When I started this system I was running a specific project, and I didn't really consider the need for multiple projects on the same computer.
If two projects never meet, there's no issue. I have a project at work with one set of numbers and my system at home with another, totally unrelated, set of numbers. No problem at all – it's like I'm two people leading separate lives.
Fast-forward a decade and I find myself needing more. I still have my personal system, but I work as a contractor and the projects I run for other people must exist alongside my personal stuff, and each other.
If you followed my instructions, you'd probably set up a system that looked something like this.
10-19 Administration11 ... // Whatever20-29 Clients21 Best client22 Another client22.01 Job 122.02 Job 223 Third client
A couple of problems are obvious:
We are going to want to create folders within
22.01 Job 1 but the system says we shouldn't do that (and we shouldn't – don't be tempted!).
This only allows us to have 10 clients.
We might try and fix it like this.
10-19 Administration11 ...20-29 Best client30-39 Another client31 Job 131.01 Requirements31.02 Quote31.03 Artwork31.04 External images31.05 Final
Still no good – now we can only have ~9 clients, and each client can only have 10 jobs.
This problem is an unavoidable consequence of the way that the JD system is designed: one of the benefits of the system is that "nothing is more than two levels deep". This is a problem when we need to structure information about clients and jobs which is itself two levels deep. We've run out of levels.
To fix it, we need to tweak the system.
There are two distinct kinds of system that seem to be required.
You manage multiple totally separate projects. This is what I do (I'm an IT project manager/architect by day). Many of these projects are for the same client but they're quite distinct, different things. I'm going to call type 1 contractor (or employee).
You have one main business, and in that business you manage multiple clients, and they may have multiple jobs each. Type 2 is your typical freelancer, graphic designer, writer, photographer, or any agency that manages this kind of work.
I fall in to type 1 above, and my partner is a type 2. I just drew this on my desk.
On the left we have type 1: contractor. The stick-figures are clients, and the lines out are projects. That's how I tend to work. The top figure is me, personally. Actually I only have one line out and it's my
101 Personal project. The bottom figure is the company I'm working for, and the lines are the many projects.
On the right we have type 2: freelancer. There are many clients, and each of them only has a job or two.
I've thought about this for a few years, and have been using the system I'll describe here since 2018. So far it's working well for me. I would love to hear from you if you're a type 2 – it is less tested for that type of use.
The extended system must retain the advantages of the original Johnny.Decimal system.
Each item must have a unique identifier.
You must be able to search (your notes, your file system) for this identifier.
The identifier should be short and preferably memorable.
I tried systems using letters rather than numbers and they didn't work. My initial attempt looked something like this:
HME.AC.ID = home system
DVO.AC.ID = the DevOps project at work
ETC.AC.ID = etc. for more projects
Now you just have to remember what those letters mean, and they don't add any semantic value to your system.
Here were my goals and constraints when introducing new numbers:
It must not confuse the system.
It must allow for a sufficient number of additional projects.
It must allow the user to organise those projects in some way (i.e. like you organise categories in to areas).
The solution is to add a three-number project code to the start of your numbers, e.g.
000.AC.ID. In the abstract I'll refer to this as
Three numbers is not two numbers. I think if I'd gone with
10.12.53, that would have been a bit much on the brain. The only thing in the JD system with three numbers is a project code.
One thousand projects should be enough for anyone. I'd love to know what you're doing if you need more than a thousand projects.
Here's what my current system looks like. This works well for a type 1: contractor.
100-199 Personal101 Personal system200-299 ACME Corp // The name of the company I'm contracting to200 ACME, general & templates201 Project 1202 Project 2...211 Project 11 // Yeah, I'm really up to 11
Alternatively, you can group your projects by tens, rather than hundreds. This might work better if you're a type 2: freelancer.
100-109 If you group like this, you get 100110-119 divisions of 10 things each. This might120-129 suit you if you're a freelancer with a130-139 lot of clients, and occasionally those140-149 clients have more than one job.141 Then you number your projects like this.141.32.73 And individual items like this.
Of course, you don't have to group your projects at all if you don't want or need to. In this case your projects will sort by order of creation, just like individual IDs do within a category.
101 My first project102 which I would instinctively start at 101103 even though there's nothing wrong with the104 numbers 000-100. There's just something105 about reserving numbers at the 'front' of106 a system that I find reassuring. But107 you do whatever you want. :-)
If you're a type 1 contractor like me, this is probably all you need. Because each of your projects is likely to be quite large, you won't have that many projects. In this case just treat each one as its own separate thing, with its own unique area/category structure which you basically start from scratch each time.
You might find you have some similarities between projects, which you should aggressively identify and optimise. This is where JD makes you better at your job.
It is extra important—and I've learned this the hard way—that you track your numbers effectively if you have multiple projects. I realise this is difficult and am working on making it easier but, believe me, if you don't do it you'll regret it.
I do appreciate that keeping an index of numbers is an overhead. But I think for the 1% cost this incurs, you get 10% back. I'll expand on this when I get more time.
If you're a type 2 freelancer, at this point you might be wondering if I've really solved your problem or whether I've just given you a bunch of numbers to track.
Your situation is different. All of your projects are, if not the same, at least very similar. I bet you could draw the structure of one of your projects on a whiteboard now without even thinking about it. You've got a specification/request, the financial stuff, assets, the actual work which you produce, and final/approved versions which go out.
Standardise this and create a template.
For most people who are in this situation, I think you should use one project for all of the stuff that is general to your life/business/etc.
So what I mean is we go from something like this.
10-19 Administration20-29 Marketing21 Advertising30-39 Finance31 Accounting32 Contracts40-49 Clients41 ... // This is what didn't work42 ...
101 Administration // This is all the stuff10-19 Administration // from above, just in its20-29 Marketing // own 'project'.21 Advertising30-39 Finance31 Accounting32 Contracts102 First project // And now we break out10-19 ... // all of the actual projects20-29 ... // as discussed above.103 Second project10-19 ...
Here's my actual
200-299 <Company> folder, obfuscated for privacy.
I don't use the project number in my area or category folders. This is because they tend to be fairly unique anyway, with the exception of my ubiquitous 10-19 Administration.
I do use the project number in my ID folders, and when I name files. There are a couple of reasons why I've found this to be right for me.
When I use Alfred, which I do many times a day, I can type the full
PRO.AC.ID number and it'll open the folder immediately. (If you use macOS, you should use Alfred. Install it, activate it, press the spacebar, then type the name of a folder. 🤯)
When you view the Open Recent menu—e.g. in Microsoft Excel—the filename shows the project name at the beginning. I find this really useful.
As with most aspects of this system, you should adapt it to your needs. Try a few things and see what works. Change often – don't think that the first way you implement a thing will be the right one, I've found it needs experimentation to get just right.
There's work to be done here. If this feels confusing, it's because I'm confused! 😜 Mail me and we can work it out together.