks and Other Events
    • 67 Academic Societies
    • 68 Websites
  • 70 Finance

    • 71 Banking and Investments
    • 72 Property
    • 73 Taxes
  • 90-99 Miscellaneous

    • 91 Travel

I’m using the system close to the limit, as many numbers are close to 10, but I think I won’t overflow :slight_smile: The pressure of the decimal system is actually great because it forces me to think about logical grouping of things rather than spreading out too much and having flat hierarchies.

By the way, one limitation I’ve come across is that there are things that are in cloud folders shared with other people, and I can’t do much to organize those to my liking. For example, for some courses, there is a folder shared with all the professors that mixes course materials, organization and grades (so it would cut across 3 categories). And for some research projects, there is a folder where people put 54 Reports and Timesheets, 57 Project Budgeting, Accounting, QA and Misc and maybe even the grant request that lead to the project (36 Grant Requests). I can’t really convince everyone to follow my personal organization scheme and, in the case of OneDrive (which we sadly use at my workplace), I think I can’t even move folders around or rename them (in the much saner Dropbox, it’s possible to locally rename or move shared folders without other people being affected).

Any ideas on how to deal with this apart from creating symlinks/shortcuts galore? I guess I can live with it, the perfect is the enemy of the good, but I was wondering if anyone has found a clever trick to improve on this limitation.

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Are they doing this because they have their own numbering system or just because they’ve seen a thing with numbers and they think they need to also use (essentially random) numbers?

I see this at work. If it’s just lack of knowledge, the only solution is training, and a central database of IDs. But now you almost certainly need someone to manage them, because there’s no way people will do it themselves. You need ‘the librarian’, a role I’m convinced many/most organisations need…

No, sorry, I wasn’t very clear. What I mean is that these folders lump together things that would need to go under these categories under my system. They aren’t using a J.D system (or any other numbering system) at all.

I’ve been using JD for a while now (as an anthropology professor) and am mostly happy with how it’s working for me, with a couple sticking points. Here’s the organization I’ve ended up with (and some notes along the way). This is all in my Dropbox, and I use the folder structure there as my index (I know, bad, but it works for me!).

The key challenge I’ve found is figuring out how to match levels of abstraction between AC.IDs and actual stuff. What has worked best for me is, where I can, setting things up so that an AC.ID corresponds to some meaningful unit of work: so 41.01, 41.02, etc. are all articles I’ve worked on; 31.01 et al. are peer reviews; 34.01 and co. are each students I advise. That doesn’t really apply everywhere, but I think my system works best where I’ve found some “natural” mapping between AC.IDs and my work stuff. Also, this is totally not future-proofed, as I expect many of these things to pass 100 eventually; given how MacOS sorts, it’s not really a problem, and I’ve basically decided that I don’t care. An added bonus(?) is that the incrementing IDs give me a sense of how much work I’ve done, so I could easily tell you how many peer reviews I’ve done, how many articles I’ve published, etc. A lot of this ended up being modeled on how I need to divide things up for reporting back to the university on my CV, for reviews, etc.

One other thing is that there are some very big academic work differences when it comes to research and publishing structure—I’m in a field with much slower, larger publications than something like computer science, where people may be peer reviewing way more stuff, having different research inputs, collaboration structures, etc. People in my field typically have one or two huge projects going at any given time, which may last for nearly a decade, depending on how you count. So I haven’t really figured out a good way to manage that in JD, as you’ll see below (in 50-60).

00 Meta
   00 Inbox 
      ## various folders to hold things that need to be filed or dealt with
   01 Notes
      ## Obsidian vault lives here, sort of reproduces some of my JD hierarchy
   02 Publications
      ## Easily-accessible folder of my publications for sharing
   ... Other stuff that I want easy access to or that's about the system

10 Admin
   11 CV 
      ## Versions of my CV (dated, not AC.IDed; I maintain these in a Pages file that I continually update and print to PDF in here when needed)
   ... Various work documents, related to the departments I'm affiliated with
   15 Student evaluations
      ## After each term, I dump them in here
   16 Grants
      16.01 [Each grant application; do these really belong in the project areas below? idk]
   18 Tenure & Promotion
      ## Each formal review gets an ID in here; if I make it to Full Prof and never change institutions, this will only ever have 4 AC.IDs in it
   19 Misc

20 Teaching
   21 [Class name]
      21.01 [One iteration of the class]
   ... et cetera, this will break once I develop more than 9 unique classes, but I usually teach the same 4 in rotation, so it should last me plenty long

30 Service
   31 Peer reviews
      31.01 [Each manuscript]
   32 Rec Letters
      32.01 [Each person who asks]
   33 T+P Letters
      33.01 [Each person I'm writing for]
   34 Advising
      34.01 [Each advisee]
   35 Friendly feedback
      ## When people ask me for feedback on their work, I give it a slot in here
   36 Committees
      ## Any service obligation committee, like hiring, prizes, etc., whether internal or external
   ... etc (includes consulting work, media appearances)

40 Writing [should probably be called "output"]
   41 Articles + Chapters
      41.01 [Each article or book chapter]
   42 Talks
      42.01 [Each invited talk]
   43 Conference papers
      43.01 [Each presentation—separate from 42 because they go in different sections of my CV]
   44 Editing and organizing
      ## If I edit a special issue of a journal or organize a conference panel, that goes in here
   45 Blog posts
      ## Was for things I write for other people's blogs, but I don't do that really anymore, so it's dead
   47 Books
      47.01 [Each book; won't be many of these, they might be better off as a higher-order thing that can have more internal structure?]
   48 Events
      ## For things I don't need to write for, like roundtables, workshops, etc.
   49 Miscellaneous

50 [Big project 1]
   51 Admin
   52 IRB
      ## Human subjects protection docs in here
   53 Documents
      ## Stuff I collect from the field
   54 Recordings
      ## Audio and transcripts of interviews, dated instead of AC.IDed
   55 Notes
      ## Field notes and research memos, also dated
   ... And so on (the structure in here is probably the most discipline-specific thing, and I think I need to ask other anthropologists how they do it)

60 [Big project 2; same as 50 inside]

70 Personal
   ## Categories for things I do for fun, personal development stuff

80 Family [shared with my spouse]
   81 IDs
   82 Taxes
   83 Medical [everyone has an ID in here]
   84 Kids school stuff
   ... etc

90 House [also shared with spouse]
   91 Property docs
   92 Insurance
   93 Home improvement projects
   94 Mortgage stuff
   95 Car

100 Archive
    ## The morass of things that I want to keep but don't want to re-sort

My big issue now is organizing those project areas, 50 & 60. The first one was done pre-JD, so I was just filing old work away. I don’t know if it’s actually that useful for organizing the work while I do it. Those huge projects are, in PARA terms, somewhere between a project and an area—they can last for a very long time and sort of subsume a lot of other things, but they do eventually end. Because they last so long, my instinct was to give them top-level status, and then just retire them when they’re done. So, I worked on 50 for the last decade; 60 is in progress. Now that 50 is wrapped, it will get shuffled off to my archive folder; whenever I start up a new big project (probably not for at least five years), it will get to be 50. So long as my pace stays about the same, I’ll never need more than 2 at once, and there won’t really be collisions, since each area will be dormant for several years between uses. I think that’s basically fine, but the internal structure isn’t that useful for me, and I mostly manage that stuff in Airtable now. But that’s an anthropology-specific thing.

Whew. Hope that’s useful (though obviously I was mostly doing it to try and wrap my own head around what I’ve been doing here…).


I notice neither of you have a separate category for specific research projects. Do you not have externally funded projects you work on?

It’s interesting that you have separate categories for course materials and grades. Does that not cause duplication?

Dying to know what these are.

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Thank you all for your helpful posts.

I wanted to implement a JD system for academics using Obsidian.

I’m an academic looking to organise my files and emails with JD. It seems more suited to my needs than PARA since many of the ‘projects’ are quite fixed in time and I believe I can benefit greatly from a numbered system. I am also a recent Obsidian user and have been looking at how to organise my Obsidian vault as well and ideally this follows the file/email JD system.

For the JD structure itself, I’ve based it mostly off of Al-Khwarizmi’s second post.

I’ve read through the website and forum on why/how to maintain an index and it seems to be doable in Obsidian. However there are some limitations.

Issue 1

File and folder names cannot contain square brackets, e.g. [25.02], in either the folder or note name. This may increase false positive rate when searching, however Obsidian does allow for a useful filter, e.g. file:25.02, to look only at filenames.

Issue 2

Obsidian sorts folders first. so if 25.01 is a note but 25.02 is a folder, 25.02 will appear at the top. See the discussion here.

Fortunately, there is an easy plugin to fix this: The plugin is here, and a discussion is here. You will want to create a sortspec.md file somewhere inside our outside your vault, and it must contain the following YAML text at the top:

sorting-spec: |
target-folder: /
< a-z

Issue 3

Folders in Obsidian are just folders - you will need to separately create a note to keep some folder level information (e.g. an index), you will need to create a note inside that folder and, for example, give it the same name as the folder. Fortunately there are plugins to automate this.

  1. AidenLX’s folder note: This helps to create a note within each folder that also has the same name as the folder and is automatically hidden such that the folder itself appears in Obsidian as a note.

Issue 4

If on iOS, an iCloud Obsidian Vault may only be created in the root iCloud folder. This may be a limitation if you want to use one JD structure for both files and notes and do not want to put everything inside iCloud / Obsidian. I personally think having a single folder for both notes and files is an interesting approach:

  1. You avoid creating and maintaining two identical folder structures (one for .md notes, the other for files)
  2. It’s much easier to see where your numbering is at (without looking at the index) because there are no blanks
  3. It’s perhaps faster to switch between notes and files (e.g. you can open PDFs from within Obsidian and take notes right there)

This approach does not seem possible right now and does point to an iOS file system limitation. I have decided to go for the ‘two identical folders’ approach and maintain order using the index in Obsidian. My reasoning for this:

  1. I was not eager to place the entirety of my files in an iCloud / Obsidian root folder (not that it makes much difference)
  2. I still need to maintain an index as there will still be files that are shared / generated by others that would be stored on other cloud services beyond my control

Automatic Index generation

I’m using zoottelkeeper-obsidian-plugin to automatically generate an index and sub-index files within each folder. Note that this works perfectly with AidenLX’s folder note so that the same note that Aiden’s plugin creates is also then populated by the index of zoottelkeeper. Zoottelkeeper is also nice in that the index is enclosed within an auto-generated area, so you may also add your custom notes and details.

See the forum post here.

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