Thoughts on P.A.R.A contrasted to J.D

I’ve read some posts about combining P.A.R.A and J.D.
I’ve been using P.A.R.A for two years and thought I could share my thoughts.
I’ll be using the P.A.R.A nomenclature here, so an Area will refer to a P.A.R.A area, not a J.D. area.

Disclaimer: I have not yet fully migrated to J.D. I’m in the process of working through the workbook and have been thinking about this since April.

TLDR: I’ve found P.A.R.A to be useful for working with projects, but have trouble with the archival aspects I want from my system.

What I’ve found, in summary:

  • Projects are useful
  • The P.A.R.A structure is unbalanced
  • P.A.R.A’s top level folders doesn’t guide you
  • Areas and resources doesn’t work
  • I don’t really move things

Projects are useful
This is not actually from P.A.R.A, but Getting Things Done. Creating a folder for a project, small or large, is (for me) a great way to dump down things list testing notes, plans, small summaries, etc.
Many of my projects are mapped to our companies issue system(s). So, if I’m assigned a task/issue there (that spans more than a days work) I’ll generally create a new project and keep my notes, calculations, findings, etc. there.

I’m trying to incorporate this concept into J.D., but haven’t really found a good solution yet. That is one reason I’m not fully migrated yet.

The structure is unbalanced
At the first level you get four choices. This is also hard-coded; you can’t have more and you can’t have fewer. This is inflexible as it is your first entry point to finding stuff.
However, at the next level there is no limit. In general, I don’t think its a problem, you can find your way. (But the first level is the hardest; see the next point)
But then you are out of levels. In essence you only have one level. The first level is predefined and doesn’t really guide you. The second level is (for me) pretty well defined. The last level is just a file dump with no structure.
For instance, say you have an Area that is House. Now all your housing things are dumped in a single folder. If you want to split up House, P.A.R.A. doesn’t give you the tools. (Tiago Forte is a bit inconsistent about this, but he does say that you should put folders beneath this)

So in P.A.R.A. you’ll end up with Areas → House → Lots of files. There is no other way.
In J.D. you have options:

  • 30-39 Living → 31 House → 31.01 Heatpump instructions
  • 30-39 House → 31 Inventory → 31.01 Heatpump instructions.
  • 30-39 Inventory → 31 Heatpump → 31.01 Heatpump instructions.

You decide. Which means that you can make a system that fits your needs, rather some others.

I think P.A.R.A. fits when you are in a very dynamic environment where information a couple months back is seldom important.
I think it works extremely bad in an organisation.

J.D. works well for archival, long term aspects of a system, and much, much better if you are sharing the setup.

The top level is not guiding you
The first level is Projects, Areas, Resources and Archives. The idea is that it will help you find what you are actively working on. But, say that you have written some instructions to do a certain task. Then you need to decide:

  • I’m I developing this or using it in a project?
  • Is the instruction there to help you with a responsibility (Area) or just a general instructions you want to keep handy? (Resource)
  • Did you write it a long time ago, so you’ve archived it?

Contrast this to J.D. where the system is designed to actively guide you to the information.

P.A.R.A favour recency and working inside a specific folder, but it neglects finding old information. I think this is the philosophical difference between the two systems.

Areas and resources doesn’t work
I can sort of find this distinction useful. I have a few areas that are very specific to my current employment and if I were to switch jobs these would be useless. Good for cleaning up.
But it creates a bit of friction and ambiguity. (For me) I can find information that is useful for both my work and as a general “I’m a professional, and this is generally useful information for my profession”. This creates two issues:

  1. Friction: You need to decide if this is general information or particular to your Areas.
  2. Loss: If you put it in an Area and you archive that area, it’s likely you remove information that would be generally useful.

I don’t really move things
P.A.R.A. is about moving your information around, “keeping it at your fingertips”. I haven’t found this to be either true or useful.

When I complete a project, I take a look in the project folder. It typically contains 10 files or so. 99% of the time, I just dump the project file in Archive for later reference when someone asks me about something related to that. Sometimes I’ve made something that is useful otherwhere and I’ll move it to an area och resource, but I would say <1% of the files do that.

Next to never do I move anything between areas and resources. Sometimes I’ll resurrect a project that was archived, because it turned out I wasn’t actually finished or I had missed something.

In other words; Projects and Archive moves, Areas and Resources are static.

This means I could implement a P.A.R.A system in a J.D. fashion, but I don’t really see the point.

Anyway, that was my two (long) cents. I hope someone finds them useful.



This is really off the top of my head, but I have generally thought of JD as more of a filing system. Having said that, I do have my interstitial journal and my notes and even projects/tasks inside a JD structure. Lately I have been doing most of those three things in Notion, so anything active is in Notion, thus duplicating my JD structure over in Google Drive. And in just looking at all this while typing this note I have discovered an older chunk of tasks/projects that are not included.

So, as usual, lots of things floating around and a resulting sense of being disorganized! grrr

I guess what I’m saying is that, while I decided that the PARA structure never worked for me, I have also ended up w/ a similar problem - some of my stuff is ‘moving around’ and like @osau I don’t find it useful.

So I have some cleanup to do, and I guess I thank you for that? (lol)

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This was super useful, thanks.

When I look at PARA I’ll confess that my main thought is … is that it? It tells you to use four folders and then … what, the usual chaos? And so to be honest I haven’t really read much in to it.

But hey! The wonder of life is that we’re all different and that there are all of these different ideas to choose from. :smiley:

Some more thoughts…

What others including PARA might call ‘a project’ I think should usually just be an ID. It’s a task, really. I go in to this in the workbook: I think ‘paint the kitchen’ is just a JD ID. No way that’s a ‘project’ in my world. A ‘project’ is closer to ‘rebuild the house’, and even then I’d squeeze that in to an area.

(I’m in the middle of re-writing the first few pages of the site and the new 11.03 IDs will expand on this view of ‘what is an ID’.)

As far as archiving, I generally don’t see the need. The incremental nature of JD IDs means that older things naturally just fall away. Leave them there: there’s no need to ‘tidy up’.

PARAs ‘areas’ are closest aligned to my areas I guess?

And ‘resources’ are also just IDs in my world. Perhaps part of a larger thing, perhaps their own thing. But contained within a category, otherwise what is the thing about?

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For me, this structure is one of the main strengths of PARA. Storage locations are usually ambiguous. PARA creates a high degree of clarity here. The terms are defined and prioritized as filing locations: Projects come before areas, areas before resources, etc. In addition, this structure reduces the options to just four and thus limits the decision.

Interesting! Do you use PARA yourself? If so, what is your use case and why do you like it.

It is correct that Tiago Forte advises against a deep folder structure and advocates a flat one. I have read both books (BASB, PARA), but I do not remember that his system only allows two levels. On the contrary, like Johnny, Tiago sees his system as a framework that can and may be adapted to personal needs. There is neither a J.D. police nor a PARA police. And here, in my opinion, the combination of both systems makes sense: PARA with AC.ID.

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It is true that PARA makes the actionability of information the criterion for the appropriate storage location. Because I understand my life as a dynamic flow of actions, this principle fits my thinking (and actions) perfectly. Panta rhei. If I’m looking for old information, I can find it quickly thanks to this philosophy: the question of why (for what purpose, for what action) I needed it at the time is present without much thought. This is also where I see the main differences between the two systems: for me, PARA is a productivity- and goal-oriented system, while J.D is an administration- and origin-oriented system.

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I rarely encounter this friction, because PARA is clear here (for me): Area comes before Resources. So when in doubt: Areas. (For me, this ambiguity is more pronounced in administration-oriented systems, because there is no “rule” as to whether car insurance is filed under Insurance or Car).

I don’t understand why data stored in the archive should be “lost”. Archive simply means “inactive”, not “disposed of”. On the contrary: If I move information to the archive instead of deleting it, then this is a conscious decision not to want to dispose of the information. And if I then search for it, I know that it was last inactive (not relevant for any specific action) and must therefore be in the archive.

This is also where I see the main differences between the two systems: for me, PARA is a productivity- and goal-oriented system, while J.D is an administration- and origin-oriented system.

Yes, this is a very important distinction. And I think this is why they fundamentally don’t match.
The fallacy, I think, is in the assumption that J.D. is only numbers. I have a P.A.R.A set-up with numbers, but I don’t consider it J.D., because it is only for sorting.

I recalled this yesterday, but never got around formulating an expansion. So here are my thoughts. (I was going to append it to the original post as well, but apparently I can’t edit that)

P.A.R.A maps better to task managers
P.A.R.A is very actionable-oriented. What is most actionable is on top. Which makes a lot of sense for task managers. You projects are more important than your areas. Your areas more than your resources.
If you replicate your structure in a task manager, you automatically get a prioritization order.

J.D. doesn’t care. And, I’ve found, I don’t care either. P.A.R.A is very useful if you are really short on time. You have a ten minute slot and you need quickly find the most important tasks to complete in that time. My life is (thank god) not that stressful, and I favor consistency over productivity. That said, I think it’s a very useful feature of P.A.R.A, even if you don’t need that at that level. Its relaxing to rely on your system to avoid having tasks slipping between the cracks.

I think the argument for P.A.R.A is that it favors actionability and productivity in a sense broader than just files. Your mails, tasks, files, notes are order by importance. So when you need to do work, you begin from the top. It’s not, in my opinion, as much as a filing system.

I think that treating a collection of not too many tasks a project is actually very useful. Two reasons:

  • I can group tasks together in a task manager
  • When the project is completed, I can make a conscious decision what material created was actually useful to keep for reference. Like I said, I don’t really save stuff from my projects, so I prefer not to “pollute” my J.D. portion with it. (I make lots of temporary notes)

What I like is that I can keep projects together and thus have the notes and tasks I’m interacting with everyday at the top, and also find what I need to work on next. There is, what I can see, nothing in J.D. that would allow you to emphasize one type of thing over another? (I can see you can make this work with some tagging or other tool, though)
But I really do get your point and I can totally see that being better for others.

My current plan is something along these lines:

Three projects:

  • W01: Stuff related to my current employment.
  • L42: Stuff related to my personal life
  • P01: A special “project” with “subprojects”. This will probably have IDs like P01.02 Project A. Inside there would be P01.02.01 Planning, which would be planning for a larger project. (~6 months or longer) Short project (1 week to a couple of months) would probably only have a single level P01.03 Project B.

In fact, I understand J.D mainly as a system for structuring and numbering. It is possible that I have not fully understood J.D in this point.

P.A.R.A maps better to task managers
P.A.R.A is very actionable-oriented. What is most actionable is on top. Which makes a lot of sense for task managers. […] J.D. doesn’t care. And, I’ve found, I don’t care either. P.A.R.A is very useful if you are really short on time. You have a ten minute slot and you need quickly find the most important tasks to complete in that time. My life is (thank god) not that stressful, and I favor consistency over productivity.

I largely agree with that. Paradoxically, I don’t use PARA for the task manager: I organize it according to GTD because it is much more logical for this purpose. Tiago Forte is also strongly oriented towards GTD. But in my opinion, he has made GTD worse when it comes to task management. I therefore use PARA exclusively for structuring file storage and notes. I am also not short of time. Nevertheless, I use productivity methods. Quite simply to be even more spontaneous and to organize my life more consciously.

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Yes, I agree. Almost all my folders live within 4 PARA folders. Some of those are organised with J.D, many are not. I like the PARA set up because it relieves my brain of having to think of a J.D number when perhaps there might not be one (yet). It’s a holding place that guides me to where a particular file might be.

As with many of us, my system is evolving. I’m happy to use PARA alongside J.D for the moment. I wrote more about this here: Using Johnny Decimal With Obsidian | Ellane W | Produclivity (Medium friend link)

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This is interesting food for thought.

I think you really nailed it here. It’s very easy to put things in P.A.R.A, but it is harder to get them out.

When I place a file, I know if it’s related to a project, something I’m responsible for, or just for general reference. When I need to retrieve one, I need to remember what I was thinking when I put it in, as well as what might have happened with the items since. Was this project related? Is the project archived? Did I extract useful items before archiving? Was is generally applicable and stored as reference, or particular to a responsibility?

However, it provides a neat set of items to work with, when you need them. (E.g., I’m working in project; I open the project folder and all the relevant files are supposedly there)

So how’s this for a thought.

In JD world, you have this problem: you want to save a thing, but you don’t know exactly where it will go yet. Or you just don’t want to figure that out right now.

But what you already have are a bunch of areas and categories. And this is exactly why I reserve the zeros.

So you configure:

10-19 Your first area
   10 System
      10.01 Area 1’s Inbox
   11 Your first category
      11.01 Category 1 Inbox
      11.11 (I haven’t really talked about it but I generally
             start my IDs at .11 for this reason.)
   12 Your second category
      12.01 Category 2 Inbox

20-29 Area 2
   20 System
      20.01 Area 2’s Inbox

…and so on.

Definitely an ‘advanced’ feature, but this gives you categorised inboxes that are better than just some dumping ground at the top of your system.

Use an area as a worst-case; prefer the category.

The immediate problem I see is that now you’ve got a bunch of inboxes scattered about. You’re going to need to be really methodical in sweeping them.

For some discrete notes, I do use a J.D-inspired inbox designator. My initial attempt at J.D has broad categories for a life system. If I don’t know where something belongs, I’ll mark it personal (+200) or Business (+500). Specific home/work projects might then be +220 (Christmas prep), or +511 (Dated Interactive Planner).

Using the -00 as an inbox has worked well for me.

Still, I have a LOT of files to sort and rename, and for now, dumping them all in a PROJECTS, AREAS, or RESOURCES folder until I get to them, has been a helpful way of curbing the sense of overwhelm.

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