P.A.R.A. Organization

I’m pretty obsessed with the notion of a second brain. I’m super into carrying a notebook and have carried pocket notebooks since 2008. I’m on #48 in my series of notebooks, which is pretty bad, but crazy when you think how long I’ve been carrying them. The thought that my brain is porous and stuff slips through my mental grasps is pretty upsetting. Writing it down saves it in a way that I can return and look at it again in the future.

To that end I’m current Reading Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte. Before picking up the book, after seeing a bunch of online material and finding out about his online course, I’ve had a somewhat negative opinion of Tiago. I thought he was charging a bunch of money for stuff that could be summarized and put together in a pretty quick pamphlet but Tiago is charging thousands of dollars for his online course. When I started the book, I was biased by these preconceived notions about him and his methods.

I’m willing to admit I was wrong. Tiago has some interesting pieces in this book and while there is a LOT of fluff and story around the basics of the method, they are pretty interesting and many notes are entertaining and worth reading. Still, some of the concept are buried under a lot of explanation. One of them is the P.A.R.A. method of organizing information. I had heard about it before reading the book, but I had too many questions to understand how to use it. I’ve started to use it and will continue to. I’m excited to see if changes the way I organize and find information.

What does P.A.R.A. stand for?

It stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. Information can be organized into any of these categories and these are only the top level of the organization tree.

Here are some key things that I didn’t understand when reading about this method before picking up the book.

1. P.A.R.A. is in a defined order

Translating this to pseudo code:

if (note.type == project) {
    // It goes in the Project folder
} else if (note.type == Area) {
    // The note does in the area
} else if (note.type == Resource) {
    // It goes in a resource
} else {
    // it goes in archive

Projects are the most relevant folders. If something you are writing a note about can be related to a current project it goes in that folder. If not, but is related to a current Area it goes in that folder. If it is something you can see yourself reference as resource it goes in Resources folder. If you doesn’t belong in any of the above it goes to Archive. Archive is the hardest to search through, probably the least organized, but it is still in your system to be found someday.

2. Content can move between folders

When you are done with a project, you can move the entire folder to the Archives folder. Stuff that is in resources can go to a project. Your system is fluid. Notes don’t just “belong” somewhere. They are where they can of the most use.

3. The difference between a Project and Area

This was a big one for me. A Project is has a definite start and specific end goal. The end goal is relatively timely and not too far out in the future. Areas are longer distance projects. Things that might not ever be finished.

Simple example, a project might be Getting the house Painted while an area might be something like Maintain the House. Painting the house might be a note in the House project, but there are timelines, color swatches, and quotes. That’s why it is more like a Project.

The House area might contain information like list of future projects to do someday. Information about the house. Important notes about the house and information on billing contacts and whatnot.

4. Not just for your notes App

P.A.R.A. works not just for your notes app, but it can also work anywhere you need to organize content, like your documents folder on computer. This allows for correlation between the notes and folders. Thinking in this method is more than just how you create notes.

5. The system is yours to mold

P.A.R.A. is a mandate, it is a rough framework. You can add other folders. I do. I have an Inbox folder where notes go before I know where they belong. Also, I haven’t fully implemented it yet, but I’m debating putting sections for Projects, Areas, and Resources in my Archive folder to organize the mess in there. The freedom is there.


I’m probably going to put together an infographic about the second brain after I’m done with the book. My note on the book is getting pretty long at this point. Still P.A.R.A. is an interesting method and I’m excited to see if it will help me with my work.

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