Get Organized With P.A.R.A.

forte“Imagine for a moment the perfect organizational system. One that supported and enhanced the work you do, telling you exactly where to put a piece of information, and exactly where to find it when you needed it. … I believe I’ve developed a system for organizing digital information that meets all these requirements. After several years of introducing it to a wide variety of people, I’m confident that it works. In this post I will attempt to show you how.”

With those words, Tiago Forte introduces readers to the P.A.R.A. method of organization.  The system name is short for its four constituent components:

  • Projects
  • Areas
  • Resources
  • Archives

Although most of Tiago’s blog is members only access, he recently made this very popular post free for all to view.   Be aware that this post is the first in a series, so membership would be needed to see beyond it.  However, this one stands as a full overview on its own, which is why I highly recommend the read.


The KonMari of Charles Duhigg

mariekondoCharles Duhigg is a best selling author of two great books on productivity and efficiency: The Power of Habit and Smarter, Faster, Better.  Late last year he was interviewed on the KonMari web site, the online home of Marie Kondo, best known for her best seller, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

In the interview, Charles was asked about how physical environments help shape our habits.  His response was enlightening:

charlesduhigg“Physical organization has a huge impact on how we work. For example, I have a habit of taking the pile of paper on my desk and cleaning it out before I work. When my physical surrounding is organized, I feel like my thinking is organized as well. Some people say they find that when they are doing creative work, some clutter on the desk can make them feel more productive. There is no one set way to be productive at work – the physical space primarily works as a cue to a habit, like getting to work in a productive mindset.”

Read the rest of the interview at on the KonMari web site.

How Specific Is Your Next Action?

Do you have a project that has sat on your plate for a while?  Perhaps a home repair that never seems to get completed or the office redesign that is caught in perpetual limbo.  Odds are the reason this project lacks momentum is because the time has not been taken to carefully consider the next physical action needed to move it forward.

action-arrowPhysical actions are visible to other people such as calling someone on the phone, typing an email, drafting a memo, or talking to a colleague.  A common trap is to believe that “thinking” about an item is a next action.  Thinking could be part of a next action if that process is accompanied by a physical movement to capture the ideas, such as drawing a mind map.

Last week I met Andy Aichele, the new Organizational Learning and Development Manager for the Columbus Metropolitan Library and a certified GTD trainer.  He shared an effective way to think about how to create effective next actions.  The approach is to imagine delegating the action to someone else. Would they be able to understand and complete the action based on how you described it?

To practice this approach, the next time you develop a next action consider how you would describe it to another person.  If you could delegate it effectively to others, then you should be able to compete it yourself.  Projects only move forward through physical actions so be careful to effectively and clearly draft your next step.


Do you ever feel like you are being pulled in many different directions, chasing multiple, ill-defined goals?  This modern age of attention we live in is designed to draw people towards the latest, flashiest item or trend.  It makes our work lives seem hectic and unfulfilled, much like walking on a treadmill, where we take lots of steps but never get anywhere.  Is there a path out of this trap?

I recently read aessentialism book that provides an answer to this dilemma.  In Essentialism: The Discipline Pursuit of Less, Greg McKeown outlines a lifestyle that emphasizes finding the most important things to do and only focusing energy on those priorities.  On his web site, he describes Essentialism in this way:

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.”

To learn more about the Way of the Essentialist, visit Greg’s web site or check out the book from your local library.

Are Getting Organized and Fun Incompatible?

DA-SmallSometimes when we think about the effort it will take to get organized a negative reaction will arise.  Is it really worth all the time and energy necessary to put things in their right spot?  How about the constant practice of getting things out of your head – sounds like a pain!  Can’t we just relax and have fun?

A version of this question was recently asked to David Allen of GTD fame.  His answer may surprise you.

“When people discover the level of personal organization I work within, they often ask, “Wow, does this guy ever have any fun?! He’s so organized!” My response is usually, “Who’s not having fun?” Frankly, I organize for freedom, not for hard work.”

Read the rest of his response on the Getting Things Done blog.

The Digital Productivity Pyramid

The 21st Century has seen the rise of the modern knowledge worker.  While a recognition of knowledge work was expressed by Peter Drucker as early as 1959, the creation of the Internet, mobile computing, and cloud-based technologies has moved knowledge work into a brand new frontier.  The challenge is how does a knowledge worker succeed in this new space?

Tiago Forte has deeply examined this problem.  In a recent blog post, Tiago introduces the Digital Productivity Pyramid that maps out the five skill stages that a successful knowledge worker needs to master.  He writes:

forte“Imagine if we had a learning curriculum for modern knowledge work.

“This curriculum would reliably produce elite performers, training them in the fundamental skills required to thrive in the digital age. It would impart concrete skills that could be generalized to any kind of knowledge work, not just one discipline or career path. …

“The Pyramid shows how higher-order productivity skills build upon and extend lower-order skills. It shows how each skill can be leveraged using a particular kind of digital technology,”

To learn more about these five stages, visit this post at Fortelabs.

Invoking the Power of “Next Action” Thinking

cleandeskWhy do I use the word “efficient” to describe this path of librarianship?  In my article, Efficient Librarianship – A New Path for the Profession the word efficient is defined as: 1. Being or involving the immediate agent in producing an effect; 2. Productive of desired effects; especially: productive without waste.

While the second part of the definition is straightforward, the first part resonates with this work.  From the article:

“Identifying and implementing improvements to personal and organizational workflows produce powerful results. However, the best systems in the world are only useful if they free up energy for productive next actions. An Efficient Librarian understands the implications of the first part of the definition of the word “efficient” given at the start of this article which is to be the agent that produces an effect. An agent by definition is one who acts. Therefore, an Efficient Librarian is very mindful of his or her actions.

“Most people decide their next action at work by reacting to their surroundings. Crisis and stress tend to focus the mind on the most urgent needs. People may subconsciously allow crisis to enter their lives to narrow their action choices. To illustrate, think about what would happen if you discover that the building is on fire. Your next action would be very simple—get out! No need to think about that one. While it does help to simplify decision making, crisis is an unhealthy way to live from day to day due to the accumulated stress. Therefore, an Efficient Librarian purposefully moves past crisis to make meaningful action decisions when things first show up, rather than when they start to blow up.”

Read the rest of the article on the Public Libraries web site.