Digital Organization: Trying Out P.A.R.A.

chair beside book shelves

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It’s been a little over a month since I published my biggest goal for 2024: Digital Organization. I wanted to share some of what I have discovered. I was able to finish  Building A Second Brain as well as implement a few of Tiago’s strategies. I have also added a couple of applications to my workflow and have been brutal about some of my e-mails.

The biggest item you will hear about in Building a Second Brain is the P.A.R.A. system. This stands for:

  • Projects – These are time-sensitive items you are working on, whether they are self-imposed deadlines or externally applied ones
  • Areas – These are areas of responsibility in your life or job. These are ongoing items without a due date
  • Resources – These are items you find that pique your interest. It could be hobbies or items you come across that may be useful later
  • Archives- These are items that used to be in one of the upper 3 categories. Archives are completed projects, areas you may no longer be responsible for, or resources that no longer apply

There are lots of posts out there about P.A.R.A and how people are using this to organize themselves. It can be used as a folder structure in “My Documents” as well as with various digital note-taking apps. Those 4 folders serve as the root structure with sub-folders for each different project, area, resource, or archived item. I have waded cautiously into this area as there is no one application to rule them all. With my Microsoft/IT background, I have mostly been looking at this by using Microsoft tools. These are tools my company is already paying for so it is of no extra cost. I am using Outlook, OneNote, To-Do, and to some extent Microsoft Loop to tackle this.

Screenshot of a search for “Baseball” Tags in

I have also added yet another web application to help with my overabundance of tabs. Raindrop can be used on any platform to save interesting websites and apply tags to help with organization and searching. In my personal account, I have tags for Baseball, Fishing, Gaming, and, yes even Cooking (among many others).  This application is helping me with the “Resources” section of my workflow and reducing my tab count. For the first time in a long time, my cell phone is less than 100 tabs!

Once I established some tools, I started to attack my Outlook E-mail brutally. My goal is to get to a weekly “Inbox Zero”, and my very first step was to unsubscribe from all kinds of email newsletters that have gotten way out of control. I have established a procedure where I am trying hard to only touch an email once and either respond, archive, create a task in To-Do, send to OneNote, or send it to Omnivore to read later. Omnivore helps with newsletters or articles that I want to read but I don’t necessarily want to interrupt my flow to read them now. These procedures have been game-changing. I am by no means at Inbox Zero yet, but I am slowly offloading some of the emails to the correct tools. Another addition to this toolset is the use of Microsoft 365 Copilot to help me summarize long email conversations and draft responses.

I knew none of this was going to be an overnight fix. I will stumble but I will improve. There are lots of different tools to try. Some may be better for work and others for personal. The idea isn’t to waste time but to help optimize it. In the long run, I think this will help me create space. Space to be more present, to be more attentive, to have more time for my hobbies, and space to write.

More to come.

Chris Gahlsdorf

I have been a System Administrator for 15 years now. I have been an avid Microsoft fan for over 20. From my first 486 with Windows 3.0 to my latest custom rig with Windows 11. I have gone from tinkering, to programming, to managing servers, and virtualization. I am a Windows Insider MVP as part of the Windows Insider Program.

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