How to organize your notes and folders using Johnny.Decimal and PARA

If you start using a note-taking app from scratch you don't need to organize your notes too much, because you don't have many (yet) and you can keep an overview easily. But once you cross a threshold it becomes more and more stressful to search & find notes. Things become increasingly messy.

Use this combination of methods to stay in control of your notes:

  • Johnny.Decimal for numbering your notes and folders to keep them ordered
  • PARA for naming your folders and knowing where to file a new note
  • Zettelkasten (optional) for building a personal knowledge base

▶️ Watch a short video about PARA and the number system "Johnny.Decimal"

Folders

A good starting point for naming your first four folders is PARA = Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive:

You can have a few current notes additionally below your folder system, but make sure not to add too many items (notes or folders) in the main folder. Keep your root folder "small" to avoid visual clutter.

Prefix a number to your folders to keep them sorted up (you need to enable sorting by title). In the example above we have used:

10 - Projects   
20 - Areas 
30 - Resources   
40 - Archive  

This way the folder "10 - Projects" gets sorted up. You can enable the title sorting using the menu bar item "View", then "Sort Notes By" and set a checkmark for "Title":

You can use the numbering system below the main folders as well to keep the sorting up and the numbering consistent:

If you are using multiple apps (files in Finder, cloud storage, task manager, ...), you can mirror the folder names and the numbering. So you stay consistent with your categories across the systems you use and things are easy to find.

What's the purpose of each folder?

The folders (Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archive) are sorted by actionability. You are frequently accessing and working on the notes in your Project folder while you rarely need to look up items in your Archive folder. 

Projects

“a series of tasks linked to a goal, with a deadline.” (- Forte Labs)

The Project folder should contain - as the name suggests - your current projects with lists of concrete tasks, targets, and deadlines. 

Examples include: Complete app mockup; Develop project plan; Execute business development campaign; Write blog post; Finalize product specifications; Attend conference

Areas

An area of responsibility is “a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time.”  (- Forte Labs)

Notes in the Areas folder contain notes on a higher, less actionable level. Like your overall goals, strategies, and roadmaps. 

Examples include: Health; Finances, Professional Development; Travel; Hobbies; Friends; Apartment; Car; Productivity; Direct reports; Product Development; Writing

Resources

A resource is “a topic or theme of ongoing interest.” (- Forte Labs)

Add notes to your resources folder about topics that you are interested in or notes you want to refer to later. If you are building a personal knowledge base using "Zettelkasten", you can store them in this folder. 

Zettelkasten notes are connected atomic notes. This means each note contains a summary, written in your words, about a single idea. If you have a similar, related idea in another note, they should be connected using wiki links [[note title]]. A Zettelkasten (also called "Second Brain") is a source for your creativity to solve problems or create things you want to share later. It has compounding value the more notes you add here.

Examples include: habit formation; project management; transhumanism; coffee; music; gardening; online marketing; SEO; interior design; architecture; note-taking

Archive

Archives include “inactive items from the other three categories.” (- Forte Labs)

This folder should contain mostly completed or inactive projects or other material you don't need anymore. Using a custom archive folder like this in NotePlan allows you to search these notes. You can also use NotePlan's default Archive folder to store inactive notes. They are not searchable and visually separated.

Examples include: projects that have been completed or become inactive; areas that you are no longer committed to maintaining; resources that you are no longer interested in.