JD: What is a project?


I’ve purchased and gone through the JD book but I’m still confused about what seems to be a very basic JD thing. I’m sure its me and not you.

But what is a « project » in this system? I don’t want to get caught up on the JD vs GTD vs PARA vernaculars, but rather to understand the core concepts of JD

I gather from the book that « projects » are the top level in JD (and within them Areas ranging from 00-99, then Categories). But after reviewing sample set ups, top-level schemas range from “My entire Life” to “Work”/“Personal” to “renovate house” to “implement big gov’t project”. The new material on “13 Projects” further confuses this for me. Is JD’s philosophy that the top level can be that fluid for different use cases - for example some put their entire life in one JD “Project”, while others might use 25 different JD “Projects” to track 25 different pillars of their life?

For example, I’m thinking of just having “personal” and “work” for two top level JD PROJECTS. Is that right ? I would normally think of these as large “Areas” that contain projects as well as sub-areas (that may contain projects), but that is admittedly a GTD hang-up, and again I don’t want to get hung up on language when I’m really concerned about structure/scale.

This leads me to another question regarding tracking large, medium and small « projects » within JD, but I just want to make sure I’ve got this basic thing right.


I’ve been thinking about changing the language to a Johnny.Decimal system rather than project, and this post sealed the deal.

The word ‘project’ comes loaded with assumptions. It’s a thing with a start and an end. It has goals, aims, objectives. It’s planned!

Your system isn’t like that. And as you’ve mentioned, it might be simpler to think about it as a collection of areas. Those areas might not have anything in common other than you.

So then when do you need two systems? When the areas in them really have very little in common. The classic example is your entire home life vs. your day job, assuming you have a classic 9-5 type job. (It’s different if you run your own small business.)

When I did the data centre deployment that I spoke about, while I was there nothing in my personal life was relevant. And when I went home, work was utterly forgotten. None of the technologies were linked. I had a work laptop and logged on to the work network. Work email. Work filesystem.

Also in that context the ‘day job’ thing was an actual project with goals and a budget and whatnot, and it was large enough that it consumed 7 areas so it couldn’t have fit in to my personal system even if I’d wanted it to.

Does that help? How do you feel about the language shift to ’system’?


Yes, I think this would help. Project indeed sounds like something planned with a beginning and end. Sometimes you can use a system for a project, but you don’t have to.

Yes! A system can equal a project, but it doesn’t need to.

I agree that “project” has connotations that don’t apply to prior usage of the term in JD. However, my first reaction is to be wary of adopting “system” as an alternative. People are likely to need to refer to their “system” meaning the superset of their “projects”.

There will also be a need to refer to the JD methodology, but probably “framework” or “methodology” are better choices than system in this context.

How about “domain” instead of “project” ?

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I considered ‘domain’ but it feels like quite a computer-sciency term.

I’ve also used it here to mean something different.

This is the main problem that I see. If one Johnny.Decimal system is a collection of areas from 00-09 through 90-99, what do we call the aggregate of 2+ of those things?

Supersystem? Megasystem? :stuck_out_tongue:

How do we feel about these terms to describe aspects of the Johnny.Decimal methodology.[1]


A Johnny.Decimal system is a collection of areas from 00-09 through 90-99. It’s what I’ve called a project to date.

This system might be a typical project, it might not. Johnny.Decimal no longer uses the term project at all. I don’t care what you’re organising.

I no longer have a formal term for ‘the real world thing that you are organising’. Because how could I know? You could organise literally anything.

Your ‘stuff’ or ‘mess’

Sometimes I do need to talk about ‘the stuff you’re organising’, and so that’s what I’ll call it. Your stuff. Or maybe your mess for fun.

I might also use digital life, because that’s the tag-line: a system to organise your digital life.

More than one system

If you have a need for multiple systems, we call this your collection of systems.


A domain is an isolated part of your life as described at jdcm.al/13.02.

This is relevant because it dictates the structure of your systems – i.e. do you need to use the 3-letter system designation or not.

For totally separate domains, each can use the simpler AC.ID notation as there’ll never be any confusion.


The PRO.AC.ID notation therefore becomes SYS.AC.ID.

This is very timely as I’m just recording the JD Workshop. So all thoughts welcome asap please!

  1. All bolded terms are definitions. We use ‘methodology’ vs. ‘framework’ to describe the thing as a whole. ↩︎


I like this quite a bit. This is much more clear. :+1:


Yes, I really like system. Have been calling it my system, not project, for a while.

I think this is flawed, because people use it in the real world as well. Your own examples are physical cabinets, boxes and folders. Also, would not call it life, cause you can organise more (work, groups, etc) or less (part of your life).
Stuff is probably better, although I also like “things”.

Not very flashy, but logical :wink:

Why do you need system and domain? For my understanding: using PRO.AC.ID is one system with multiple domains? If you use these both, you need to make that distinction very clear.
In Dutch I would probably call this ‘facetten’, which means something as facets or aspects. But ‘domein’ (in Dutch) would also indeed work.

Don’t you mean DOM.AC.ID? Multiple domains within one big system? Cause the numbering is through and through, maybe in one index, so sounds like one system. Or is it the other way around?

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Were you at the whiteboard with me yesterday?! :wink: Yeah this is the problem. So stuff is usually correct.

I do need a catchy tag-line though. ’A system to organise your stuff’ feels a bit casual, although I did use that for a while.

Given that mostly people are organising digital things I think I’ll stick with ’A system to organise your digital life’ and ignore the discrepancy for now.

Unless anyone has a better idea?

Your domains are a physical construct. Say you have two: work, and home. They’re separate domains when they never, ever meet. The systems are different, you have different devices, different email, file system, everything.

This is important because then, in each of these domains, you do not need to use the system identifier at the front of your project. You can just use plain old AC.ID which is simpler.

As soon as there is a link between these systems — say I use my personal phone at work and I track my index in the same Bear account — now the domains are joined. I can no longer use simple AC.ID because 11.01 exists in both places.

Now I need to use multiple systems and I have a collection of systems.

Hence SYS.AC.ID. SYS = this system’s identifier. There is no identifier for domain.

You always have 1+ systems per domain. For example, my life here has a system each for:

  • P01 Personal life
  • D01 johnnydecimal.com
  • D85 Johnny.Decimal business
  • L77 Learn with Lucy

Let’s say I got another job at the Department of Important Things here in Canberra. That would very likely be a new domain as I’ll be on their network, laptop, login, and so I could ignore my home systems and just use AC.ID in that context, if I wanted to.

(I should prefer this because it would be simpler for my colleagues and less to explain. Why encumber them with a SYS identifier that they don’t need?)

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And sitting here talking to Lucy, the problem that most people have isn’t organising their bedroom. Marie Kondo sorted that one out.

It’s organising their files and email and to-do list. That’s what causes stress.

So I need a tag-line that makes them realise that I can help with that. Hence digital life in this context.

This clarified a lot. It is not multiple domains per system, but possibly multiple systems per domain. I think I need some graphics to visualise this fully xD

Yes of course, especially as a tagline.

Hey thanks for considering this post. I’m just the new guy so don’t change anything on my account, lol. Looking at the rest of the discourse I like “domain” as the high level distinction. In any case I’m enjoying the debate!



Ha, no, the question was great. It came at a perfect time – we’ve started to record the video version of the Workbook.

Words are super easy to edit. Videos not so much! So I’m glad this happened now as the new terms will be recorded literally tomorrow morning. I’m not kidding; perfect timing.

Also by the way I want to say that I’m just some dude here making stuff up. I don’t have all the answers. It’s only by thinking about things and having conversations like this that ‘the answers’, such as they are, reveal themselves. :pray:


You could go bold and just say “A system to organize your life”. Because that what I use it for. (The important parts, anyway)

I’m not too fond of “system”. I think most people will think of a system as something you do systematically/structured. PARA, Zettelkasten, GTD, etc, are all called systems (AFAIK) and I think it would be good use the same nomenclature. Otherwise you again could risk confusion. (But I definitely think “system” is an improvement over “project”, which confused me as well)

I was trying to come up with alternatives, which was hard. One idea was Collection. (As in, it’s a collection of areas) But also, maybe not high level enough and too generic. I quite like Domain, but I have a computer background so I might disqualify. :grin:

Ohhhh this is brilliant. Bri-lli-ant. Thank you. This is it.


Personally for the system I made I’ve been toying around with the title “Addressable Storylines” or “Memory Addresses”, since what JD really does in a single person’s life is allow them to have a consistent ID to use across any part of their lives (e.g. I add sticky notes with IDs to ziplock bags to remember which parts go with which bit of kit I have and relate it to my notes/manuals folders etc.).

That said, what JD the company does is it allows every downstream reader to develop their own memory address systems, so some kind of “A system to map your life”?

Not saying this is correct either, just spitballing some thoughts based on my own thinking.

As the local namer-in-cheif, I thought I’d just give my two cents worth.

I think we all agree that “Project” is not the right term and “Domain” has too much baggage, maybe the right word is “Instance”.

System refers to JD as a whole, versus the “PARA System” or the “GTD System”.

So I have my work JD instance and my home JD instance.