Being productive with the PARA system


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Being productive with the PARA system

At its core, the PARA system is primarily a way to organize your information and lay it out in a way that is most likely to be useful.
What you do with that information and how you actually get things done with it is up to you. If you're using PARA as a way to not only be more organized but to also do more of the things you want to do, then it's essential that you have some productivity component that ties everything together.

This guide aims to give you a simple but effective system you can connect to your PARA 'database' to get the most out of it. By establishing a simple workflow that pulls items from your PARA system into a more action oriented space, we'll provide you with an easy way to stay organized while using PARA as your 'database'. You can think of this as a 'productivity plugin' for your existing PARA system.

Our simple productivity system explained

The productivity system we propose is simple and straightforward. There's a place to capture new information, a view that helps us organize our tasks, and a focused view that makes it easy to see what we should be working on next. This flow pulls information from your PARA system and then feeds back new items in the form of complete tasks, projects and other pieces of information.

The productivity system we'll implement on the left and the PARA system on the right

This system is comprised of three main parts. The inbox, a daily task list, and a weekly agenda. Let's get into how each part works and how they work together to keep you productive.

The inbox

The inbox provides a quick natural way to add information into our system. These can be concrete tasks or anything else that we might want to put into our system. So these could be ideas for projects, new areas we might want to add or resources that could be useful.

An inbox gives us a place to quickly dump things without requiring us to first figure out the logistics of where it should go. We can just put whatever makes sense at the moment and continue with our day.

If you install the Workflowy mobile app, you'll also be able to 'share' text and links from most mobile apps directly to an inbox without having to open the app. That gives us an additional way to quickly capture items and stay in the flow of what we're doing.

The weekly agenda

We've opted to organize tasks in a weekly format simply because that's a tried and tested way to do so. Most of us already work in weekly chunks and so it makes sense to plan and visualize our activities using that time frame.

The weekly agenda gives us a place to plan what we want to accomplish for the coming week and also helps us see if we need to make any adjustments or add any additional tasks we might have missed. By roughly structuring our week we can get a better sense of how much work we can realistically get done and over time helps us estimate how long something will take to complete.

The daily task list

the daily task list is not so much a separate thing but rather a different way to view the weekly agenda. When we're actually in 'getting things done' mode it's usually a good idea to limit the amount of information we're looking at. Instead of working directly from the weekly agenda, we zoom in on a single day and focus only on those tasks.

As we go about our day we cross complete items off and any unfinished tasks are rescheduled. Nothing fancy here. The point is to keep our system as simple as possible so it's easy to follow and turn into a habit.

How the productivity system works with PARA

Now that you know what the main parts of the system are, let's discuss how they work together and how they interact with the rest of our PARA system.

A simple diagram showing the flow of information from the productivity system to the PARA system

Your inbox is the input

The inbox serves as one of the main ways new information gets into our PARA system. Remember that PARA is meant to be a just-in-time organization system. So unless you've set aside time to specifically prune and cultivate your PARA system, you'll most likely be adding and organizing things as they become relevant. So the inbox leans into this way of working and gives us a handy place to dump whatever we want until we get to it.

Whenever you think of a new task that you need to do, whether that's part of project, an area of responsibility, or just a one-off thing, your first instinct should be to drop it in the inbox. This is a key habit you'll want to start building.

Clear your inbox regularly

The next habit you'll want to cultivate is to empty that inbox on a regular basis. Depending on how much of your life your system is going to handle, this can be a daily or an every couple of days ritual.

During this process you want to sort items and decide if they go in the PARA system or directly into your weekly agenda. If the item represents a project, a responsibility, or is just a useful resource, in to the PARA system it goes. But if it's a task that just needs to be done, then it's off to the weekly agenda. You don't need to figure out where on the weekly agenda it goes at this time, just move it over for now.

Whether you do this clearing out at the start of the day or the end is up to you, the important thing is to make a habit of it. Your inbox is what feeds the rest of your system so it's important that you make the effort to keep this part of your flow clear.

Scheduling your weekly agenda

At the start of each week you'll want to take some time to roughly plan out your week's tasks. You don't need to perfectly schedule each day at the start of the week but you do want to at least have today and tomorrow on the board. If you only have what you're doing today, it's a lot easier to just keep putting things off for tomorrow since you're not sure what you were going to get done anyway, and no idea what you wanted to do tomorrow.

The way you do this is by opening up your 'projects' section and seeing what tasks you want to get done for the the week. Then you simply 'mirror' those tasks from the project into the weekly agenda. Mirroring the items is what will keep everything nice and organized. As documents are added and items are completed, the original project will stay up to date. You can then also delete the mirror in the weekly agenda at the end of the week and you'll still have all the changes you made in the project section.

You'll also want to do this with the 'areas' section and mirror any task or activity that makes sense to put on your weekly agenda. These will generally be habits you want to keep so what we recommend you do is have one bullet to hold the log for al the times you've successfully completed the habit. Next you would mirror that into the weekly agenda. When you complete this item you would also add a date tag inside the log. This is so you can then check exactly when you've completed the activity and how many times you've done it.

Putting it all together

Now that you know how the different parts of the productivity system work, let's put them all together by walking you through regular Monday.

  1. First you would start from the inbox and empty it if there are any pending items. Decide if they go in the weekly agenda or if they belong in your PARA system and move them.
  2. Open your weekly agenda and see if there are any items left over from last week. Reschedule those or decide if they should go somewhere else like the 'archive' or if they should just be eliminated.
  3. Check your 'projects' section an mirror any tasks you want to complete this week.
  4. Check your 'areas' section and mirror any items that you want to do this week.
  5. Zoom into today's column and focus.
  6. As you complete items, cross them off. If they're logs for habits, add the current day as a date tag and cross it off.
  7. The next day you reschedule any items you didn't complete the day before, then zoom in on the current day and start focusing.


Take special note of how mirroring is the key for this entire system to work. By mirroring task from projects and areas, we make sure new documents and items will also find their way back into the project and areas sections of our system without having to do any extra work of moving information across from our productivity system to our PARA system. New information is simply synced as a result of using the feature.

And that's basically how the system works. Throughout the week new items will end up in your inbox that you'll sort and will become new projects, areas and resources.

By combining this simple but effective productivity system with the PARA system you already have, you can ensure that:

  • You'll be more likely to complete those projects
  • You'll be more likely to stick to those areas of responsibility
  • New information will actually make its way into your PARA system
  • Changes and updates will automatically sync from your productivity system to your PARA system
  • You'll have a productivity system that complements the PARA structures you already have
  • You'll have your task manager and all your PARA information within a single place and not scattered across multiple apps

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