In this guide we'll show you how to implement Tiago Forte's PARA method inside Workflowy. While the PARA system is commonly used as part of the 'Building a second brain' method, it works perfectly fine as its own independent system. And if you are interested in going on to use the second brain method in the future, learning how to set-up and user PARA will be essential.
PARA is a methodology for organizing digital information and activities in a way that is simple, useful, and flexible. PARA itself is an acronym that stands for 'Projects', 'Areas', 'Resources', and 'Archives' - which are the four main categories that make it up.
The system was developed by Tiago Forte. Tiago developed the system as a way to help manage his knowledge and work at his consulting job. Since then PARA has become a part of the 'Build a second brain' system that Tiago also created and popularized.
The PARA system isn't so much a productivity system as it is an organization method. The idea being that by having all your digital information well organized, you can then easily recall it to be productive, creative, and effective - depending on your specific goals.
The PARA method works by grouping information into four main categories. 'Projects', 'Areas', 'Resources', and 'Archives'.
Projects being the most actionable category and Archives the least.
This is where your active projects will go. Projects are defined as a collection of tasks that are connected to a goal and have a set deadline. These are the concrete activities you want to or need to do.
PARA starts with projects and not tasks as a way to give the system more structure and make it easier to align activities with goals. It's simply easier to group tasks by project and see the progress of a handful of projects vs dozens of individual tasks.
Areas (of responsibility)
The Areas section represents ongoing activities with no set deadline. So things like finances, writing, sales, health. These should be things that require constant upkeep and attention. New projects will generally come from this section as a result of that continual upkeep.
This section is for holding information around topics that are interesting or useful to you. As the name suggests, these are pieces of information that you would like to keep and refer to in the future. Items from here could feed into existing or new areas you'd like to actively explore.
You can also think of it as your library where you collect information to later use, transform, or repurpose somehow.
One key difference between resources and areas is that resources should be things you're interested in while areas is meant for things you're responsible for.
Lastly, the archives is where you'll put items from the other three categories that have been completed or are no longer active. So things like complete projects, areas that are no longer active or resources that you are no longer interested in actively maintaining.
The archives serve as a historical registry of your past activities and interests. This can then serve you in the future as a place for reviewing past activities and for reusing useful items.
So once you understand the PARA method structure, when and how do you actually use it?
Tiago recommends you update the system in what he calls 'just-in-time organization'. Essentially that means you organize things in your system as a natural consequence of your work and needs. Instead of scheduling specific chunks of time to do the organization, you simply start working with your system and organize as you go.
This makes sense when you consider that at its core, the PARA method is about organizing information, not managing productivity. Spending time keeping your system pristine and perfectly organized for its own sake doesn't do you any good. Instead, you work on it in batches as you put information into your system or need to pull information out of it.
As you use your system, you'll notice there are several flows of information going on. Items will move from one category to another and back.
Items that start out as projects might become areas that you'll need to maintain, or you'll generate resources that you'll want to use later, and finally the project itself will end up in the archive once you're done.
Areas you're responsible for will generate new projects, you'll likely stumble across interesting and useful resources you'll want to keep and once an area is no longer your responsibility, it'll end up in the archive.
Resources will build up until you decide to turn them into projects or areas if you decide you want to work on them continuously.
And Archives could become useful in the future as a source of inspiration or documents you'll be able to reuse. Archived areas or resources might become relevant at some point in the future and you'll be glad you kept them around - making it easy to dust them off and put them back into your areas or resources categories.
As you can see, the PARA method is pretty straightforward. There are not a lot of moving parts and what structure there is, is relatively simple to understand.
Now let's move on to actually implementing it in Workflowy.
The simplest way to get started would be to make a list with the 4 main categories starting with the most actionable at the top and working our way down.
One thing that isn't strictly part of the PARA method is an inbox. As you start to put information into your system, you might decide that there's no need for one and that you're fine putting things directly where they go in real time.
For everyone else we recommend adding an inbox at the top of the four categories as a place to quickly dump information to then organize.
The idea being that as you go along your day and come across pieces of information you want to put into your system, you can simply put them in your inbox without having to think about where they should go.
Then when you have a moment to do some of that 'Just-in-time' organization, start from the inbox, see if there's anything that needs to be organized and then move on to the category you were going to work from.
And that's really all there is to get started. As long as you organize as you go and as you need things, your system will slowly become organized.
Capturing items on the web
Workflowy has a web clipper available for google chrome. This makes it even easier to capture items to your inbox when on the web. So if you use chrome, this is an extension worth checking out. Link to google chrome store
While Workflowy's global search is powerful, it's worth considering adding tags to 'folders' in your projects, areas, resources and archive sections. This makes it easier to later click on those tags and spot items that are in sections of your system that you've forgotten about and could now become useful again.
This is becomes more useful as items move from the areas and resources section to the archive. Having a treasure-trove of knowledge is great but if you forget it even exists, it's not really going to be of much use.
If you do tag items, you can then simply search for the filter before you even start a new project to see if there's anything useful in your system you could reuse.
Very large / specialized files
While you might be inclined to try and simply dump everything into Workflowy, there are instances where it's best to keep a certain piece of information somewhere else. If you already use apps like google drive or dropbox, it might make sense to simply leave those items there and instead link to the file. Remember that Workflowy is multi-platform and has a robust web app so linking to external web applications will work just fine - no sense in duplicating files across applications.
So there you have it, Tiago Forte's PARA method. A relatively simple and straightforward system for keeping all your digital information organized in a useful manner.
If you like the system and find it useful, then we recommend you check out more of his work around building a second brain. The PARA method forms the cornerstone of that system so you'll be well on your way.
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