I’ve been using GTD (Getting Things Done) as a methodology for how I work for a number of years. I revisit the systems I use occasionally, particularly when I don’t feel they’re working out for me or my needs have changed. And lately one of the biggest challenge I have is that I’m actually quite good at taking notes, but I’m not as good at finding the notes I took.
And as time goes on, I found I have more places to store things (documents of various types, email, and so on) and while they can all be categorized similarly, I never really bothered. Previously I had focused on how to organize things like OmniFocus (for tasks) versus organizing everything in a similar way. In other words, I would spend the time to organize a system versus having a system to coherently organize all the data across the systems I use.
As a point of reference, these are all the “storage buckets” I use for data (whether for work or personal):
- OmniFocus for tracking tasks
- EagleFiler for private out-of-the-cloud- document storage that I want to retain (think tax documents, receipts, PDFs, etc)
- Mac’s Finder for things I download and presumably some might make it to EagleFiler (but I’ll admit I’m not very consistent here!)
- Obsidian for taking markdown notes (as a reference, I’ve gone through a number of systems here, including EagleFiler to store RTF notes, Joplin, Inkdrop, Quiver, and finally settling on Obsidian earlier this year)
- Gmail for email
- Google Drive for documents that are shared with others (family or co-workers) and other cloud storage
- Apple Notes for quick, short-lived notes (such as the hotel room number I happen to be staying in or copy/paste references); I may rely on this less now that I can sync Obsidian to mobile devices
And because this data can be used on the desktop system at home, or the work laptop or personal laptop, in addition to my iPad and iPhone, these systems as much as possible need to be sync’d. Since I don’t trust cloud services more than I need to, I try to sync as much of this via git as possible and locally host my own Gitea instance. I store my EagleFiler storage and Obsidian data in git and use it to synchronize across my devices.
I’ll briefly describe how to sync Obsidian to iOS devices, which has its own client, and then discuss a recent way I’ve found to categorize data across disparate systems and applications.
My ecosystem is entirely Apple-based, so I use Obsidian on my Mac and I use both the iPhone and iPad, and it would be hugely beneficial to have the data in Obsidian available to me on both devices.
I followed this tutorial on syncing Obsidian vaults to iPhone or iPad and it worked like a champ. I use Working Copy to get the git repository on my device and link it to the Obsidian vault, meaning that I have access to notes and documents, at least those in Obsidian, while on the go or I can use the iPad to take meeting notes without obscuring a screen while having a meeting on Google Meet or Zoom or whatever.
The only downside is Working Copy has a cost if you want to use it with Obsidian. I don’t mind though; I’ve had a lot of situations where all I had with me was my phone and I needed to reference something in my notes which were not available. From a productivity perspective, it’s a small price to pay.
I randomly stumbled across a podcast, OmniFocus + Obsidian Workflows with Leah Ferguson discussing how to integrate OmniFocus with Obsidian. I thought this would be an interesting way to enhance my usage of both tools, since I already use them both, perhaps with a bit of automation (I don’t use Apple Shortcuts as much as I probably could).
The podcast was great, but not because of the Obsidian and OmniFocus integration — while helpful, the introduction to Johnny Decimal was vastly more important and started me down a journey of trying to become even more productive. Making the data easier to find was what struck me most when I was listening to Leah describe her use of those systems. After all, if I’m going to spend the time keeping something, what is it for if not to easily find it when I need it?
I won’t go into all the specifics of how I organized things, but I’ll give you some details to get the idea. The essential premise is to start broad, with no more than 10 categories, and then you narrow the aperture as you go further. For me, I made sure I only numbered three levels deep; anything further than that just is un-numbered folders or files that I try to give coherent names to.
At the top level I have:
- 00 Meta
- 10 Personal
- 20 Learning
- 30 Professional
- 40 Reference
I haven’t found a need to have more than these high-level groups.
00 Meta is for all the random metadata that just needs a place to live. In
Obsidian I have:
- 00 Meta
- 01 Inbox
- 02 Templates
- 03 Resources
- 04 SOP
04 SOP is a special “Standard Operating Procedures” folder where I
document things like this system.
01 Inbox is the standard Obsidian
inbox for new files that haven’t been categorized.
02 Templates are for
the templates I use in Obsidian, such as the weekly template where I put
notes of my schedule for the week.
03 Resources are for all the
attachments (PDFs, graphics, etc) that are inserted into Obsidian documents.
In Gmail I use this a bit differently and have
00 Meta as a label with
these nested sub-lables:
ACTION label should probably be used less as I work to get those
actions into OmniFocus. This would be easier if
Mimestream (my email client) had a way to expose
email links to itself rather than to the Gmail webUI, so right now it’s
just easier to label things than to manually copy the Gmail link and create
a new task.
00 Meta category isn’t really used anywhere other than Obsidian.
This is for life stuff. I don’t have a lot of sub-categories here (I wonder if that’s worth exploring further!), but right now I have:
- 11 Christcity
- 12 People
- 14 Blog
- 15 Health
- 19 Financial
- 19.01 Receipts
- 19.02 Investing
- 19.03 Compensation
You might notice a few things here. First, I don’t use all the numbers and skip a few. I’m trying to stay consistent across categories that have overlap; for instance there are financial and people notes/documents/etc for both Personal and Professional, so I try to keep that number consistent.
In this case I use
11 Christcity for things related to church, whether it
be my duties as a District Pastor or marriage counsellor. This label
exists in my personal Gmail as well.
14 Blog is where I can draft new
blog posts for this site (great thing that they both use markdown!), and
19 Financial has a few sub-categories such as
19.01 Receipts where I’ll
keep receipts for purchases and
19.02 Investing where I keep
investment-related information. These also have Gmail labels and folders
The point here is that things that are relevant to a system should be
present there, things that aren’t relevant to a system should not. For
example, if I wrote more on this blog and wanted to schedule things, I
14 Blog as a project in OmniFocus (I don’t, so I don’t). I
might have church-related tasks to do so
11 Christcity definitely shows
up in OmniFocus as well.
15 Health isn’t needed in Gmail, so I won’t
create a label for it, but I use it in EagleFiler for scans of health tests
and other documents, and in Obsidian for any notes I want to keep from a
doctor’s visit or similar.
I would recommend against creating all of these labels/folders for every single system unless you need them, just to avoid clutter.
20 Learning category is for stuff I have learned or that I want to
learn. I use this on every system and have only two categories:
- 21 Leadership
- 21.03 Management Training
- 22 Technical Notes
These are for notes I might take from a class or articles I’ve downloaded
that are specifically related to learning. To be honest, I’m not yet sold
22 Technical Notes as these feel more like they belong somewhere in
40 Reference but for now, I’m keeping it as-is.
I have other sub-categories under
21 Leadership for some leadership
courses I take at work, where I collect observations, documents, and so forth.
This is the busiest category and requires a lot of attention to make sure it stays orderly. I take an insane amount of notes in meetings, and I have a lot of meetings, which means I have a lot of documents. I also have a lot of work-related areas that require even more documents. This section has parts in all systems; again, not every single sub-category is needed in every system, so not every system has them all. The below is curated, but should illustrate how I’m using it:
- 31 Career
- 31.01 Mentoring
- 31.02 Mentors
- 32 People
- 32.01 Boss
- 32.02 Peers
- 32.03 Staff
- 33 Public
- 33.01 Papers
- 33.02 Presentations
- 34 Red Hat
- 34.01 Weekly Notes
- 34.02 Travel
- 35 Product Security
- 35.01 Organization
- 35.09 Escalations
- 37 External
- 37.01 Customers
- 37.04 Boards
- 38 Projects
- 39 Financial
- 39.01 Receipts
- YYYYMM DESTINATION
- 39.01 Receipts
You get the idea. Effectively, I take meeting notes when I meet with
people, and those notes live under
32 People. For the people I meet with
sporadically, it’s a single file under their name. For the people I meet
with often, their name is a folder, with a year-dated file for those notes
(so if “Bob Young” worked for me, I would have this year’s meeting notes
for him in
32 People/32.03 Staff/Bob Young/2023 Bob Young.
For customers and partners, those notes are named after the company name.
For folks I mentor or am mentored by, they live in a file named after them
31 Careers/31.01 Mentoring, etc. I try to keep a PDF copy of
presentations I give in
33.02 Presentations in EagleFiler and they’re
organized that way in Google Drive for the original presentation. The
of files being deleted from Google Drive reassures me that I’m not insane
for keeping a local copy.
Interestingly, in the last few weeks since I started using this system, I’m
actually remembering the Johnny Decimal number which means it’s really easy
to find things. I know that if I’m looking for information on Bob, I can
look for “32.03” almost anywhere and find him. I might have work-related
documents about Bob in a folder living beneath
32.03 Staff on Google
Drive, any tasks I’ve given to Bob and am waiting on would live in a
similarly named project in OmniFocus, emails from Bob automatically get
32.03 Staff/Bob Young in Gmail. This makes finding anything
related to Bob, or people in general, super easy to find.
For compliance purposes, I keep all the receipts that get emailed to me
(Uber, flights, etc.) so I arrange those by destination just to keep things
orderly. So my last trip to Boston has receipts in
40 Reference category is just a place for me to dump notes
or copies of interesting things that I may want to use or refer to at some
point in the future.
- 41 Books
- 42 Online
- 43 Papers
- 44 Images
I haven’t really gotten into sub-categories here yet because I’m still sorting things out. As I move things into these buckets, I’ll see if common themes or topics occur that require further categorization.
I started this journey about two weeks ago and it took quite a while, slowly picking at and cleaning up all the various places of stashing stuff, across a number of different systems and devices. I also wanted to ensure that I could do this consistently, whether it was work-related or personal, so I invested in cleaning up my personal documents as well, not just those related to work. And, if I’m honest, I still have a ways to go (at some point I just created an Uncategorized folder that stored everything I hadn’t yet sorted and will slowly go through that, deleting what I no longer need or care about, and moving around those things that I do). In many respects, this is likely to be my “Christmas project” this year, so I can start 2024 feeling very organized and tidy.
It’s astonishing how much data I’ve collected and a number of things (notes, files, etc.) that I did organize can probably be deleted as well… not everything has to be hung onto forever! I’m a bit of a digital packrat and blame my mom for that (being technologically illiterate, she’s definitely a physical items packrat). Regardless, having one consistent method to organize all systems has had a number of distinct advantages that are already making me more productive:
- I am starting to remember the numbers so content is easier to find
- I don’t have to guess how I organized things depending on which system I’m currently using, which reduces a lot of mental energy
- Things just feel tidier!
All that to say, it was a fairly hefty lift with all of the “technical debt” I was carrying. And while my method might not work exactly for you, hopefully by sharing I’ve given some ideas that may make you a wee bit more productive as well. It’s about the consistent application of a method across all tools and storage mechanisms that I find to be more important than the tools themselves. I know well enough that tools come and go, but the method to keep you sane should stay the same!
This blog doesn’t have comments, so hit me up on Twitter if you have any thoughts or comments you’d like to share with me, or even recommendations. I’m always trying to make myself more efficient and manage my systems vs letting them manage me.