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Second Brain, PARA Method and Notion — How Does It All Fit Together?

3 levels of digital organisation to help you win the battle against digital chaos

Hi friend!

This week I want to dive into the 3 levels of simple and effective Digital Organisation, starting with Tiago Forte’s Second Brain and PARA Method.

Today at a glance

  • Why digital disorganisation can be a real problem in an age of information overload.

  • My take on the 3 levels of Digital Organisation to win the battle against digital chaos.

  • What is the PARA Method and the 3 common downfalls of the PARA Method.

I’ve been a big fan of Tiago Forte and his book Building A Second Brain.

I recently picked up his latest book, The PARA Method. His ideas have inspired this week’s issue of the newsletter.

If you feel your digital workspace is messy and you’re struggling to turn the chaos into a calm and peaceful digital workspace, then today’s issue of the newsletter is for you.

Digital disorganisation can be a real problem

The struggle is real.

We think it doesn’t cost us anything to keep hoard digital information in our digital workspaces. But there is a mental tax and overhead that we feel when our digital workspaces are messy and disorganised.

Digital workspaces are simply places that you work and live in digitally. This can be your laptop, your note taking tool, your digital task list etc.

Here are some common thoughts that cross people’s minds when they feel they are digitally disorganised or don’t have good digital systems in place:

  • “I just found an interesting article, where do I save it so I can reference it later?”

  • “I had a great idea for a blog post last week, did I save it in Trello? or was it saved in Excel?”

  • “I just thought of a few more tasks to do for my kitchen renovation project, where do I keep track of this so I don’t forget it?”

  • “I feel information overload at the moment, I can’t bring myself to start writing that report. Just thinking about hunting down the information I need to write that report is stressing me out.”

Many of us need to manage digital knowledge and information in our work and personal lives.

If you don’t start thinking about getting digitally organised and build simple but effective systems to address your thoughts above, it only gets worse as each day goes by.

Because you’re only accumulating more and more pieces of digital information as time progresses.

The good thing is Tiago Forte’s PARA Method is a fantastic and simple way to get started on your digital organisation journey, to reclaim your time, energy and attention.

Before we dive into the PARA Method I want zoom out and touch on how I think about Digital Organisation, to give you a lay of the land.

3 Levels of Digital Organisation

3 levels of Digital Organisation

I think of Tiago Forte’s PARA Method as just one stepping stone in this bigger system for becoming digitally organised.

Ultimately becoming organised is not the end goal.

Rather, becoming digitally organised allows you to focus on the doing the few important things to a high quality at a natural human pace. It’s the pre-cursor to being an effective Slow Productivity practitioner.

Level 1 is the PARA Method (More on that in the next section) and it’s the most simplistic filing (organisation) system for tasks, projects and information.

Level 2 takes it up a notch. Tiago Forte uses the CODE (Capture, Organise, Distill and Express) method to build what he calls his Second Brain. It’s his holistic knowledge management system. It’s his way of turning knowledge into action.

Level 3 is where you combine the systems in level 1 and 2, and personalise it so that it becomes your personal productivity system (I call it my Slow Productivity Copilot, and I use Notion as the tool for this — but you can use any tool that fits your style of working and managing information).

Becoming digitally organised is how I managed to find time to create the Writer’s Hub OS in Notion mini-course and the free ultimate guide to creating your own writing system in Notion.

So you can see, PARA is just the start of your digital organisation journey.

To me, once you get to level 3, you can truly focus on being a Slow Productivity practitioner.

At level 3, you can:

  • Focus on the work and non-work activities that are important to you and that you genuinely enjoy doing.

  • Have systems in place to get really intentional about how many projects you’re juggling in one go and which areas of life you’re focusing on right now. The “right number” will be different for each person’s life circumstances or season of life.

  • Be intentional about working at a natural pace without burnout, while still making step-wise progress toward your goals in work and in life outside of work. I believe there are seasons and rhythms in life, which will impact how “quickly” you can make progress.

  • Focus on the quality of your work. A quality that you are be proud of, but also brings value to people you serve (e.g. clients, organisations, friends, family).

At Level 3, your tool and systems serve you. 

Everything has a place and you’re no longer mentally overloaded with information. The tools and systems become your copilot in work and life, to achieve the outcomes and goals you’re after.

For example, writing that book you’ve been meaning to self-publish, spend 1 month travelling with family, or going for weekly hikes.

You’re no longer looking for the next productivity tool to help you get 1% more productive.

Because that doesn’t really matter if you extend your time horizon for achieving your goals and dream lifestyle from days and weeks, to years and decades.

What is the PARA Method?

Now lets dive into level 1, the PARA Method.

A quick definition from Tiago Forte himself, an excerpt from his book, The PARA Method.

PARA Method: A simple, comprehensive, yet flexible system for organising any type of information across any digital platform

Tiago Forte

PARA is a simple organisation system for your digital life. Every document, idea, note, file etc. belongs in one of the four categories: Projects, Areas, Resources or Archives.

If you’re juggling a full life of a day job, side hustle and family, you might be struggling with feelings of disorganisation, overload of tasks/projects and decision fatigue.

I've certainly felt that way at different points in my 13+ year a demanding job as a manager in a hospital pharmacy. I managed other managers as well as teams of 20 to 60 staff, while juggling competing priorities and projects that I’m personally responsible for.

Some days felt harder than others.

What's great about the PARA method?

  1. The simplicity of PARA reduces decision fatigue: You put the new pieces of information into 1 of the 4 categories. That’s it!

  2. Organise information by activeness: The most active category (Projects) and the least (Archives). You're likely going to work out of the project category most of the time. Once the Project is done, you can move it to the Archives.

  3. Gives you clarity on your life commitments: Rather than feeling like you have an ambiguous cloud of commitments in your head, taking up valuable headspace, you sort your commitments into clear categories:

    • Projects you're committed to with an end date (Projects)

    • Areas of life you're maintaining with no end date (Areas)

    • Reference for use later or you’re collecting out of interest (Resources, Archives)

3 Common Downfalls of PARA—Why PARA Is Just the Beginning

The simplicity of PARA means there are limitations to the PARA Method.

Like me, you might eventually "graduate" from the PARA method and adapt it to fit into your own personal productivity and digital organisation system. I do this in Notion.

But that’s been a 4+ year journey from multiple tools (e.g. Trello, Excel, Word) to using Notion for 95% of my digital organisation.

3 Downfalls of the PARA Method:

1. It’s an organisation system, not a robust task or “get things done” system

You’ll likely have tasks related to different projects, areas of your life or general interests. PARA is complementary to a task management system, not a replacement.

PARA doesn’t exactly solve the problem of prioritising your tasks, planning your days and weeks and taking action.

2. Research, notes and ideas can belong to multiple Projects, Areas or Resources

Life is not so black & white that a piece of information only fits in one category. Personally, I found moving information in and out of different categories can be clunky if you stick strictly to the PARA method.

My system in Notion has been inspired by PARA, along with other productivity methodologies like Khe Hy’s $10k Work framework and David Allen’s Getting-Things-Done method.

Adapting those methodologies in Notion in a way that takes advantage of Notion’s powerful features is key to using it effectively as a productivity copilot.

3. It not a magic bullet for digital life organisation

If you have no organisational system, PARA is life changing!

PARA is a simple system that you can easily implement in any tool.

Notion won’t solve your disorganisation problem if you have no systems to begin with. So consider starting with PARA as your system.

Once you start thinking in systems, then you can start to think about how to use tools like Notion as your productivity and achievement copilot.

Tools like Notion will supercharge how your productivity when you design how you use the tool with intention.

Tiago has brought digital organisation concepts to the masses. But at the end of the day, you have to adapt any system to how you enjoying working and managing life.

That’s why I believe PARA is just the beginning, not the end of the road when it comes to your digital organisation system.

If you need to graduate from PARA that’s ok. But if PARA works well for you, stick to it!

Productivity and knowledge management is Personal.

The aim of being organised is so that you can focus your time and attention towards the actual work and living your life outside of work. And stop feeling stressed or overwhelmed with information.

There is so much I have to say about Digital Organisation, this is just the beginning.

I’ll cover my take on the 3 levels of digital organisation in future newsletter issues, so stay tuned.

🛠️ Building in Public

Thanks to everyone who hopped on the waitlist for the free Notion 101: FAQ Handbook that I’m working on right now to help beginners get started with Notion.

I’ll be sharing the 10 Essential Tips & Mindset Shifts For Notion Beginners.

I plan to keep the handbook open to let people continue to submit Notion questions that I can answer and keep adding to the handbook.

Hit reply to this email if you have any burning Notion questions!

That’s it!

Thanks for reading.

Hit reply and let me know what if you struggle with digital organisation, and if so, what’s your number one challenge you face — I will reply with a specific suggestion for you!

See you next week,

CK

  1. Tackling Creator's "Step One" - An Honest Chat with Terry Toh” by Kevon Cheung (Video)

    If you’re interested in building an audience and a business in a more authentic way, listen to how Terry has shifted his approach after learning from the Build In Public master, Kevon Cheung. Terry also dives into the importance of building good routines and using Pockets Of Time approach to designing and living a life your love.

    I’ve been in Kevon’s Build In Public Mastery community since August and have been enjoying the experience of the community and approach toward building in public.

  2. Today's most valuable resource (it's not time or attention)” by Tiago Forte (Video)

    Living in the 21st century has rapidly shifted us from information scarcity, to information overload. How do we deal with this? Tiago’s suggests using a system like CODE to capture information intentionally and ultimately be able to express your own ideas and point of view.

Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

  1. Ultimate Guide: How to create your digital writing system in Notion under 1 hour (Free!): Ready to learn how to use Notion to create your own writing system so you can write consistently?

    Join 110+ people who have downloaded this guide to build their own Writer’s Hub OS in Notion with built-in slow productivity principles.

  2. Mini-Course: Writer’s Hub OS in Notion: Learn the fundamentals of Notion, Workflow Design and how to build a effective “Idea to Published” writing system in Notion (or just plug and play a done-for-you Notion template).

    Perfect for digital writers, solopreneurs and content creators to help you achieve long term sustainable and stress-free daily writing & content creation habit.

  3. Travel Hub Notion Template (Free!): All-in-one Travel Planner that helps you ideate, plan, research and organise your trip stress free using Notion.

    Join 700+ people who have already downloaded this system and upped their travel planning game.

(NB: Some are links in this newsletter are affiliate links. I never recommend anything that I don’t personally use or love. If you do click through, it won’t cost you a cent extra. But your support means a lot if you do, so thank you!)

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