The PARA Method

  • If you feel like you could be achieving more if only you were a little bit more organized, I present to you the PARA method.
  • The PARA method allows you to capture all the information you come across in your daily life, be it for work or personal, and organize it in a way that it enables action.
  • PARA stands for Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive
    • Projects: Stuff that has a deadline, and will conclude. Examples: Run the NY marathon, Hire my first Intern.
    • Areas: Stuff that needs to be actively maintained, it doesn't conclude. Examples: Fitness, Mental Health, Taking care of Dog, etc.
    • Resources: Stuff you're interested in, but there aren't any actionables. Examples: Music, Photography, Cricket.
    • Archive: Stuff from all of the above that's inactive. Completed projects, Areas where you lost interest or no longer want to maintain, Resources that you aren't interested in anymore.
  • How to get started:
    1. Open your notes app and create a folder called PARA. Inside it create four folders: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive.
    2. Inside Projects, create a new folder called Setting Up PARA. This will be your first Project.
    3. Inside that folder, create a new note called Project List Mindsweep.
    4. Write down 10 of your current projects. We aren’t using the word “project” in the usual vague sense. Here is our definition: “Any outcome you’re committed to that can’t be completed in one sitting.”
      • Places to look:
        • What’s on your mind right now?
        • What’s on your calendar this week?
        • What’s at the top of your to do list?
        • What’s lying around your desk, desktop, office, or home?
        • What would you like to learn, develop, build, put on, pursue, start, explore, or play with as a project?
    5. Clean up your list.
      • Is there an item on your list that needs to happen at a specific time? Move it to your calendar instead. For example, “Pick up sister from airport” can be scheduled on the day she arrives.
      • Are there two items that are part of the same outcome? Consider combining them into one project. For example, “Erase old computer” and “Research new computer” could both be under “Buy new computer.”
      • Are there any items that are not currently active? Consider moving them to a separate “Someday/Maybe” list. Even if they are very important to you, if you’re not making progress on them now, save them for later.
      • Everything that’s left is probably a project!
    6. Decide the outcome you want for each project
      • There are two things that every project must have to be considered a project: an outcome and a timeframe.
      • Let’s talk about outcomes first.
      • Something must be able to happen in the near term so that you can mark the project as “done.” Otherwise, it will keep going and going and you’ll never be able to celebrate a clear-cut victory.
      • Now look at each item on your list and ask yourself: what outcome do I want for this project? Or, what would need to happen for this project to be an outstanding success?
      • A good rule of thumb to make sure you are creating projects that can be completed is to use action verbs like finalizesubmitdeliversendclarifyupdateimplementresolveinstallset uppublish, or complete.
      • If you find yourself using “ongoing” verbs such as manageoverseeensuremaximizeorganize, or understand, those are probably areas of responsibility, not projects.
      • For any projects whose outcome is simply unclear, take a step back and ask “What am I really trying to accomplish here?”
      • Write your desired outcome next to each project on your list, in the second column.
    7. Decide on a timeframe for each project
      • A project should have a timeframe, whether that is a hard deadline or just a preferred date of completion.
      • Next to each project, in the third column, write the date by which you want it to be done. This can be a specific day, such as “By November 14,” or the end of a period, like “By end of Q3 2020.”
      • Even if you don’t get it done by this date, it serves as a useful reminder to check in and see what needs to be changed.
    8. Prioritize your list by project, not by to-do.
    9. Evaluate. Now comes the (most) fun part: you now have a comprehensive, bird’s-eye view of your entire inventory of projects.
      • You can ask yourself powerful questions such as:
        • Does this list accurately reflect what I say is most important to me?
        • Are there any interests, goals, or values that aren’t reflected on this list?
        • In which direction is this collection of projects leading me, and do I want to go there?
        • Where am I spending time or attention that has no clear outcome or goal?
        • Which projects do I want to change, postpone, cancel, or rethink?

© 2021 Max Holzheu