What Is PARA for Building a Second Brain

I’ve heard a lot about ‘PARA’ in my online research on how to build a second brain through digital note-taking, so I’ve done some in-depth research on what is PARA.

PARA is a digital information categorization system that helps us organize the information we encounter every day so that we can better manage our lives. The full name of para is – Projects, Areas of Responsibility, Resources, Archives.

The article will explain each of these four categories, so don’t worry if you’re confused. At least now we know that para is an effective way of classifying information. Continue reading.

What Is PARA

What Is PARA- 4 folder section

Collecting things is easy, but organizing and structuring them is difficult. PARA is a system that organizes information content into four categories, the PARA method is from the concept of building a second brain of yourself, the PARA method divide your digital information into 4 sections:

Project: A project is a short-term task with a specified start and end date. For instance, running a marathon, publishing a book.

Areas of responsibility: Represent long-term things, such as careers or responsibilities that continue over time. For example, health, finance, writing, most of the time, there is no end date.

Resources: Represents something that is of value to you in terms of knowledge and inspiration, something that arouses interest.

Archives: Represents things that have been completed or put on hold. Think of a folder or trash can, and throw everything you don’t want to bother with for a while into it.

Distinguish the difference between the four categories in PARA

As we said, PARA organizes information content into four categories. Because the differences seem so small, it is easy to get confused by them.

Project & Areas of Responsibility , what’s the difference?

These definitions seem fairly simple, but many people have trouble distinguishing between them, and I’ve come to believe that the confusion between these two categories is the cause of many deep-seated personal productivity problems.

Let’s break down the definitions of the two categories into two parts.

A project has a goal to be achieved: an event that will happen. And this goal is supposed to happen at a specific moment. It has a deadline or timeline, either external or self-imposed.

Areas of responsibility: normally means there is no end date or end result. Your performance in this area may ebb and flow over time, but the criteria will continue indefinitely and will always require some level of attention.

 a picture says responsibility

A few examples.

  • Running a marathon is a project, while health is an area.

  • Publishing a book is a project, while writing is an area.

  • Saving 3 months of expenses is a project, while finances are an area.

  • Going on vacation to Thailand is a project, while travel is an area.

  • Planning an anniversary dinner is a project, while spouse is an area.

In all of these examples, the projects have completion dates. They are either complete or incomplete. Areas of responsibility, on the other hand, have performance criteria that must be maintained indefinitely.

Areas of responsibility & Resources , what’s the difference?

Areas are areas of responsibility. There is a very clear line between what you are responsible for and what you are simply interested in.

Areas of responsibility are the roles you play in life and the hats you wear (spouse, mother/father, team leader, soccer coach), the current standards by which you are held accountable (product development, corporate communications, legal), and the things that require ongoing attention (exercise, finances, apartment, pets).

Resources are interests (web design, crowdfunding, woodworking, disc golf), topics (psychology, politics, leadership, integrity), and assets (stock photos, typography links, marketing slide files, product testimonials, code snippets). I even use lowercase headings in my resource notebook to remind myself that they are only of interest, while uppercase letters indicate areas of responsibility.

a picture show man sitting and information resources are around him

Here’s another useful guideline: put personal information in ‘areas’. You don’t need to share them with anyone. Don’t put personal information in ‘Resources’ because you may share your notes with others at any time.

Put personal information in Areas, and it is often useful to have information in Resources. For example, in my health (area) notebook, I’ll have blood work, doctor visits, medical bills and vaccination records (all things that are only relevant to me personally), while in my exercise (resource) notebook, I’ll have exercise research, interesting articles about alternative workouts and recommended training programs. This gives me the confidence to share any notes in my resource notebook (or even my entire notebook) instantly without having to comb through it first to get any personal information. I can connect the two categories by inserting links to the resource notes in the area notes (e.g. linking from my personal training regimen to an article with supporting research in the resource notebook).

How to use PARA to organize your information

Here we have learned the difference between the four categories in para, and we need to apply them in our daily life. So how can we use para to organize information in our notes?

Tip1: Don’t over-design the hierarchy of notes, just use 4

Don't over-design the hierarchy of notes, just use 4

Use the number 4 as a roadmap. The whole hierarchy is four categories wide (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives) and no more than four levels deep (in the case of Evernote, the levels are: Apps > Stacks > Notebooks > Notes).

The number four has been called "magic" because research has shown that it appears to be the natural limit for a variety of cognitive processes, from working memory to object tracking to rapid enumeration. Among the more speculative findings, some primitive tribes seem to have only up to four specific words, and many animals seem to be able to distinguish up to four separate objects.

Whether or not it’s a real limit, it’s a useful constraint against the two main evils of organizational overdesign: too many categories and too much hierarchy.

Tip2: Summarize your knowledge incrementally, following a daily, weekly, monthly

 Summarize your knowledge incrementally, following a daily, weekly, monthly

  • Each day, in the trenches of getting your work done, you may focus on the first column, looking at material that relates only to the active project. This may include your task manager

  • As you conduct your weekly review, you will expand the scope of information you are considering to include areas of responsibility. This is a deeper level of self-reflection: Are you currently meeting the standards you have set for yourself in each of the commitment areas? If not, are there any new programs, habits, practices, rituals or other practices that you would like to start, stop or change?

  • During the monthly review, you can expand the scope of what you are looking at to include resources. Are there any new interests you would like to pursue more seriously? Are there any that you have allowed to stagnate that you would like to restart? Do any of your current projects provide you with an excuse to pursue related interests?

  • The archive is a combination of your completed projects, each in an inactive state but ready to provide potentially useful material to be reused and recycled in future projects. Reusing notes on a topic in the archive, a well-designed slide show, part of a proposal, or other asset can save a lot of time.

The Para Method and the Second Brain Connection

We have discussed what the second brain is in another article, which you can read here.

The concept of second brain says that the energy of our human brain is limited. Therefore, we should decompress our brain by taking digital notes and boosting our natural brain through software and the web for the purpose of boosting our overall intelligence.

This is a general concept, not to say the specific operation of digital notes

Para is a specific way to operate digital notes, and the final result is that we create our second brain through the para method of operating digital notes.

What are the benefits of PARA method

Para is a proven method of classifying information. He divides our information very clearly, which is very good.

You can break these responsibilities down into smaller projects (as shown in the list on the right) and you can make sure your project list changes almost weekly. This creates the pace and momentum of project completion to keep you motivated. It constantly creates a sense of freshness, which the latest research shows is critical to satisfaction.

Using PARA, you can easily assess the results you have achieved at the end of the year. And you have more than just a list – each completed project has a separate folder with the tangible notes, assets and learning you produced for each project.

Bottom Line

The Para method has other benefits you will discover as you put it into practice. Please let me know what you think and share with your friends if you find it useful.