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The average knowledge worker spends 4.5 hours a week looking for missing files.
That’s nearly 20 days a year.
The average American takes 17.4 vacation days.
Let that sink in.
Yup, US knowledge workers spend more time searching for files than going on vacation.
We’ve all been there.
Searching for the “prospect list” on your local drive somehow pulls up every file you’ve ever created.
Then diving into your email (who actually searches using wildcards?), only to find that the version you found is missing the last update.
This frustration extends into your personal life – with those pesky insurance cards. I know you’ve been at the doctor’s office, logging into their non-mobile-friendly app as the receptionist stares at awaiting your co-pay?
But I’ve got good news.
There’s a simple and free framework to squash this frustration once and for all. It’s a four letter framework that involves the same (parsimonious) amount of folders.
Meet the PARA system
PARA is an information management system created by fellow RadReader and productivity guru Tiago Forte. The system is expansive. It enables you to organize anything you create and consume digitally, ranging from:
The spectrum of actionability
PARA has four primary components: Projects, Areas (of Responsibility), Resources and Archive.
The system segments your life across a continuum of actionability. On the left end of the spectrum, you have projects (or clusters of actions). Because of their action-orientation, they are more suited for Task Managers (and systems like GTD).
On the right end (and as the name entails) you have Resources. This tends to consist of passive information such as notes, files, and research — the domain of both Notes (Evernote, OneNote) and Files (Dropbox, Google Drive).
Let’s examine each category:
A series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline.
- Complete app mockup
- Prepare conference talk
- Train for 10k
- Develop project plan
In his original PARA post, Forte describes the required mindset for projects:
“Projects require you to be laser-focused, to ruthlessly drive toward an outcome, to smash through or circumvent obstacles, to ignore distractions (i.e. people).”
Areas (of responsibility)
A sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.
Areas are the “gray areas” of our lives and span the larger priorities of our careers, relationships, and personal development. They’re the tricky “Important, but not Urgent” that don’t really have deadlines, yet are critical to live rich and fulfilling lives.
- Key relationships (spouse, kids, direct reports, boss)
- Things you own (home, car)
Forte reinforces how tricky it can be to maintain this part of our lives:
Areas, on the other hand, require mindfulness, balance, flow, and human connection. This is the realm of habits, routines, rituals, and intentional communities. Areas require introspection and self-awareness, because determining whether or not you are meeting your standard is an intuitive exercise, not an analytical one.
A topic or theme of interest.
You can think of resources as collections of your ideas and curiosities. They tend to be more passive (and less actionable) yet form the basis of your knowledge base.
Some examples include:
- Habit formation
- Movie Lists
- Digital Marketing
Inactive items from the other three categories.
- Last year’s completed Marathon
- Side project you’re no longer working on
- Past client project
- Topic you’re no longer interested in
How to implement PARA?
Once you’ve defined your PARA categories, they will follow you around your various digital workspace. You’ll create them for:
- Task manager (Things, Todoist, Omnifocus)
- Note-takers (Google Docs, Evernote, One Note, Bear)
- Reading Lists (Instapaper, Pocket)
- No-code apps (Notion, Coda, Airtable)
(Or you can do this using the Notion app ?)
Now, of course these intra-app updates won’t happen automatically, but having a centralized taxonomy will go a LONG WAY in saving you those 20 days.
Here’s how Forte maps his PARA categories across apps:
And here’s a screenshot of my own PARA setup in Notion:
And you don’t have to stop here. Once you’ve revamped the way you store your personal information, you’re ready to upgrade your organisational knowledge management.