If you’ve experienced one or more of the following types of challenges organizing your digital files, you might benefit from the Johnny Decimal methodology.
- Trying to remember which folder you put a file in.
- Multiple digital devices (laptop, desktop, phone) with folder structures and files that are out of sync.
- A “junk drawer” folder that keeps growing out of control because you are unsure where to put a file and subsequently add it to the pile.
Below is the link to the site where John Noble (aka Johnny) describes the methodology. I’d encourage you to take a look at the site as he does a good job describing the rationale for the method and benefits there.
In very simple terms the method involves creating 10 large categories that encompass all your digital files, and then further breaking each of those into 10 sub categories each. In addition these folders are numbered in a sort of shorthand that allows one to quickly determine what type of content files exist in a folder.
On the surface this seems ridiculously simple and obvious, but there are further rules and guidelines on this that make it work. I’m currently evaluating the method and I can say that although it’s not perfect it’s been a net positive and helped me address the challenges mentioned above in my own systems to a large degree.
Below is an example of the folder structure I came up for my files. I’ve included all the top level folders and expanded some of the sub folders for illustrative purposes:
├── 00-inbox │ ├── 01-desktop │ └── 02-downloads ├── 10-media │ ├── 10-inbox │ ├── 11-personal │ │ ├── 11.00-inbox │ │ ├── 11.01-gallery │ │ └── 11.02-bydate │ ├── 12-movie │ │ ├── 12.01-entertainment │ │ ├── 12.02-tv-series │ │ └── 12.03-documentary │ ├── 13-graphics │ ├── 14-book │ │ ├── 14.00-inbox │ │ ├── 14.01-ebook │ │ └── 14.02-audiobook │ ├── 15-music │ └── 19-other ├── 20-code │ ├── 21-personal │ ├── 22-public │ ├── 23-proto │ ├── 24-package │ ├── 25-contrib │ └── 29-ref ├── 30-project ├── 40-vm ├── 50-document ├── 70-personal ├── 80-config ├── 90-archive │ ├── 91-backup │ ├── 93-src │ ├── 94-binary │ ├── 95-proprietary │ └── 96-web
Initially I was skeptical about the value of the numbering system embedded in the folder names but have come to appreciate it more over time. Below are some of the more subtle benefits I’ve experienced:
- Folder structure is stable. If I symlink to a folder I rarely end up with a broken link and if it is broken at some point it’s is easy to find the folder again to correct the symlink.
- My brain quickly started thinking and remembering the shorthand numbers to the point where it’s becoming second nature.
- I can easily tailor the preferred order for folders in ls, etc.
- I created “inboxes” at different levels that allow me to quickly stash something if I’m in a hurry and come back to it later to further move it down the structure to a more appropriate location.
- Things can be automated and checked more easily. I’m envisioning a “lint” utility that can check the folder structure for typos and misplace structure, files stored in inboxes, etc. Similarly on the Johnny Decimal website he demonstrates a simple “cjd” command to quickly change directory to a four digit folder code. Lastly it wouldn’t be difficult to create a script to compare folder structures across devices and sync the structure and files as desired.
It’s probably not the silver bullet for everyone, but then again it just might be the solution you’ve been looking for to wrangle your data into order and control the chaos. Give it a try!