Short on time? For the key tips on note-taking, stick to the bold text and the conclusion.
3 tips for note-taking with the PARA-method:
How does having a second brain sound to you? Another brain so incredible that you’ll never forget a single important idea. Seems impossible, right? Well, with a clever note-taking system and our tips for note-taking, this idea isn’t as far-fetched.
This article has a slightly different format. We’ll explore a popular note-taking method before we finish with our top 3 tips for note-taking with this method. These tips will help to build your own note-taking system.
We’ll start from Tiago Forte’s popular PARA-method.
How does the PARA-method work?
The PARA-method is a universal note-taking system designed for digital notes. It works well with Evernote, for example.
The acronym PARA stands for Projects, Areas (of responsibility), Resources and Archives. These are the four main categories to organise notes. Everything you want to organise goes into one of these top-level folders, or stacks.
- Every task with a goal or deadline goes into the “project stack”. (e.g. Write a meditation blog post, create an Instagram design, shop for Christmas gifts)
- The “area of responsibility stack” includes all activities that require a certain standard. (e.g. Personal finance, health, marathon training)
- The “resources stack” is for topics of ongoing interest. (e.g. Blog writing, note-taking, cooking)
- Everything that has become inactive goes into the “archive stack”. (e.g. Christmas party 2019)
While Tiago focuses a lot on the difference between projects and area of responsibility, I believe the difference is quite clear. However, I feel there is an overlap between “area of responsibility “and “resources”. So that’s where I made the first change to my system.
All notes are at most three levels deep: stack – folder – note. Thanks to this simple organisation, you won’t ever need tags to easily retrieve notes from your note-taking system. Go to Forte Labs if you want more in-depth tips for note-taking with this system.
Top Three Guide’s note-taking method
I built a note-taking system based on the PARA-method. However, a few details were not completely logical to me, so I made two tweaks.
- I added a folder for everything related to planning.
- I changed “areas of responsibility” and “resources” into “resources for work” and “resources for life”.
Based on those changes, the acronym for my method would be
- P2R2A, which sounds much like a Star Wars robot.
- PPRRA, which painfully sounds like a para-military group.
So whichever you prefer, I’m sure you won’t forget what it stands for: planning, projects, resources for work, resources for life and archives.
Have a look at these diagrams and screenshots for better understanding.
Tip 1: Split resources into life and work resources
For me, the ideas behind “areas of responsibility” and “resources” are quite similar. Blog writing, for example, is a topic of ongoing interest for me but it also requires a certain standard. So instead of using these two stacks, I use resources for life and resources for work stacks.
These are 100% straight-forward. Resources for life holds all notes about personal finance, relationships and fiction books.
Resources for work are, of course, related to work. I store interesting articles about teaching here, as well as resources for writing and building a business.
To me, life resources and work resources make more sense than areas and resources.
Tip 2: Add a planning stack
I believe the project stack can have pretty long-term goals and deadlines. Adding day-to-day business in the same stack feels a bit counter-intuitive. That’s why I added the planning stack. It is divided into short-term and long-term planning.
The short term folder only has three types of notes: weekly planners (see photo); my exercise routine and things I believe I should buy soon.
The long term folder is more like a wish list. It holds a list about books I want to read, documentaries I want to watch and some requirements for my next house when I finally move back to Europe.
Is the planning stack necessary? Not at all. You could use a to-do list app instead but I prefer to keep everything organised in one place.
The benefit of adding this stack is that I can find everything I need on a daily basis in one place. I know my daily exercise routine would fit into the ‘area of responsibility stack’. However, if I put it there, I wouldn’t have all my daily activities in the same place.
So how do I use the project stack?
You might think that the planning stack replaces the project stack. Well, it doesn’t. While the planning stack has all the notes I need to function well on a day-to-day basis, the project stack holds notes for long-term goals and projects. A few examples: notes for a book I want to write someday and class notes for a tutoring job I just started.
I use a planning stack in lieu of to-do apps. Like this, I have all my notes in one place.
Tip 3: Make it your own
In the end, it doesn’t matter whether you use the original PARA-method or my tweaked note-taking system. You need to build a system that works for you. That probably includes a few of your own changes. I’d love to give you a few tips but if I had any more, I would’ve included them in my system, don’t you think?
Here’s just one more: I also have a separate stack for T3G-related notes. As we use Evernote for nearly everything, it would be too chaotic to have T3G notes spread all over my other stacks. So, if you work on multiple big projects and share notes with others, you might want to consider a separate stack per project.
I have different needs than Tiago Forte. You have different needs than both of us. Adapt your system to your needs.
In conclusion, I believe the PARA-method is a very useful note-taking system. My life has changed since I started using it — well, my version of it. Somehow, it formed the basis for much of what happens behind the scenes at Top Three Guide.
I hope you’re inspired to build your own note-taking system and second brain. And although it’s important for you to build your own system, I’m happy to give further suggestions.
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Written by Kjell
Edited by Loki
Tips for note-taking from other experts:
- Shipper, Dan & Deutch, Kira. — https://superorganizers.substack.com/p/how-to-never-lose-another-memory
- Forte, Tiago. Forte Labs — https://fortelabs.co/blog/para/
- Eliasson, Nat. Superogranizers — https://superorganizers.substack.com/p/how-i-took-notes-on-250-books-in