If you have been around Obsidian for any length of time, or any personal knowledge management (PKM) system, you will have no doubt been exposed to methods of structuring your system or vault. So before we get into the detail of this article there are a couple of rules that you need to understand when it comes to Personal Knowledge Management.
Rule 1 – Personal Knowledge Management systems are Personal
Rule 2 – If in doubt, refer to Rule 1
Now that we have got that out of the way and removed any constraints around how you choose to structure your PKMS, let’s talk about a few structures that you may have seen around the web.
Starting Out in PKM
The two most common systems for PKM I see around the place are Nick Milo’s ACCESS system, which has recently evolved to ACE, and Tiago Forte’s PARA system. For the purpose of clarity, I will include the meanings of each of those acronyms. Nick’s ACCESS system stood for Atlas, Calendar, Cards, Extras, Sources and Spaces as the main folders for an Obsidian vault. This has since evolved into ACE which stands for Atlas, Cards and Efforts.
PARA on the other hand stands for Projects, Areas, Resources and Archives. There is nothing wrong with any of these systems. In particular, Nick Milo stresses there is no right system and you need to develop one to suit you. Any of these will make a good starting point for your Personal Knowledge Management System.
The Johnny Decimal System
The Johnny Decimal System has been devised by John Noble and there is an entire website around this work 2. The major difference between this system and those mentioned above is that the Johnny Decimal system was not developed for PKM, but for the organisation of information generally. Consequently, it can be used, not only for your PKM, but also for your Documents folder for example. So, there can be consistency in organisation systems between your PKM and all the other files on your computer. We will be focusing on PKM though in this article.
How it Works
Essentially, the system is based on setting up all your folders with a prefix of a decimal number. Instead of trying to cut down on folders, as promoted by the PKM gurus, the Johnny Decimal system gives us permission to create homes for anything at the top level. This suits my style of structured thinking. I like the conscious relationship between a note and its home. The example of a structure from the Johnny Decimal home page is below. Please note, that this example is not intended for a PKM system.
Figure 1: Sample Johnny Decimal System
The first step in setting up your Johnny Decimal system is to create the major areas. I found this somewhat challenging initially. I then realised it was because I was trying to do a real life version of the structuring with real notes instead of an abstract one with simply creating the categories. As a result, I came up with the following main categories for my system:
Figure 2: The Author’s Johnny Decimal System
It is a reasonably simple system as you can see. My main requirement were somewhere for my interests such as photography and travel. I also wanted to keep my creations such as any articles I write or videos I do in a separate area as well. The Professional category contains information on Board and Committess I am on, Presentations I’ve delivered and courses I’ve written and anything else to do with my professional life.
The Sources category contains Books, Articles, Podcasts, Videos and the like. Learning and Education is for anything to do with both online courses as well as major areas of study. Finally, the Personal area is obvious. The website for the Johnny Decimal System suggests that the order of the categories should be in the same order as frequency of access. I read that after setting my system up, but it suits me as it is. You might also notice I have included a couple of Blanks for future use as they arise.
My Obsidian Area
I wanted to have a separate category for my Obsidian vault because it is such an important area of my life. So I have broken up this category as some would break up a main vault.
Figure 3: The Author’s Johnny Decimal System for Obsidian
Any notes I write in Obsidian will still go into the categories in my Johnny Decimal system, but there are a couple of unique Obsidian areas where I needed to store things. Attachments is where all my images, PDFs and any other files are stored. Linked files are for things such as Word or Excel documents that are attached to a note. Plugins stores information about Plugins, not the plugins themselves. Templates is where I keep all my templates for Notes, Daily Notes, Articles, etc. Training and Courses is for any training of a PKM nature and finally MOCs is where all my Maps of Content are stored.
I am so pleased I found this system as it really suits my style of organising my files and thoughts. It may not suit you, or you may prefer some variation. The important thing is simply options on how you will store your knowledge to make it easy to reference.
The notes on the Johnny Decimal system website are extensive and should be your first port of call. There is also a blog and a Forum to interact with other users. I find the system both flexible and well structured and it is working very well in my Obsidian vault.