Relationship to Getting Things Done (GTD)

Hey, I first read about JD this morning and I’ve been excited all day about setting it up :nerd_face:

One question I have relates to the GTD system.

I’ve struggled with managing my task lists for years, but starting last year I read up on GTD and started using it with Emacs Org mode as the tool for it. I’ve found it really helpful for me. It has been especially effective for short-lived items that I have to pay attention to and then close.

JD seems like a great framework for longer-lived things (my filesystems have always been a mess) and I will definitely use these ideas.

I’m wondering about that boundary between note taking, and short-lived tasks, and longer-lived projects and reference material. It seems like a no brainer that I can put reference material into JD, but I’m unsure about tasks that I do tomorrow and may never care about again in the future. Would they be clogging up the tidy JD system? Or is it just a case of using areas and categories in a scalable way?

Happy to hear any thoughts on this, and to be in a space where people are excited about this stuff!

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I currently have no plans to combine todos with my J.D system beyond referencing J.D number in my tasks. I (also) use Org mode for tasks and am just doing things like “12.23 Do this task for that project”. I may move to tagging the headings in Org mode but haven’t done that yet.

I’m finding that just knowing the number is good enough and I don’t feel the need to have everything “under one roof” so to speak.


I’ve cleaned out recently so this isn’t as helpful, but at one point I had 20 projects in here. I just give them all a JD number. (This is OmniFocus.)

But I wouldn’t go crazy. I’ve changed my thinking and I’d now recommend keeping your to-do system at the category level. But as usual ‘it depends’. My system used to look like this:

20-29 Personal, projects
   24 Knowledge
   24.15 Johnny.Decimal

Yep, JD itself was just an ID at one point. And when it was, I had an OmniFocus project of the same name. Worked just great.

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Depends where you’re putting them. I’ve played with using either individual files in a folder (managed with Visual Studio Code as the layer over the top) or apps like Bear which are basically the same (but they abstract the actual files away from you), both of which allow for to-dos in random notes alongside other content.

It didn’t work for me. It’s too easy to conveniently ‘lose’ things you ought to do, they just get drowned in the noise. But hey, it might work for some people. Personally I think ‘all your to-dos in one simple place, whose job is to manage to-dos’ is the way to go. This feels like it better fits the GTD ethos.

But in that system, yes, you can still use JD. Use folders like my post above, or add IDs to tasks like Jack does. I do this in my other system (at work), adding the ID in [square brackets] at the end where I think it will help. If it’s just a thing to do, and its obvious why, there’s no need. If I think I’ll need to go off and reference another note or a file or whatever, I’ll add it.

Thanks for the ideas guys, much appreciated.

I use OmniFocus too but I haven’t yet combined JD with it. Could you perhaps explain a bit more with examples how you use the two?

Now that’s a genius move.

It occurs to me that there are some things in the JD system that kinda replicate some of the things Hook is trying to do.

I’ve been using VS Code w/ the ToDo+ extension. Great for adding checkboxes, marking things done or cancelled, and archiving. But you either end up with a LOOOOONG file with many category sections, or separate files in separate folders, but either way it feels tricky to surface the high priority items so that they stand out. I’ve half a mind to try TaskPaper, which evidently has thorough Hook support…

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Hi, I’m new here and fascinated by the whole thing.

In your reply here, you have/had three-digit top-level categories. Does this mean you broke your own rule, because you needed to have more than nine? Or that it was something you were operating before you created a purely decimal system?

It’s a difficult thing to understand that “16” is a child of “101”.

Hey there. Those 3-digit numbers are projects. Some kind soul just told me yesterday that the links at the bottom of each of my pages had skipped this page, so I wonder how many people haven’t seen it!

Let me know if it makes sense after reading that page or if I still need to clarify, I’m very happy to.

Hi Johnny,
(I was going to post separately on this, but probably after I’ve done more work trying to make my overall taxonomy stack up. Still, we’re here now…)

I’ve read that page several times from the left nav and, indeed, I don’t get it…
I do get it but we have two possible system differences…
i) our understanding of what constitutes a “project”,
ii) our overall systems’ relative purposes.

In my case, I would be trying to fit in a range of personal, family and work things running across my life, not just one area like work. I’m shaping things up in a mind map, it’s going to be interesting to see how/whether I can fit it all in, but I’m excited about the limitation.

It seems to me that you have put “projects” at the top level of a system that is all about work, which is fair enough (?).

But I also initially couldn’t wrap my head around that, because the narrative order of granularity to me should go Area > Category > ID > Project

I think “projects” could only be the top level of a single-function system (ie. a work system where the more-than-10 things would be at that top level). In your example, I think I’m seeing a business-based system where all the clients are at the top level, and there would be more than 10 of them. Again, that’s fair enough, and user-dependent.

But you also called them Projects, which is messing with my head :slight_smile:

I think I can wrap my head around the idea of simply needing more digits than decimal, but not of putting “Projects” at the top level of a multi-purpose system…


In recent years, I’ve tinkered with productivity systems like Getting Things Done, which have a specific concept of what constitutes a “Project” and where it sits in a system of “horizons” that goes Purpose > Vision > Goals > Areas of Focus > Projects > Actions.

Now, I’m not saying a filing system should be the same as a productivity system (though I may return to that idea on this forum), but I am coming from a place that acknowledges Projects are hierarchical children of Areas, not top-level things.

In my case, I am currently contemplating going with something like:

  • 60-69 Business(Area)
    • 61 Client work (Category)
      • “61.X Acme Inc” (Cat.ID)

But then I may need a way to denote Projects within client folders.

Remember that, as I’m aiming to fit all of my life in, other top-level objects may be “Family”, ‘Health’ etc. It’s possible that, functionally, I should have two top-level work-related folders - “Client work” and “Business admin” stuff. This would give me more numbers to play with for Client IDs and Projects etc. But I may not be able to cram everything in if I do it that way at the top level (time will tell). A solution to this may be for me to have more than 10 top-level items/Areas, so I could use a three-digit system at the top (but I don’t think I could call them “Projects”, I would keep the AC.ID nomenclature, and then I’ve “broken” the system!).

It’s also possible that either of another two object types may come in at more than 99, too, but I’m not certain yet…

  • More than 99 clients… IF I was storing all my historical clients ever, starting at 01. Probably a case for putting old ones in an “archive” and only keeping current/recent ones live. But, well, you try telling my brain that!
  • Projects”, if indeed they live in a “client” folder, may run more than three digits, in certain rare cases of a long-standing client.

In both cases, I think it would be about putting a three-digit thing farther along in the naming convention, not the top.

So, I’m contemplating the value of applying three-digit Project IDs at the end of certain things (probably only in that Client Work area).

There’s an additional way in which I’m trying to weigh how “projects” manifest in this, and it’s a bit the product of my over-thinking taxonomical brain…

Whilst “Projects” to me logically come under Areas/Categories because I’ve dabbled in producrtivity/GTD stuff, I’m also coming from a culture of using Notion over the last couple of years to try to manifest and manage that stuff.
Now, in my Notion, I have had an (unloved) “Projects” database. Whilst this database exists in a horizon tree below Areas (which also happens to be a database) etc, it also has a field that relates to distinct Areas database records. So, a Project is like a data type that relate an Area of “Family” or “Health” or “Business” (rather than physically exist within/underneath those).
You then have a database, “Projects”, which gives you a glimpse into all your Projects across all aspects of your life/Areas.

Now, of course, a filing system is not the same as a productivity system with a relational database structure. But Projects are arguably what moves life forward.

So it did get me to thinking… If we assume that, in a filing system, Project files would be stored under Areas/AC.ID etc… is there some kind of nomenclature/numbering system that could be used for the Project part that would:

  1. Denote it uniquely as a Project
  2. Use a denotation that increments

… do both of these things across the system.

So, perhaps your life has Projects like…

001 Plan half-term activities
002 Research holidays
003 Client project A
004 Client project F
005 End of year financial checks
006 Client project B
007 Holiday booking
008 Client project C

… each relate to a distinct Area/AC.ID. What, if any, nomenclature could be used so that those folders would exist in their respective categories, but we have some sort of indicator that allows us to filter and present some Projects-level overview, eg. A smart folder or whatever. Or if only so that the Project ID could might be consistent with whatever I use in the productivity system.

Is it appropriate to have project folders in, say, a client folder that are non-sequential to the client but are sequential to the overall concept of “projects”? eg:

  • 60-69 Business(Area)
    • 61 Client work (Category)
      • “61.X Acme Inc” (Cat.ID)
        • 003 Client project A
        • 006 Client project B
        • 008 Client project C

Regardless, I think, with that level of folder depth, I’ve already gone too far?

I’m obviously contradicting myself here, because, higher up, I’d obviously said that Projects probably exist within Areas/AC.ID. But I’m obviously also looking at whether this could also co-exist with some other things going on.

Anyway, my top priority, I think, is to continue chipping away at building out my potential index in a mind map, and seeing what I can make work with as few numbers and as much simplicity as possible.

Apologies for subjecting you to the insides of my brain through this overly long post.

I was already having another go at revising the taxonomy of my life this year. I’ve always used colours to denote the different areas, in as many apps as will support them, for consistency. To enforce ordering, I had gone a step further, trying to use coloured emojis to group folders in a list. But that breaks down a little when you realise that emojis are subject to the alphabet, too (and Dropbox doesn’t support them at all).

So I’m excited to discover your system and the potential inherent in i) enforcing order through numbering, ii) striving for decimal limitation with a view to achieving simplicity.


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Bookmarked this for a proper response later in the week, forgive the delay!

Check out my response here J.D system for professors/academics? - #7 by ks84. This might help you better understand projects as used in JD. Or not. Let me know if it makes sense.

Thanks for the pointer.
So where is the space you gain by doing it that way (adding hundreds)? I guess you gain a potential >99 somewhere?
What do you consider naming the XXX as? Are you also down with calling them “projects”? (Is a “module” really a “project”?).

In my case:
A) I haven’t yet proven that I need more space, as I’m still trying to lay things up this week.
B) But I can imagine the downstream consequence of not having a more populous AC level (ie. You can only go so many levels deep?).

I am toying with:

── 30-39 Work
├── 31 Client work
│   ├── 31.01 First client
│   ├── 31.02 Second client
│   ├── 31.01 Third client
├── 32 Client development
├── 33 Marketing
├── etc

Do you see any limitations with that?

I notice you have another integer after NN.NN (ie. NNN.NN.NN). Are these for files (should I always be numbering actual files in this way?)? And do you only have the additional integers because of the hundreds system you are using, or can I do same?
Is it acceptable to have NN.NN.NN where the last portion is another sub-folder? Am I missing a trick and being nihilistic by not doing this?

Must/can the last numbered-node be named with the full integer path as you have done (eg. “302.13.01 Module Report”), or just the end-most?

See, I’m wondering about…

── 30-39 Work
├── 31 Client work
│   ├── 31.01 First client
│   │   ├── 31.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project
│   │   ├── 31.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project
│   ├── 31.02 Second client
│   │   ├── 31.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project
│   ├── 31.01 Third client
│   │   ├── 31.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project
│   │   ├── 31.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project

How about that?
Feels to me that I would then be lacking the ability to number any files that are children of “Sub-folder eg. Project”?

More than that, I think a “Project” is a classic case of something which may well have multiple typical sub-folders (let’s say, Assets, Research, Archive, whatever; Brief, Pitch, Outcome or some things that correspond to sub-status.).

I guess the way to accommodate that would be to promote Client work To be a top-level area (wherein, on a decimal basis, it then robs my system of one range-of-10).
Or I expand to hundreds… ?
I presume I can do that, right? Whilst, mentally, it feels like it would undo the neatness of all “Work” things under eg. 30-39, I guess the advice would be to use all 10s in the 3XX range for all Work things… ?
How would that work… ?

── 300-399 Work
│   ├── 301 Client work
│   │   ├── 301.01 First client
│   │   │   ├── 301.01.NN Sub-folder eg. Project (same situation?)


── 300-309 Client work
│   ├── 301 First client
│   │   ├── 301.01 Sub-folder (eg. Client Project)
│   │   │   ├── 301.01.NN Sub-folder (Okay, not I can name things?)
│   ├── 302 Second client
│   │   ├── 301.01 Sub-folder (eg. Client Project)
── 310-319 Client development
│   ├── 311 Opportunities
│   │   ├── 311.01 Opportunity 1
│   │   │   ├── 311.01.NN Brief
│   │   │   ├── 311.01.NN Pitch
│   │   ├── 312.01 Opportunity 2
│   │   │   ├── 312.02.NN Brief
│   │   │   ├── 312.02.NN Pitch

Have I done something useful there? Feel like I have, but not sure I can articulate it yet, and not sure it’s any different from a standard setup.

The ability to use all the ranges of 10 from 0 to 100 at the top level feels liberating - but that also undoes the enforced decimal efficiency for what, in my case, are not really “Projects” at the top level.


Tbh I think perhaps you’re overthinking this a bit. In my mind projects are any tasks that have multiple sub tasks. So yes, I can absolutely envision a module as a project. But more importantly, I think by restricting yourself to specific semantics, you are really restricting how you can use JD. For example, for me 100-199 Personal is a collection of any items that are related to my personal life. One of the projects in it is 103 Wife stuff which contains any documents that I’m storing for my wife. Is it technically a project? No. But I’m not too hung up about that. The point is there is a way for me to organise my digital reference material and I’m happy with that.

If you haven’t already please give this page a read Multiple projects | Johnny•Decimal. Particularly the section, “How I name my files and folders “. It should explain why you should use PRO.AC.ID.

Lastly, I went for this format because I knew i will be working on more than 10 projects throughout my life. So the way it’s organised is 100-199 is personal stuff, 200-299 is research projects, 300-399 is teaching related stuff. Within research projects 200-209 are EU funded projects, 210-219 are RCUK funded projects and 220-239 will probably be research proposals.

If it helps you to organise your system as ARC.PR.ID instead of PRO.AC.ID then I see no harm in that. It’s achieving the same effect.

Hey there, sorry it’s been a while.

I see where you’re coming from with your inverted-projects approach, and there may be some merit to it: but the concept of a ‘project’ in my mind is of a thing that is a self-contained bunch of work. I could equally well – and have thought about – using the word ‘system’ across the site instead of ‘project’.

There is a recognition, of course, that many projects are similar. This is why you should try to re-use structure where possible. I’ve talked here and elsewhere about this sort of approach.

So in my mind, if you always deal with ‘finances’ as part of a project, then I would standardise on a ‘finances’ category and always have PRO.13.ID as that category (or whatever).

The GTD terminology of an ‘area’ does confuse matters here. My ‘project’ might be more like their ‘area’, if you have multiple projects.

The way I feel about (JD) projects is that they should be self-contained. Let’s pretend you’re at work and someone new starts, but they’re only working on one project. No problem: give them access to the project JD index and file structure and mailbox and away you go.

Whereas if you’ve got different project artefacts scattered throughout, deep in the structure, you just can’t do that.

Similarly at home. If you start a new project and it’s big enough that it warrants its own PRO – and be careful, fit it in an area if you can! – but if it does, then that’s an isolated thing. If you drop it later you can just drop that whole project structure and the associated file system. Again, you can’t do that if you’ve scattered it throughout your system.

That said, I’m always interested in how people do things differently. This is a work-in-progress. So if something works for you, please do it and let us know how you go. I don’t want this thing to be prescriptive.

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