Gaps in my understanding of PARA

Thanks for the input everyone!

That’s what I’m doing :slight_smile: In this case, tweaking things to reduce friction.

Lots of people have thought about things that I haven’t (some have replied in this thread), so I’m always open to input. I try to weigh things carefully, and extract the bits and pieces I can use.

Indeed. From their example, “Tell people where things are:”

Jayna: “Hey Kristy, where can I find the payroll schedule?”
Kristy: “Twelve dot oh-three.”
Jayna: “Why didn’t you just name it Payroll/Schedule? I wouldn’t have had to bother you.”
Kristy: :exploding_head:


I was able to snag a discount on the BASB course because I’m a teacher. I’d been interested and hoped that the course would illuminate the free blog posts about it.

Previously, I was just a straight up A-Z guy. As a GTDer, that’s what David Allen recommends :slight_smile:

I was immediately sold on PARA but then again ran into a lot of these uhhh semantic hiccups. I would freeze up trying to figure out where exactly I wanted to put stuff and really found the Areas and Resources sections pretty blurry.

Still, I used PARA for a long time and then quit as Evernote sort of started going into the toilet and that was my main organizing tool for it. HOWEVER I keep going back to PARA. I find a lot of stuff about it is actually quite nice. While I’m looking for an Evernote replacement, I recently re-organized all my local filed (excluding pics and video) per PARA.

Here’s my mini-summary of the categories.

Projects - Resources for active projects. This is the simplest for me. Anything that I have steps for in my task manager that I can eventually complete goes here. When I finish a project, it gets moved into Archives.

Areas - This took a long time for me to grok. I don’t know if this is how Tiago thinks of it exactly, but I think of this as actively used/maintained/regularly referred to documents related to my areas of focus. I don’t have a ton of stuff like this right now, but say I was keeping a weight loss journal - I’d put it in here as long as I was actively maintaining it. Let me load up what I’ve got in there now… I have a few notes including the number to call in sick for work (lol), my inventory as an amateur prepper, a list of current cash back deals for my credit cards, and a meal plan. You wouldn’t share anything in here with people besides maybe family.

Resources - This is for all the note takey knowledge worker types to take notes on stuff and share it out. I have nothing in here right now, but as a teacher, this is where I might compile say, lesson ideas or cool articles about teaching. The idea is all of this stuff might be useful for future projects.

Archive - Anything you’re done with, don’t care about, don’t anticipate needing to look at. Resources you’re note interested in anymore, finished projects, discarded Areas or Area related content. Old and static stuff.

EDIT: I want to add that I think within PARA the idea is actually to try not to get hung up on where the perfect spot for something is. Throw it where it feels right with the understanding that you can search for it if you need it.


That horrifies me to be honest. I can NEVER find ANYTHING via search. If I have to resport to searching I’ve clearly done something horribly wrong. I depend on clean nice buckets for stuff.

Now in Obsidian I now have the option to EASILY put something into 2 indices (my notes that correspond to the equivalent of folders in Obsidian) and I’m finding that in practice notes/items rarely end up in 2 buckets.

For me, if my file system is well defined and clean I never need or use search.

If I start having to search for things I know I have it’s a signal to me to do some investigation into whether I’ve been filing improperly or des it mean my needs have changes and I have to fine tune my filing. It’s almost always one or the other.


You’d have nightmares if you saw how my students maintain their Google Drives… there were some great articles floating around RE college professors realizing their students don’t know how to use file systems at all these days. That’s freaky.

I don’t think in PARA you’re meant to be TOO devil may care about how stuff is organized. Honestly, most of my stuff is just A-Z in the archive. BUT if you aren’t quite sure if something is an Area or a Resource, I don’t think there’s much to be gained from marinating on it for hours before just filing!

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Here is a link to the article. I haven’t seen this with the college students I’ve taught. They understand folders. The biggest problem I’ve seen is typing commands, but that’s not a generational thing, just a familiarity thing.

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Worth noting: a lot of what’s been said in this conversation centres on different information retrieval strategies. There’s a lot out there on information retrieval—entire textbooks, in fact!—but the advice isn’t often very pragmatic.

For example, Denise Bedford’s Knowledge Architectures book has a chapter on information retrieval, but I can’t exactly recommend it. It isn’t very down-to-Earth. Nonetheless, I like some of the ideas in it.

For example, we all generally do the following “Design activities and tasks for seeking and discovery” (p. 221) with our notes and resources:

  • Activity 1. Identify the knowledge discovery needs
  • Activity 2. Develop profiles of knowledge seeking for business-critical capabilities
  • Activity 3. Inventory sources and design a discovery environment
  • Activity 4. Design an environment for discovery (yes, I know this is repetitive, that’s the book for you…)
  • Activity 5. Design logging capabilities to understand discovery patterns

(1+2.) Basically, we have different knowledge discovery needs, both between us as users and within us as different use-cases. Consider those different needs “profiles.”

(3.) For each profile, we need to understand what information we need, and where that information is stored/generated. That’s the “discovery environment.”

(4.) Designing a discovery environment means e.g., making decisions like the ones we’re talking about here. How should we file away our stuff? What techniques will we use to retrieve the things we store? Here, it’s worth noting that there’s a few well-established patterns for knowledge seeking. Here’s my roughshod personal definitions of a few. (Again, the book doesn’t exactly lay 'em out very well.)
- browsing: looking through information without knowing exactly what we’re looking for until we find it;
- grazing: looking through information to pick bits of useful info from many different places;
- satisficing: looking through information and comparing the results to find the “best” bit of info to resolve the question at hand; and
- searching: looking through information when you know exactly what you’re looking for

Marcia Bates has published about how knowledge seeking tasks are actually usually completed iteratively, using several of these kinds of techniques. This is called “berrypicking.”

(Note that the way I use “search” above doesn’t mean “manually enter text in a text box and let a search engine return matches to that text.” That kind of querying can be used to do all four of the above knowledge seeking tasks.)

(5.) This is the neatest takeaway for me: Bedford encourages us to track what we’re looking for, how we’re looking for it, and what we find. Doing so deliberately may help us realize what knowledge seeking efforts fail, which ones take too much work, and so on, in order to facilitate re-design such that our systems get better over time.

For instance, I often use ideas and definitions from other authors in order to provide background on new papers. My “need” here is therefore citing sources. I don’t usually need exact sentences, though.

So I simply want to have a sense of what the papers I’ve read contain, and I need to be able to quickly find the paper’s metadata. This is a common knowledge-seeking profile for me.

Clearly, one approach to do this would be to go to Google Scholar each time I want to re-find an article. However, that means that I need to tediously use search-querying (and the Internet) every time I want to cite someone. Instead, I create an information source—a reference library—and maintain paper metadata there.

My “discovery environment” for this purpose is therefore a reference manager plus the ways I can look into that reference manager (Bookends, still, for some reason).

However, via reflection on the use of these tools, I have noticed that the context-switching to go find the metadata for the article I’m reading can be costly. Since I am usually reading out of DEVONthink, I designed connections between DEVONthink and Bookends (simple scripts that open the relevant record in either app) so that I can quickly grab citation information and switch back to reading.


Fun to see Bates evoked here!

For those interested, this video by Dr. Jenna Hartel covers the Bates paper nicely.


I looked into Johnny Decimal, and it seems like something for people who never actually have to organize any serious amount of information.

They talk about using it for work stuff, for example, and it’s fine until you have to do something like track documents and such for a client’s web dev project. At that point it doesn’t just explode, but does so amazingly quickly. :slight_smile:


I would mess up one number somewhere, throw everything off, and then spend two days frantically fixing things while neglecting all other aspects of my life.


I hope you fulfill it soon! It was a good read.

I think it’s easy to overthink PARA and similar approaches. In Forte’s book he says that PARA emerged from advising people NOT to set up complex filing systems on new personal computers - just bring stuff over as it is and then put new stuff in a new place. He found that hardly anyone ever needed to go back to more than a tiny fraction of old stuff so came up with the idea that things should be filed by utility not topic: things you are actively using should be easiest to access with things that might only need to be accessed rarely “put away”. Projects are what you are working on NOW that is the front of your attention, areas are things you need to use regularly but less frequently, resources are things that you will dip into at need and archives are things you might occasionally need to refer to, but rarely.

That is, of course, ambiguous and personal. I don’t think it survives scrutiny as an information organisation system, but the basic principle (organise by what the information is for rather than what it is about) is a good one. I think you need to add roles to that - as a foundation of what the information is for - and I don’t personally see a lot of difference between projects and areas. I think “library” makes more sense than “resources” - it’s about information I might need to reference rather than information as a resource for projects/areas - that information should be in that project/area’s file or folder.


So funny - I’ve adapted Johnny Decimal to my own brain, you’re right–solely for my own info (NOT business), and I love it. For decades I’ve done numerology readings for people–a new-age thing where each of the 9 digits is associated with a different area of life. So my main folders are divided according to those subjects. Where I used to dig around and wonder “What’d I call that folder again?” now I know immediately which main folder to look at to find things: 30’s = Creative stuff / 40s = Work (all my odd side hustles) / 60s = Family stuff / 80s = anything Money-related / etc… For all my nested folders, I put the digits first AND ALSO a name…and no digits on the file names; that’s too much!

Oddly enough, one of my first “doing computer programming for somebody else” experiences was working with a friend of mine to write a computer program for his mom that was into numerology.

That’s hilarious though with JD - already basically having a 1-10 system memorized that you could just use. :smiley:


I’ve found PARA to be an extremely useful way to organize my information. It’s based primarily on actionability, not topics. That’s why it starts with projects (projects you are working on right now with ending points), then Areas (areas of continuing actionability that don’t have defined ending points (like family finances), then Resources (more topical storage), and finally Archive (not active projects, not current areas of responsibility, not current interest topics – everything else).

I think it’s possible to overthink the system and get hung up on carefully crafted definitions and semantic issues. It’s not that complicated. I agree there is some overlap between Areas and Resources, but it’s not a deal killer or that big of a functional issue. Everyone comes up with their own understanding of what goes in which category, and so what if it’s in the “wrong” category? It’s still saved and available to do either a manual folder search or a digital keyword search.

I’ve been using it for about 9 months now on all my software platforms (Finder, Craft and DevonThink primarily) and have found it to be a great way to organize for getting things done, and also for topical storage. It serves both functions for me. The standard topical file system I used before only did the organizing part.

I think it’s barking up the wrong tree and irrelevant to try to make this an Obsidian vs. PARA issue. It’s not about which notes app you use, it’s about the organizational system you use in the app. Lots of folks use PARA in Obsidian, just as I use it in Craft and DevonThink. One of the strengths of the PARA system is that you can use it on virtually any software platform, and across several platforms simultaneously (so things are organized the same wherever you’re working).

Of course, like everything else, this all comes down to personal preference. For some, PARA is the organizing and actionability solution they’ve been looking for, for others, it makes no sense at all. It’s fine either way. Find something that works for you. :blush:

(I wrote a blog post about BASB, including PARA, last October – What’s Unique About Building A Second Brain?)


One of the problems I have with PARA, and some similar approaches, is that I have constantly to change the organization of my informations. If it belongs to an active project, I have to place it there, if it is done, I have to Archive it, and if it pops up again I have to do the reverse.
From my point of view, this is very time consumption, and if I do not change it right at the moment, it also tends to become a mess, sooner or later.

If you’re using a purely topical organizational structure, in order to complete projects don’t you still have to pull info from many different locations while working, and then return that info when done? I don’t see there’s any difference in hassle, but that’s just me.

Putting all of the info into a project folder while you’re researching and collecting it saves the time of constantly going elsewhere to access it.

You can store things in folders in whatever structure makes sense and then just tag the files and documents that you need for a specific project. I use the EagleFiler app that can show me either the items in a folder or all of the items tagged for a specific project no matter where they are stored. Nothing has to be moved.

I’ll bet DEVONthink and other apps like it could do the same thing.

I could use tags, but choose not to. They’ve never stuck for me. I just do a search if I can’t find something.

And besides, in the file system I use I don’t need tags.

But you also said you gather project files into a project folder to avoid “constantly going elsewhere to access it.” If you were to use tags, you would not have to move anything.

However, and this is a huge caveat, tags do not necessarily translate across system or devices well.

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