Regardless of who you are or what you do, chances are that you are responsible for a substantial amount of digital information. Whether these files pertain to you as an individual or are a critical part of the work you do as a professional, the fact remains that this information will be more useful (and less stressful to manage) if it is organized cleverly and intuitively. When it comes to keeping track of digital files across a range of apps and platforms, though? Easier said than done.
Thankfully, the PARA method is here to help. A concept developed by Tiago Forte, author of the book ‘Building a Second Brain,’ the impetus behind the PARA method is captured well by the title of Forte’s book.
“PARA stands for Projects — Areas — Resources — Archives, the four top-level categories encompassing every type of information you might encounter in your work and life.”
PARA stands for Projects — Areas — Resources — Archives, the four top-level categories encompassing every type of information you might encounter in your work and life. With the goal of providing a better organization system that ultimately helps you get things done without adding stress or complication to your life, PARA allow you to see clearly what you need to work on and what resources you have to do it with.
The four categories of the PARA method
The basis of this straightforward yet powerful system, that has proven a game-changer for knowledge workers worldwide, is simple—all the information is organized into four categories:
Project: A series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline.
Area of Responsibility: A sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.
Resource: A topic or theme of ongoing interest.
Archive: Inactive items from the other three categories.
In his post explaining the method, Tiago Forte gives the following examples to help elucidate what is contained within each category:
Project examples include: Complete app mockup; Develop project plan; Execute business development campaign; Write blog post; Finalize product specifications; Attend a conference.
Area of responsibility examples include: Health; Finances, Professional Development; Travel; Hobbies; Friends; Apartment; Car; Productivity; Direct reports; Product Development; Writing.
Resource examples include: Habit formation; project management; transhumanism; coffee; music; gardening; online marketing; SEO; interior design; architecture; note-taking.
Archives examples include: Projects that have been completed or become inactive; areas that you are no longer committed to maintaining; resources that you are no longer interested in
As you can see, the PARA method is about more than just optimizing your workflow; it is a comprehensive system to manage your life and help make the most of your time. As an organizational system, it is:
- universal, able to receive any kind of information from any source
- flexible, able to work with any project or activity you take on, now and in the future
- simple, not requiring any time-consuming maintenance, cataloging, tagging, or reorganizing beyond a bare minimum
- actionable, integrating seamlessly with task management and project management methods
- cross-platform, able to be used with any application, now existing or yet to be developed
- outcome-oriented, structuring information in a way that supports the delivery of valuable work
- modular, allowing different levels of detail to be hidden or revealed, depending on the needs of the current task
- opportunistic, in the good sense, taking advantage of work already being performed, instead of requiring dedicated overhead time
How does the PARA method help us at GANDT?
Of course, a method can only really be called useful once proven to be so. So here is how we use PARA at GANDT.
- By splitting content between the four categories, we managed to separate the very small amount of actionable information (Projects) from the much larger amount of non-actionable information (Areas, Resources).
- All inactive items are stored under Archive, which helps to reduce the visual clutter in all the tools we use and helps the team see/find only the information they need.
- We have all the clients and the internal projects stored in one place; every project is clearly associated with its goal & deadline.
- The PARA system allows us to shift content from one category to another, e.g., if a project becomes long-term, ongoing responsibility will be redirected to Areas. This helps us make changes to our organizational structure in small steps and reduces the time invested into time-consuming organizational work with no clear return or impact in terms of productivity.
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