My personal system

Details are scattered around here, but I’ve never documented my personal system in its own post and someone has asked via email, so I’ll respond here.

For almost ten years, my entire home[^1] system fit inside a single system. Only recently have I expanded to a PRO.AC.ID system at home. The system I’ll describe below is now 101 Personal.

[1]: So I had separate systems at my job, but this one covered my entire personal life, including all of the business-related stuff.

Here are my areas, then we’ll explore each in more detail.

10-19 Personal, daily life
20-29 Personal, projects
30-39 [Name of the company I own]
40-49 Strange Attractor
50-59 Johnny.Decimal
60-69 Marriage celebrant
70-79 [Blank, can’t remember why]
80-89 Learning specific things, usually technical

The first two was an idea which didn’t really work. I thought it would make sense to separate stuff that was just ‘daily life’ from stuff that I classed as a ‘project’. Turns out this really is one of those areas where you can’t remember where you put a thing. I’ve since merged these two areas, because the categories within were identical:

10 Management & meta
11 Process
12 People & organisations
13 Financial
14 Knowledge & data
15 Technical
16 Travel
17 Entertainment
18 [blank, don’t remember why]
19 House & home
  • 11 Process is ‘life stuff that I need to do’. Get a passport, ship an electric piano from the UK, register to vote.
  • 12 People & organisations is notes/files about/from people or organisations. My home life isn’t really complicated — don’t own a house, no kids — so I don’t have a lot to organise. I just pay my bills, pretty much. I’ve written elsewhere about how I use the numbering within this folder; worth a read, I won’t repeat here.
  • 13 Financial is obvious enough. Tax returns and whatnot.
  • 14 Knowledge & data is stuff that I like to learn, remember, and so on. I expanded it recently from just Knowledge to encompass the fact that this contains ‘data’ items like my resume.
  • 15 Technical is also pretty obvious.
  • 16 Travel needs no introduction. I long to start filling this one up again…
  • 17 Entertainment is also obvious, concert tickets were the main item here.
    • Might be worth noting that I do not recommend using JD for media libraries. The alphabet works best for music, movies, etc. My music is Apple Music, my visual media is all on Plex with a basic /tv, /movies hierarchy. Nothing clever, no need.
  • 19 House & home is for rental agreements, moving, that time I had a motorbike, etc.

30-39 [Name of my company] follows a similar structure. The main difference is 34 Contracts, given that I am a contractor. Otherwise I find I still need many of the same things as I do in my personal life.

40-49 Strange Attractor was a podcast that my partner and I did a few years ago. It’s still out there if anyone is morbidly curious. Don’t judge us.

  • 41 Documents and notes has just that. Original notes about setting the thing up.
  • 42 Episodes contains all of the actual content. There’s a folder within there per episode, and then in true breaking-the-rules fashion there are subfolders within each episode folder.
    • But, crucially, they’re all identical:
    • 01 Audio - raw, as recorded
    • 02 Audio - Logic package
    • 03 Audio - bounced files for internal review
    • 04 Audio - auphonic processed
    • 05 Audio - podcast as released
    • Notably, the entire 42 category is on a different drive (as it’s massive).
  • 43 Website
  • 44 Images & other assets
  • 45 Marketing & PR
  • 46 Financial are all obvious enough.

50-59 Johnny.Decimal, which is now its own project, contained:

  • 50 Management & meta
  • 51 Notes
  • 52 Website
  • 53 Development as in software.
  • 54 Demo folders for the website screenshots.

Pretty simple, there’s not much going on there.

60-69 Marriage celebrant, because I became one to marry my best friends, contains:

  • 61 Administration which is another word for ‘process’. Paying the annual fees, doing the annual training, all that nonsense.
  • 62 Attorney general documentation & forms is obvious.
  • 63 Weddings contains a folder per wedding.

And that’s it.

80-89 didn’t really work out so I won’t mention it.

Nothing too clever there, but hopefully that helps someone.


Johnny, Thank you for this! I think we all appreciate this practical example from your own experience in developing and using the JD system. I’m also a contractor who moves from client to client with their own project needs. Would you consider including a real-world example using the PRO.AC.ID approach?

Sure! Have set myself a reminder, realistically will be the weekend.

What would you do about the old stuff once I migrate to your JD system? Getting all the old stuff into JD isn’t feasible. What would you suggest do?

I’m not sure what you mean. Are you talking about your existing files?

You’ve got 3 options, I guess:

  • Do nothing. Start again. Leave all your old stuff where it is.
  • Do nothing until you use a file. Then bring it in to your new JD system. Just make sure that you actually do this every time.
  • Take the time to bring your old files in to your new system.

+1. It’s hard to go back to old files. What I did was create an “Archives” folder in my “Management and Meta” section. I dumped a ton of files there. From time to time I have to use one. I’ll grab it and then decide if it goes into an active JD folder or not. I’ve actually done some basic numbering within the Archive section for previous jobs, as I sometimes go look for a project or file I might have worked on in the past.

Thank you for sharing this. I’m curious how you handle PRO.AC.ID overall. Does your documents folder have a 101 Personal and inside have all of these?

I’m also surprised by how broad each category you have is. For example, you have “People & organizations” in 12, “Financial” in 13, “Knowledge & data” in 14, not broken down into further subcategories (even combining data and knowledge here). Do you ever miss not having these further subdivided?

For example, in my proposed file plan, Financial is a top level Area, broken down into things like “Annual Taxes”, “Banking”, “Insurance”, “Investing Knowledge”

I have a sort of knowledge area broken down into the things I like to learn about, Sailing, Science, Health, etc.

My instinct is to make categories as specific as possible, but it seems like you do and recommend the opposite. I’m afraid it’ll be hard to find, say, my resumes in “Knowledge & data” mixed in with everything I want to learn and remember. If you had a new hobby you wanted to pick up, where would it go?

Yep, just like that.

It works great for me. Remember, in each thing you now have 100 things you can store. My life isn’t particularly complex so I don’t have a lot of financial stuff. From memory I’m up to the mid-20s. Mostly annual tax returns. And even those I’d be tempted to put in 13.ID Tax returns with a folder for each year in there.

Think of it like the system is taking you from a world of unorganised chaos — whether or not your previous system was like that — and bringing you to one where you can immediately and with full confidence find your ‘personal financial stuff’.

So now within there even if you have to scan a hundred things to find what you want, it’s unlikely to be onerous. And things group together by time, so it’s never like you’re blindly scanning those hundred things wondering where a thing is.

I think there’s a risk in going too specific, because now you have to really think about where a thing might be. There’s a risk that your categories overlap. Know what I mean?

This will be different for everybody of course. I have a simple life and, frankly, very little interest in personal finance! :laughing: I see you have ‘investing knowledge’ as a category. That would make no sense for me but if it’s a big part of your life, well, you probably need it.