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.

Cataloging My Field Notes

collection of Field Notes

There is something to be said for knowing what you have so you don’t buy things you don’t need. That only partly applies to what I’m talking about here. This is clearly a luxury and a collection. At this point, none of this is necessary, and it’s more of a personal hobby.

Since 2008, I’ve been carrying around a pocket notebook and writing instrument almost everywhere I travel. Constantly in my pocket. It’s funny because I also have a smartphone, and I take notes digitally and on paper. Why? I don’t know, and I guess there is something romantic about the paper discovery process of going through old notebooks and finding ideas. I recently went to a friend’s wedding and went through my old notes to find the initial guest list they had proposed back in 2016, just because I happened to write it down in my memo pad. The guest list turned out to be pretty close to who actually came, and it was a fun moment to have the notebook, take a picture of it, and share it with my friend. Also, at the wedding, I pulled out my notebook and had some guests write Haikus that we sent to the couple on their honeymoon (this tends to be a regular occurrence for me at weddings).

My branch of choice is Field Notes. I’ve been collecting unique editions of these notebooks pretty much since the beginning. In moving my stuff back across the country, we unpacked my boxes to find a plethora of notebooks. I didn’t know what I had open and not open. I did not know what I was missing in my collection. I suppose for any collection to count as a collection, you really need a record of what you have. I’ve solved that: here. This is a link to all the available unopened packs I have in my collection. If you are obsessed with field notes and need to trade or collect, many of these are available for purchase or barter. You need to reach out to me. Let me know what you want, and we can discuss a fair trade/purchase price.

This collection has brought me immense joy and happiness through collecting. I can’t really explain it, but hoarding it now feels wrong. It feels like it is time to start parting with editions I don’t feel particularly attached to.

Life Is Short, Don’t Wait To Dance

Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

Life is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance is a nonfiction work by Valorie Kondos Field about her life, beliefs and coaching philosophy. This book covers her history as a coach, how she ended up as a member of the UCLA hall of fame and brought the best out of her athletes.

This book is worth the read. Even if you read this whole post, I won’t do it justice.

Valorie is special. She led a team of female gymnasts to a national title without ever being a gymnast. Coaching something you’ve mastered is one thing, coaching something you’ve never done is a whole level up. Valorie talks about how she got into the field and how she learned how to be a better coach. How she realized that skills she needed to teach her athletes weren’t quips, but were the same life skills she had used to be successful in her life.

If you want a taste Valorie before committing to reading this book, I would recommend her appearance on The Finding Master Podcast at Valorie Kondos Field, UCLA Gymnastics Head Coach | Finding Mastery.

Here are some of the key concepts I took away from the book:

  • Choose Happy – You can choose to be a happy person or a sad person. Instead of looking at all the faults, choose to be happy.
  • Act “As If” – Acting as if you are a healthy person can lead you to be a healthy person. Sometimes stepping into the role before you actually are the role will help you get there.
  • Gratitude – This one is huge for me. Everyone I know has been talking about gratitude recently. I’ve started a 10 things a day list and am pretty happy with how far I’ve come in reframing my life here.
  • Personal days – This is a concept that I have at work but have never thought about in athletics. Respecting the athlete to have personal practice days where they need their time. I believe Coach Val gives athletes 3 days per year, but the athlete can ask for the day or the coach can suggest an athlete takes the days and there are no consequences for missing it.

Just to wrap this review up. Reading this book was very inspirational to me as an athlete, coach and human. I would recommend this book. I’m not sure if it will be the first book I’d recommend to everyone, but Miss Val has lead a very inspirational life and I enjoyed getting to know more about her experiences, coaching beliefs, and funny stories.

Review: The Cult of The Amateur

I started reading The Cult of the Amateur at the suggestion of a close friend. The main context of this book is that we as members of internet are somehow degrading the quality of external creative works like Music, News, and Movies. The author puts forth some interesting points, but mostly I disagree with his conclusions.

His major argument is that free and cheap media will win out over the expensive expert media. I disagree. People will pay for quality. People would pay for better news if better news were available for a reasonable price.

The web can actually do the converse of what the author is suggesting. The web could force us to improve our quality. The web could force retailers to have to create an experience that merits the expense of a few extra dollars. Perhaps I’m overly idealistic about human nature, but my belief is there are still things people spend money on even when they are tight on cash. Creating a significantly better experience or product will warrant money.

The problem is that retailers used to drive the price. You could walk into a store and pay a price the retailers deem is appriopriate for a given item, even if it is a %150 mark up on something. In the old economy retailers decided the cost on everything. In the new model, consumers can see through inflated costs by using tools like Amazon and Google.

This doesn’t mean consumers won’t spend. Look at the iPhone (yes, I’m an Apple fan, take this with a grain of salt). It is just a cell phone. You can get cell phones for free with plans from most providers, but the iPhone has flourished with its $400 price tag (yes, there are cheaper models, but for a time there wasn’t, and the iPhone was still doing well then). Granted this isn’t traditional media, and the argument in this book is about media, not necessarily products, but there is a connection between the economy of media products and the general economy.

What it comes down to is that our economy is evolving. What used to be of high value was information distribution. Information used to be hard to get so you had pay people (newspapers) to find it and bring it to you. Now that bringing it to you is easy, just go online. The service isn’t worth what it used to be. Is there still a market for information? Yes, of course there is. What is really valuable is well written, thought-out reporting. The information and validation of the information is still valuable, but the distribution is not.

In order to combat this, newspapers have started distributing online. The model that most news sites are using is ad revenue based. Newspapers get paid based on how many ads they can show you on the same page as your news. For this reason, newspapers have been changing the format of journalism. In high school, when I was trained to report, it was all about the lead paragraph. The lead paragraph in a newspaper article would cover all the details of the story in brief, the who, what, where, when, and why. The remainder of the article would delve into more detail and get all the information out.

Todays articles are different. They try and stretch the information out of many pages. The benefit of this approach is that you get more ad space as you expand pages. By keeping people reading to try to get the meat of the article, you get them to click through your pages, thus creating more opportunity for ad revenue. What you end up with, though, is news that is hard to read and not catering to what consumers really need, and therefore isn’t valuable.

Some newspapers have realized this and they are weather the storm better than others. A Graphic History of Newspaper Circulation, shows how some newspapers are still creating relevant content are having a healthy distribution. The Wall street journal is a leading the pack. The WSJ is selling online subscriptions just as they sell their paid subscriptions. Because their revenue is partially subscription based, the articles tend not to use pagination for more ad space. There are still adds on the page, but they are clearly separated from content, and allow the articles to be read easier.

The author, Keen, comes to similar conclusions towards the end of his book. He mentions how consumers will be in charge of driving the price of products in the future. We as consumers do have a responsibility to set pricing. What he misses is that the responsibility isn’t not just on the consumers to pay, but on the retailers to continue to make products that are valuable.

While I don’t agree with the author throughout most of the book, it did get me thinking. If you have an interest in art, music, video, or blogging, this book may be wroth you time. On the Tubbs scale, I’d give it about a 4/10.

Books: Smart & Gets Things Done

This is a very interesting book by Joel Spolsky, titled Smart & Gets Things Done. It has a lot of good information about how to hire the right people for a technical company.

Really this book is a collection of references and combination of thoughts. It refers to Peopleware, a book which I have started but never really finished. He also references various other postings he has made on his site.

The key tenents of this book, as I see them:

  • Treat your employees well and you will have to do less hiring
  • Find the good programmers as early as possible, as the available programmers are almost never on the market
  • Various tips on sorting resumes
  • Ensure that all candidates write code

Nothing in this book was overly confusing or different, but it was an interesting read. If you are new to recruiting, reading this book may help, but if you are a veteran most of the stuff in this book will be just a review. Still a fun and interesting review with good little stories. I’d give it at 7/10.

Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks

Picture of the Nexus BookThis book is definitely my favorite read on the subject of complex network analysis. Having had several projects that involve the study of complex networks, the topic was not new to me. I have read parts of Linked, by Albert Lazlo Barabasi, and Six Degrees, by Duncan Watts. Both are interesting books, but Linked takes a turn towards the highly mathematical and I had some issues following. Six Degrees didn’t do a good job of keeping my attention either. Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory of Networks broke the mold. It was a good read, contained my interest throughout the book and I left feeling like I learned a few things. Worth the read, pick up, enjoy it.

Rating: 7/10
Will post rating scale soon