“The system you use to organize information has to be so simple that it frees up your attention, instead of taking more of it. Your system must give you time, not take time.” — Tiago Forte, The PARA Method 💬
I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot over the last few days.
Because I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the “right system,” when what I should’ve been doing was figuring out the “right system” for me. And by “a lot of time,” I mean years. OCD has demanded, for most of my life, that organization needed to be a necessity. It’s true. I meticulously file, label, and organize nearly every facet of my life – especially the digital side of things.
I spent years waffling back and forth between digital and analog methods in an attempt to, well, accomplish everything — complete my graduate studies, save trees by using less paper, stay on top of a growing freelance schedule, get my collective shit together — and, obviously, that waffling was not conducive to productivity. Or to getting my collective shit together.
Understanding the Struggles
I started out way back in 2008 (I think?) with Evernote, which I generally liked at the beginning. I kept all of my notes there. Every little thing went into Evernote, and then I would organize with folders, and later, with notebooks and stacks
Now, I admit that I’m one of those poor saps who tries out every new note-taking app. Evernote, OneNote, Bear, SimpleNote, Drafts, Google Keep, and plenty of others that I know I’m forgetting. A mix of FOMO and the “Ooo, shiny and new!” part of my ADD contribute to this problem, even when I’m already using something I like (more on that in a bit).
Enter Obsidian – A Savior (Albeit An Overwhelming One)
I forget how I learned about Obsidian. It was likely in a post on Mastodon. At the time it was “new,” so I just had to check it out. Because I enjoy torturing myself that way, apparently.
It was…overwhelming. Powerful. Flexible. Pretty. Cross-platform. But so, SO overwhelming. I had no idea where to even begin. I made a few folders for projects and transferred in relevant notes from Bear. I loved that the system uses Markdown files that live in a folder on my computer as opposed to in someone’s cloud service or proprietary storage.
After I transferred all my notes in, I had a feeling that I wasn’t using Obsidian like other people were. There are numerous features and community plugins and ways to use them, but I was simply…taking notes. That was it and it felt wrong.
Just as I was trying to deal with this feeling, MacSparky released his Obsidian Field Guide. I jumped on it right away, having found a few of his other field guides to be incredibly valuable, insightful, helpful. This one was no different, really teaching me the ins and outs of the whole of Obsidian, including which community plugins could be especially helpful for the way I work. It was a fantastic feeling to understand it better and finally discover ways to make it work for me.
I spent more time creating folder structures and inserting tables and essentially moving my entire online life into Obsidian, and thus far, I don’t regret that choice. But a new issue did arise – that of having so many notes and folders that I was unsure of where to start actually working on things! I’ve always been proud of the way I keep myself organized, but this new issue proved to be a pretty big hole in my methods.
Enter Tiago Forte’s PARA Method — The Productivity Booster
A few online friends had mentioned that they were working to “PARA their lives,” which I found intriguing – and a little baffling since I had never seen the PARA acronym before. So, how did I fix this?
I googled, of course. And then I fell down the rabbit hole – one of the deepest rabbit holes I’ve ever come across.
I’ll skip the tangents this could lead to and just tell you the best thing about this particular rabbit hole: Emerging with a simple system that works for me.
If you haven’t heard of The PARA Method or Tiago Forte, I definitely recommend the following websites for starters:
The general idea here is that you organize your life into four specific categories. Those are Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.
- Projects are the things you’re actively working on right now.
- Areas are the roles and responsibilities you’re managing over time.
- Resources are the topics you’re interested in that could be useful in the future.
- Archives are the completed or inactive items from the other three categories.
Yes, it’s that simple. And my favorite part, I think, is that you can use the PARA system virtually anywhere. Write it down in a notebook. Use it in your favorite notes app. Create folder structures for files on your computer. Do it however it works best for you.
My Uses, Explained (A Little)
My sidebar contains five main folders:
- 00 Inbox (This is where every new document goes upon creation)
- 01 PROJECTS (These are the big things I’m working on right now)
- 02 AREAS (These are the things that I’ve been working on here and there over time)
- 03 REFERENCES (References works better for me here; These are research topic for my writing, mostly)
- 04 ARCHIVE (These are the things that I’ve completed or that are inactive for the time being)
- 05 Templates (This is where my created templates live)
These main folders are home to multiple other folders that encompass projects and items related to them. I have files linked to others, where needed. And because I have my vault syncing to iCloud, it’s easily accessible on my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone whenever I need it.
And just in case anyone who reads this might be curious – no, I do not PARA my bullet journal. That is it’s own method and is therefore separate. But I can easily use Obsidian, my physical bullet journal, and the PARA Method all in conjunction with one another, and that’s done some nice things for my focus and productivity levels.
My plan for this new year is to be productive and creative, and to try to live a life that doesn’t feel directionless and empty. I’m hoping for the best.