JD Limitations and Choices

Having a guideline that presents limits (10/10/100) is freeing, and also causes you to rethink your existing system. For example:

I’ve rearranged my writing in multiple ways, yet they are never fully logical. Some things are in folders based on publishing destination (web sites), others are in folders based on broad subject categories (fiction vs non-fiction), or narrower categories (book, essay, memoir, blog post). It has been inconsistent for quite awhile, and has changed more than once.

Given the volume of material you would think I was a writer by profession and probably published. You would be wrong! LOL All just personal projects, with only blog posts having ever been published (and forum posts).

JD forced me to rethink things. I’m trying to move everything into topic-based folders (Environment, Genealogy, Travel, etc.) because the publishing format or destination could be either blog or ebook or traditional magazine, or NONE of those, or ALL THREE. So topic feels more logical. Book reviews might end up under Miscellaneous, not sure.

Side note: I ran across an interesting idea regarding the pile of material that will, frankly, never go anywhere. The concept is based on ‘idea debt’ - and how do you get out of debt? You file for bankruptcy! So - idea bankruptcy - great detailed article on it here: How I Got Out of Idea Debt - should clear out a lot of space for folder organization too…

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Been planning and tweaking my personal J.D setup on and off since last night (i aim to finish by tonight before i get too frustrated and give up). This system definitely presents a fun mental challenge in classifying different aspects of my life due to the limitations you described.

Some quick findings: (for me personally)

  • Parallels at the same level of taxonomy (among areas; among categories) are not that important. Much more important is the specificity level when choosing areas and categories compared to your data.
    • Areas 10-19 and 20-29 can represent entirely different concepts and be not comparable at all and be of different sizes and nature, does not matter. We just care about the relation between Area 10-19 > Category 11 > IDs 11.01, 11.02, etc.
  • The strict number limitation makes me think in terms of economy first before context or meaning.
    • Areas are the most “expensive”. They are top-level, and we can only have 9 (theoretically 10) of them. We cannot, however, be too frugal when selecting areas (eg. only have 2 areas) as it leaves the brunt of the job to categories, given we only have 3 levels.
    • Categories are slightly less expensive. We can have 81 (theoretically 100) of them in total, albeit divided among areas.
    • IDs are the cheapest; we can have 8019 (theoretically 10000) of them in total.
    • I had at least one category where I was stumped and it would make such a big difference if the limits were 10/100/10 instead of 10/10/100 (making categories way more “affordable”). I was tempted to tweak the system that way, but decided against it. My solution was combining J.D with a different system… but that digresses too far from this thread’s topic, lol.

In the end, the objective is confidence and clarity about where to find a particular thing, so ultimately I simplify and modify my own implementation of the system, as long as it still serves the main objective.

Maybe Johnny himself shouldn’t be admitting this, but I got myself in a similar situation thanks to increased complexity at work and an indecision on which tool to use†. And just yesterday I decided to get myself out of it:

# 000.00.00 Johnny.Decimal index for 2021

> Noting that we have declared J.D bankruptcy at this point. This file
is now the one, master, only, start-again, please-try-to-get-it-right place.

So if anyone else is feeling this, it happens to the ‘best’ of us where ‘best’ is defined as ‘the guy who made up the system and, turns out, clearly isn’t the best at it’…

Being organised isn’t easy. It doesn’t come free: it’s hard work. But the results are worth it, whether it’s personal satisfaction, reduced stress, or being better at your job. Stick at it!

† See this post. I’m using The Archive and liking it so far.


I use a tangentially related idea to get around limitations: ignore. Inspired by web dev/programming tools like TypeScript and prettier/eslint; you mark the part of code you want the tool to ignore with ts-ignore etc.

Probably not a good idea in any system, but I find it necessary for my personal use.

I “ignore” my 80-89 and 90-99 categories (Projects and Personal Knowledge) as I organise them with a different structure/methodology. 80.00 and 90.00 is a text note describing how and where they are organized, and 89.99 and 99.99 are links to the Obsidian vault where I keep them.

Would love to see more details if you can share.

This gets to the reality of a system, in that it’s never going to be perfect. We shouldn’t pretend that it is, and we should have good ‘escape hatches’ to handle the exceptions.

This is how I see 01 Inbox and 02 Notes working out.

By the way, 02 Notes is working out really well for me. If I need to take notes at work — say there’s a meeting on — rather than the mental energy of figuring out which (possibly new) category to put a note in, I just make a new ID like 006.02.14 … and put it there. I had found myself putting it nowhere, or just not taking the note.

I can always move it later if required, but at least having the note tagged in the correct project means I can lay my hands on it later.

I put the date as the id in my notes like 305.02.20210517.

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Holy crap! That article hits the nail on the head. Thanks for sharing it. I may have to let go of some old ideas… :grimacing: