From a Decimal to a Rabbit Hole

Hey, it's me again. Yup, after another absence of a few weeks. Time really does fly. However, I've been busy working on a personal project that became more than what was originally intended. In the IT circles, this is called "scope creep", and at work it's something I loathe with every fiber of my being. But, when it comes to a personal project of mine, eh, it ain't so bad.

The "decimal" part of this story begins with a blog post from a fellow blogger called "Anklebuster". Great blog, and very good reading, so I suggest you check him out. His posts are about software and productivity, and also creating games, which happens to be his passion. I'm an absolute productivity junkie and when you mix it with software to help you achieve Nirvana, well, that instantly becomes my bliss.

In one of Anklebuster's posts, he mentions something called the Johnny Decimal system. It was like the heavens opened up and the angels started singing. The Johnny Decimal system was the very organizational tool, a methodology if you will, that I've been searching for pretty much all of my adult life. To me, it's truly a game-changer.

Johnny Decimal is a system to where you organize all your digital files, regardless of what kind they are into a set of folders/directories that are numbered just like the Dewey Decimal system at any given public library. Those of you under 30 may have no idea what the hell I'm talking about, but it how libraries with books and other reading material categorized and organized them all to make it easier for the rest of us to find through a master index.

While the Dewey Decimal system may seem like ancient technology, but Johnny Decimal took a chance and applied it to his computer as a means to wrangle all his scattered stuff on his hard drive in an easy-to-find methodical system. One that's sustainable AND scalable. His goal was to be able to access any file, of any kind within two clicks.

Is it easy to adopt? Not really. Is it so worth it to try it anyway? YES. What it does is bring order to the chaos that is your digital life. And to me, that's worth the time and effort I've been putting into this methodology. Now it does have one glaring shortcoming, and that's that it doesn't do well with multiple sources of documents and files. I'll explain.

When you put together a categorized and numbered filing system, it's perfect for a single store of data. Like, say, your hard drive. And with this, the Johnny Decimal system is both highly efficient and scalable in that you can expand out your categories and numbering of directories to nearly an infinite degree. You'll want to go wide, not deep. If you go too deep with this type of system, you'll defeat the purpose of the methodology and create a whole new set of complications that prevent you from getting right to the file you need right when you need it.

And so, as a single store of data, it's great. You can recall and pull up any document by it's category, it's filing number, and now that it's all sorted, even by your computer's indexed search! I told you it was efficient! But, and this was a big but (I like big buts, I cannot lie)... what about multiple stores of data? Like, ok, your hard drive is one thing, but what about external drives, cloud drives, NAS, email accounts, etc.? Yeah, not as clear cut and approachable when it comes to multiple stores.

As I was in the middle of organizing my computer the Johnny Decimal way, I realized this shortcoming and did some research. Turns out a LOT of adopters have this same dilemma with no easy answer. So for all the time it took to organize my computer, and that took some time (but felt really good and empowering), I then needed to take even more time to research possible solutions to this "issue".

Sure, there's an obvious option, which is to apply the same system to all of your data stores. Then there's a software-driven option like using an internal linking application to tie all your files, regardless of location into the same central data store on your computer. After having tried the software-driven option, I can say that so far, no internal linking software is able to do what I need it to. That is, to link to an item, and place that link as a file into my central repository. Kind of like an alias on Macs, or Shortcuts in Windows. And while using the built-in aliasing can kinda work, it does create two entries of the same file and boogers up your computer's indexed search.

As well, if you want to take your show on the road, i.e., mobile, your files are still scattered everywhere and aliased on your computer. Your mobile don't care, it wants a real file.

In the end, the linking software and the native aliasing was more trouble than it solved. So I went back to option 1 and decided to Johnny Decimal all the things. I JD'd my computer, my email, my notes (both Apple and Evernote). The key is that I create one central category and numbering system on each of these data stores and whenever there's something that belongs in a certain category and numbered folder, it goes there, in the data store that it lives in. So, as everything is uniform in terms of category and number, I can still retrieve a file (fairly) quickly, I just need to remember which data store has it.

Let me tell you, it's far from perfect. And it's become tedious to replicate the category and numbering structure for each and every data store I have. In fact, I'm still in the process of replicating across all the stores. At this point it's a process, not a destination. I will say, however, that owning my data instead of letting my data own me is a feeling of both freedom and confidence. It just feels good to know I'm putting things where they belong regardless of where they live, in a consistent manner.

Also, for my computer, I use a document management system. Rather than just relying on my computer's indexed search, I use a document management system that scans all my folders for all it's contents, further indexes them and allows me to add tags, notes of the files themselves, and other neat things. But, all the folders still reside on my computer, and the DMS I use doesn't allow for indexing of things outside of my hard drive. However, I did set up my JD folders to replicate from my hard drive to the cloud automatically. This means I can access what I need from my mobile device. And since it's a cloud-backed copy of my hard drive, the filing system is still intact!

So there's that.

Just embracing and trying to tweak the Johnny Decimal system has taken quite a bit of time. And, as someone who values time more than money, this is a true investment that I'm glad to be making. When this is all said and done, I'll be able to identify which data stores I can consolidate, like do I really need to use both Apple Notes and Evernote? And, when the larger exercise is finished, I'll know exactly where everything is and how to access it.

Now we get the Rabbit Hole...

As I've spent the last few weeks getting my digital house in order, a thought hit me, and it hit me hard. While I was organizing everything I thought about my Dad. I remember a relative telling me how organized my Dad was with his files in that whenever something needed to be found, they could pretty much find it. And, they were surprised at how much stuff he actually kept when it came to both memories as well as important docs. He didn't use JD, nor did I get to share it with him before he passed.

However, what occurred to me was that he tried to make things as easy as possible, not only for him, but for those he'd left behind after his passing. I was proud of him for doing that. But, even for all he tried to do to stay organized and keep things simple, there was still confusion and infighting among the family regarding his things, digital and physical. Yes, he left a will, but some family members decided to interpret rather than go by the letter of his wishes.

So, what hit me like a ton of bricks while I was busy running my decimal schemes on all my digitalia, is that I need to do even better than he did. I need to make things crystal clear as to where everything is, and what my wishes are. And, the most important piece of all this is to leave those instructions with someone I absolutely trust, with my life, even.

Hence, the Rabbit Hole. While busy Johnny Decimalling my ass of, I decided to also clean up and organize my password vaults. So there's scope creep number one. Then I started writing instructions on how to use JD to find my things. I then started mapping out where my personal and financial belongings are, with simple instructions on what to do with them.

Now, you may be thinking my wife would be the one I leave all this information with, but you'd be wrong. Not at all because I don't trust her, but for two very important reasons, at least to me. First being, if I were to go before her, she'll likely be a mess. Just a pile of weepy goo, not able to think or process what needs to be done, at least not right away. Second being, if she goes before I do, then what? I won't leave these instructions to my kids as they may also "interpret" things like my relatives decided to do when my dad passed.

And no, this ain't going to no lawyer. Though I will have a last will and testament drawn up with a lawyer, I want an executor that I can count on the be there, and do everything with the discipline needed to get it done, regardless of any internal or external pressures. So, I'll be asking my very best friend who I've served in combat with. We still keep in touch to this day, and I've even gone over to where he's stationed to visit him and his family a couple of times. He was the best man at my wedding, and he's the one I'm going to ask to take this on.

If he says no, I'll need to come up with a plan B. I'll still need a plan B in case he goes before I do as well. In any case, this is the logical choice for me, the only one I can see making and feeling 100% confident it'll get done. And because he and his wife are such good friends with us, I know he'll help my wife through such a difficult time.

The one thing I have noticed in doing all of this... the file organizing, the cleanup of my old accounts, the documenting how and where to find everything, it feels like I'm getting ready to go on an extended trip. Like I'm moving to another country and leaving all my stuff behind, or like I'm going on vacation and leaving instructions for the house-sitter to feed the dog or the cat. But, in reality, I am preparing for a trip. A trip of a lifetime, and one that I can't be reached at when a question arises. So, I can't leave anything out, because when I'm gone, I'm gone.

But again, it's just so weird that I've been compelled to do this and do it now rather than later. I don't think anything's going to happen to me anytime soon, but does anyone who dies really expect to die when they do? I'd rather be safe than sorry, but wow... the feeling of permanence knowing that if there's a question, or if I left something out or forgot something, there's no coming back to get it, answer it, or fix it.

My wife doesn't know I'm doing all this because if she did she'd freak out. Telling me that I'm morbid or asking why I feel this way, like I have to do this. She'll question that maybe I know something she doesn't. Well, yeah, I know something she doesn't, and that's how to access all my digital, physical, and financial stuff. But in terms of when I go on my forever trip never to come back, I sure as hell don't know, but won't be caught off guard when it does happen. That's the sobering part of it all. It's not if, it's when, for all of us.

And that's why I've not posted in a few weeks, but the journey continues. Live well, and with meaning, taking care of those you love. Talk to you soon.

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