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How to Set Up the PARA Method in Obsidian from Scratch
A 5-minute guide
I’ve been using the Zettelkasten method with few modifications in Obsidian for a very long time. Recently I read the book, The PARA Method by Tiago Forte. He also wrote Building a Second Brain, which is nice btw.
After reading it and learning everything, I’m making a switch from what I’ve right now to the new system, the PARA Method.
In this article, I will talk about how I’m starting again from scratch in Obsidian after using the zettelkasten method for more than 2 years.
This article can be helpful if you are looking for a way to organize information and you are not happy with what you’ve right now.
But before we dive in, let’s talk about what PARA is.
The PARA Method
PARA is an information organization method developed by the same mind behind “Building a Second Brain”.
It is a simple organizational system designed to help us move forward in both our personal as well as professional lives.
What sets PARA apart is its universal applicability. You can use it in your note-taking app, task manager, cloud storage, or any other tool you have.
The core idea of PARA is simple: Organize for action.
It helps you sort your information based on the outcomes you want to achieve.
There are other systems out there, but they can be cumbersome. Some may even serve as hidden forms of procrastination. Others might take up too much time and energy.
PARA avoids all that. It’s simple to start and easy to keep up with.
You can set up PARA in Obsidian in just 5 minutes. But first, let’s go over its four main components:
They are your short-term commitments. They have a set deadline and a clear outcome.
For example: Building a website, Moving to a city, Buying a new computer, etc.
These are ongoing aspects of your life you manage over time. They have no specific deadlines or outcomes.
For example: Health and fitness, Writing, YouTube, etc.
They are the things that you are merely interested in. Your curiosities and passions fall under this category. You are not accountable for these things. Even if you ignore these, your life will goes on.
For example: Poetry, Guitar lessons
When something doesn’t belong to any of the previous folders, it comes here.
For example: a completed project, an area you are no longer responsible for, or resources you are no longer interested in.
Note: Projects are the most important pillar of your system. They are also the most actionable items with deadlines and clear outcomes.
How to Setup the PARA system.
Now we’ve learned what PARA is, let's start setting up the PARA system in Obsidian.
Archive all existing files
No matter what system you are using to organize information, this step will make everything easy.
First, create a new vault in Obsidian. Name it what you want. Now create an Archive Folder. Under that folder, create a sub-folder called Archive- Today’s date.
Move everything you have in your old vault to that new archive folder.
What happens next? Your vault looks empty but isn’t. The Archive holds it all.
Why do this?
It frees your mind. Constantly seeing old files can have a cognitive load. But not anymore. Files are out of sight but safe. They are ready when you need them, but hidden when you don’t.
Create project folders
Next up? Projects. What’s on your plate? What needs doing? What are you committed to right now?
Create a Projects folder and add sub-folders for each project.
Create Areas and Resources Folder
Create Areas and Resources Folder. Don’t start creating sub-folders for all areas of your life.
Create new folders only when you have something to put in. In the name of putting something in, don’t just dump everything. Keep only what’s useful.
Now you have a basic PARA setup ready.
Making Organization easier
Here are a few tips Tiago Forte gives in his book The PARA Method to make organization easy.
Create an Inbox
An inbox is a place where all the items that need to be processed are stored. Then you review those items.
Create numbered folders. Instead of just writing Projects, Areas, and resources, write:
Using this numbering system in the parent folders creates consistency.
Use naming conventions
What does this mean? Use a different format for different folder types. For example:
Use Emojis in the beginning for projects (🏗️Website building)
Use Capitalized letters for Areas folders (FITNESS)
Uncapitalized letters for resources folders (piano)
What this does is make it extremely easy to differentiate what a folder is about without looking at the parent folder.
Few More Tips
In obsidian, templates can save you a lot of time and effort. They are must-haves for an effective system. So create a template folder where you can store all of your template files.
Another folder I prefer is for daily notes. I like to call it ‘Reflect’. Because that’s how I use daily notes. In order to reflect on my day.
Why I’m using the PARA Method
I’m switching to PARA for one main reason: it’s built for action. The system doesn’t just tidy up your digital space. It sets you up to move forward in life.
You organize for action, not for the sake of keeping your digital space organized.
With the PARA method, you see information differently. It sifts through the noise, highlighting what’s actionable. You see only what’s relevant to your current projects.
And it's not a fixed system. It’s dynamic. Everything keeps moving. Once your projects are completed, they move into Areas. Areas you are no longer responsible for move into archives.
An area can be split into smaller projects to progress faster. Items from your archive will frequently move to the Areas and Projects folder. These are just examples.
In short, the PARA system adapts you. It fits your ever-changing goals and needs.
This is how I’m starting from scratch in Obsidian. I will share my personal experience and how the system is working for me(a month later) in this very newsletter.
Thank you for reading.