How to avoid digital clutter for good in five minutes a week (Maintaining PARA)


Last week, I explained how to use productivity expert Tiago Forte’s PARA method to declutter your desktop in 60 seconds. As it turns out, keeping it tidy is almost as quick, simple and easy.

What to do

Avoid digital clutter by maintaining your PARA system in five minutes per week.

Why it works

According to Forte, there are four categories of information in our lives: Projects are short-term efforts in your professional or personal life that you’re working on now. Areas are long-term responsibilities you want to manage over time. Resources are topics that might be useful in the future. Archives are inactive items from the other three categories (here’s my article on how to set up PARA in 60 seconds).

After setting it up, you’ll have one folder for each category. You’ll have a Projects folder that contains subfolders for each of your active projects; an Archives folder for all of your inactive items; and folders for Areas and Resources that you fill with sub-folders for long-term responsibilities and potentially useful topics, respectively.

In his book “The PARA Method: Simplify, Organise and Master Your Digital Life”, Forte introduces three simple steps for doing your PARA system’s upkeep in just five minutes at the end of your week. Here’s how:

How to do it

1) Start with an Inbox folder. Instead of moving new items into the four PARA folders throughout your busy week, Forte recommends collecting them in a fifth folder before putting them in their proper place. That folder is entitled Inbox. He also suggests adding the numbers 0-4 at the beginning of the titles for each of the five folders, as in “0 Inbox”, “1 Projects”, “2 Areas”, “3 Resources”, and “4 Archives”. By doing that, he writes, you’ll “keep them in the right order from most to least actionable when they are sorted alphabetically”.

2) During your weekly upkeep, move new items into the appropriate PARA folders. Doing that is very simple. Sort items that will help you move a current project or goal forward into the respective project folder. Put items that will help you uphold an area of responsibility into its area folder. Move items supporting your interests or curiosities to the respective resources folder. Lastly, delete items that don’t fall into any of these categories from your inbox folder.

3) Update your active projects. This final step starts with looking at your project folders – and making changes to reflect what’s happened over the week. This could include changing a project’s name (to reflect a new scope or direction), splitting a large project into smaller ones, or archiving a project that has been completed, put on hold, or canceled.

With only five minutes a week, you’ll avoid digital clutter on your desktop (or cloud-storage drive, note-taking app, etc.) for good. These 5 minutes are well worth it, as research from Princeton University shows. It improves your capacity to process information, lets you focus better, and frees you to do your best work.
What’s not to love?