Self Help

PARA Method Simplify, Organize, and Master Your Digital Life, The - Tiago Forte

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Matheus Puppe

· 9 min read



  • The book introduces PARA, a simple four-category system for organizing all digital information and files. The four categories are Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.

  • Projects are specific short-term efforts with clear goals. Areas are important ongoing responsibilities. Resources are topics of interest to learn about. Archives are completed or outdated items.

  • PARA advocates organizing information by the projects and goals you are actively working on, rather than broad subjects. This helps you find what you need quickly when working towards outcomes.

  • When information is organized into the four PARA categories based on your current projects/goals, you will always know exactly where to file new items and where to find what you need. This accelerates progress by reducing time spent searching or relocating files.

  • The book promises that adopting PARA will help the reader gain focus, boost creativity/productivity, overcome procrastination, and reduce information overload through a simple yet comprehensive organizational system.

  • Popular cloud storage platforms to find information include Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Box, and Dropbox.

  • Good digital note-taking apps include Notion, Evernote, Microsoft OneNote, Apple Notes, Google Keep, and Obsidian.

  • The website provides recommendations for choosing digital tools and lists examples for each letter in the PARA method of organization.

  • “Folder” is used to refer to the main unit of organization in most software, though some use directories, notebooks, tags or links.

  • Organizing projects individually instead of general areas of responsibility allows you to see your true commitments and connect current work to long-term goals for motivation.

  • PARA provides a minimal yet effective structure for organizing information in a way that supports achieving your goals.

  • When first adopting PARA, the steps are to archive existing files, create project folders, then additional folders as needed - starting with just one platform to keep it simple.

Here is a summary of the instructions:

The instructions describe a process to archive and reorganize the contents of a user’s Documents folder using a PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) system.

The steps are:

  1. Archive the existing contents of the Documents folder by moving all files into a new folder called “Archive [Today’s Date]” and place this in a main “Archives” folder. This creates a time capsule of the previous files.

  2. Create a new “Projects” folder within Documents to store information related to active projects. Create subfolders within Projects for each specific project.

  3. Only create additional folders for “Areas” and “Resources” categories as needed when files are ready to be placed in them. Don’t create empty speculative folders in advance.

  4. Apply some tips to make the PARA system more effective - create an “Inbox” folder to temporarily hold new files, number the folders, use a naming convention, activate offline access for the Projects folder, and set up backups.

The overall goal is to archive past documents, clear out clutter, and introduce a new structured organization system focused on active projects to better manage information going forward. Flexibility in customizing the system is also encouraged.

Here is a summary of the key points about distinguishing between projects and areas of responsibility from the text:

  • Projects have a clear goal and deadline. Once the goal is achieved by the deadline, the project is complete. Areas have no clear endpoint.

  • Areas are facets of work and life that require ongoing maintenance over time, like job duties, health, personal relationships, etc. They have a standard to uphold rather than a goal to achieve.

  • Maintaining areas is an indefinite, ongoing process that requires continual attention to uphold certain standards of performance or quality. Areas are more like a “dance to enjoy” rather than a prize to win.

  • While projects have a defined start and end, areas continue indefinitely as long as the responsibilities exist. Projects end, but areas are maintained long-term.

  • Every project will ultimately relate back to at least one area of responsibility. And large, long-term areas may involve multiple interconnected projects over time to drive progress in that area.

  • It’s important to distinguish between the two to properly scope and organize work/tasks and know whether something requires immediate action through a project or ongoing maintenance through an area.

  • Projects fall under areas of responsibility, such as running a marathon falling under health, publishing a book falling under writing, etc.

  • It is important to distinguish between projects and areas, as they require different approaches. Treating a project like an ongoing area can make it feel aimless, while treating an area like a onetime project means habits won’t be developed.

  • Projects are like sprints to reach a finish line, while areas are like marathons that require sustained performance.

  • Within PARA, areas refer to roles and responsibilities that require ongoing attention, like job roles or responsibilities in personal life. Resources refer to interests, curiosities and passions that are useful to reference but not direct responsibilities.

  • Areas should be considered private by default, while resources can be shared more openly as learning from others is beneficial.

  • Distinguishing areas from resources provides an opportunity for honest self-assessment of where more attention needs to be paid versus side interests. Organizing information through PARA can support focus on important areas of life.

  • PARA is designed to work across all devices and platforms, not just one, for comprehensive organization of all information in a person’s life.

The article discusses some of the benefits of using a cross-platform organizational system called PARA. PARA aims to provide one consistent organizational structure that can be applied across all the different apps and platforms a person uses to store information.

The current problem is that most people organize their information in different ways depending on the platform - their to-do list is organized one way, their computer files another way, their notes app another way, and so on. This creates a lot of mental overhead to keep all these different systems straight.

PARA tries to solve this by allowing the same folder structure to be replicated across all platforms. So a person’s “Projects” and “Areas” would be organized the same way on their to-do list, computer, notes app, cloud storage, etc.

This provides several benefits. It allows information from different platforms to be easily searched and found. It provides more flexibility if a certain platform changes or is no longer used. And it helps tie together information needed for projects that may be stored in different places.

The key aspects of PARA are that it is cross-platform, provides one consistent structure, but does not require rigid rules about format, naming, or sorting of folders and files. The main thing is to keep information actively flowing and moving between projects and areas as needed, rather than letting organizational systems become stagnant.

  • Your knowledge and information is constantly shifting between different categories or folders as your needs, goals, and priorities change over time and with new roles/responsibilities.

  • Early in your career, techniques you learned about coaching direct reports were promoted when you became a manager responsible for direct reports.

  • As a senior executive creating management training, that knowledge moved from the “Direct Reports” folder to a new “Management Training Workshop” project folder.

  • Years later when starting your own business, that training content was no longer relevant so it moved to the Archives folder.

  • This illustrates how one’s knowledge landscape is dynamic and will be remapped as your career and life circumstances change. You need to continually organize your knowledge so it’s accessible when needed.

  • PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) is well-suited for teams/organizations, with some adjustments like defining team-specific PARA guidelines, training people, and only sharing relevant content on shared platforms. The goal is effective bottom-up knowledge sharing, not top-down extraction.

  • Organize (nize): The belief that there is only one place a given piece of information belongs.

  • Formal order and precise structure: The assumption that formal order and precise structure are always better.

  • Train colleagues in shared conventions and policies: These will determine how knowledge is created and shared between colleagues. It is important to establish shared guidelines and expectations.

  • Keep only shared projects on shared platforms: Personal notes and files should be kept privately by default. Only collaborative projects involving multiple people should be moved to shared systems so that only necessary information is broadly accessible.

  • Encourage a culture of writing: Effective knowledge management depends on good communication, which requires habituating colleagues to express their ideas in writing clearly, precisely, and helpfully for others. Leaders can promote this through things like sharing their own writing, offering incentives for writing, providing feedback, and designating time for reading.

The three core organizing habits according to the technique are:

  1. Organize according to outcomes - Focus on organizing information and tasks in a way that helps achieve specific goals and results, rather than organizing for its own sake.

  2. Organize just in time - Wait until you have clear needs before organizing information, and only organize what you need right now. Avoid spending a lot of time organizing upfront “just in case”.

  3. Keep things informal - Resist the urge to create overly complex and rigid organizational structures. Allow some messiness and flexibility to leave room for unexpected connections and ideas to emerge. Highly precise systems require more effort to maintain.

The technique suggests these habits help protect new ideas as they develop, allow focus by withdrawing from distractions, and cultivate creativity by having a collection of interesting and related ideas in one central place. Organizing according to specific goals and outcomes, minimally and flexibly, helps maximize productivity and creativity.

Here is a summary of the key points about rth saving:

  • PARA refers to four main categories to organize digital information: Projects, Areas of responsibility, Resources and Archives.

  • Projects are active tasks and information needed in the short term e.g. next hours/days. This is the main focus on a day to day basis.

  • Areas and resources become relevant on a medium term horizon of weeks to months, for reflection and ensuring commitments/standards are being met.

  • Archives store information that may be useful on a long term horizon of months or years. Everything can eventually be archived when no longer a priority.

  • It’s useful to segment information across timescales as each requires a different mindset. Short term is changing fast, medium/long term allow deeper reflection.

  • PARA gives perspective on what information is needed for each time horizon calling for attention. It allows working across timescales to create the future.

  • If ever feeling overwhelmed, it’s fine to simply archive everything and start over fresh following the basic PARA structure. This acts as a reset that provides relief and enthusiasm.

The key idea is organizing digitally in a way that partitions information according to relevance across different time horizons, from active projects to longer term reference material. PARA provides a flexible system to maintain perspective on priorities and future goals.

  • The era of the “knowledge worker” is coming to an end as knowledge becomes more accessible through technology like search engines and AI.

  • We are entering the era of the “wisdom worker” where what matters is the ability to maintain perspective amid chaos and orchestrate people, systems, and information flows from a place of calm.

  • Using a system like PARA (described as a productivity method), one can organize all their knowledge and experiences in one place and realize they already have what they need to pursue their dreams.

  • Getting organized with PARA is meant to be quick so one can step out into the world and tap into sources of power available to fulfill their purpose.

  • The author, Tiago Forte, is an expert on productivity who has helped many organizations and individuals revolutionize how they work through principles and technology. He discusses his book “Building a Second Brain” and provides his contact details.

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