Over the past year, I’ve seen P.A.R.A. implementations of all shapes and sizes. I’ve seen them from every corner of the globe, in languages I don’t even recognize, in at least a dozen different programs, and both digital and physical forms.
Over that time, eight core principles seem to have emerged as fundamental features. Whether you’ve taken on the particularities of the system I’ve described in this series, adopting these principles will seriously upgrade your digital organization.
Here they are, in no particular order:
- Organize by actionability
- Organize opportunistically
- Move quickly, touch lightly
- Controlled randomness
- Complex systems have to be grown, not made
- Focus on outcomes
- Fail gracefully
- Shallow hierarchies
I’ve found that all these principles can also be found in how kitchens are organized. Kitchens are the ultimate metaphor for knowledge work, because they too have to deliver finely crafted products to a demanding audience, under intense time pressure.
The three core principles of mise en place, the culinary philosophy used by professional kitchens, are preparation, process, and presence. The goal is to arrange actions in time and space (preparation) so that the chef can follow a precise series of steps (process) while remaining fully attuned (presence) to the subtleties of each dish.
专业厨房使用的烹饪理念--mise en place的三个核心原则是：准备、过程和存在。其目的是在时间和空间上安排动作（准备），使厨师能够按照一系列精确的步骤（过程），同时保持对每道菜的精妙之处（临场感）。
Organize by actionability按可操作性来组织
This seems to be the big one. You could summarize all of P.A.R.A. with these three words, and have a pretty good rule of thumb for most situations. The “Projects” stack is just another way of saying “most actionable.” “Archives” is “least actionable.” And Areas and Resources are somewhere in between.
Kitchens are clearly not organized by topic: imagine how absurd it would be to store fresh fruit, fruit juice, fruit preserves, and dried fruit all in the same place, just because they all happen to be made of fruit. They are instead organized by actionability: the fresh fruit is kept on the counter because it spoils fast and can be eaten as a snack, whereas the other forms are stored in various states of preservation until they’re ready to be used.
这似乎是个大问题。你可以用这三个字来概括所有的P.A.R.A.，对大多数情况下都有一个相当不错的经验法则。"项目 "堆栈只是 "最可操作 "的另一种说法。"档案 "是 "最不可操作的"。而 "区域 "和 "资源 "则介于两者之间。
P.A.R.A. is designed to be bottom-up, avoiding expensive heavy lifts at all costs. This is to avoid doing upfront work of questionable value, to avoid sunk costs, and to remain as open as possible to changes in direction.
The same is true for chefs: “cleaning” is not a one-time activity done late at night, with piles and piles of dirty dishes like in the movies. Mise en place is about integrating cleaning into every moment of a chef’s work, peppering the entire day with small actions that maintain the system of organization no matter how crazy things get.
厨师也是如此："清洁 "不是像电影里那样，在深夜里一次性完成的 "大扫除"，堆积如山的脏碗，也不是像电影里那样，一扫而过。 Mise en place是将清洁工作融入到厨师工作的每一个时刻，用小动作点缀一整天，无论事情多么疯狂，都能保持系统的组织性。
Move quickly, touch lightly 动作要快，触摸要轻
Instead of heavy lifts, P.A.R.A. advises us to “move quickly and touch lightly.” This keeps the investment in any given action low, nudging our organizational systems in a certain direction while avoiding total commitment.
The placements of mise en place are similarly designed to allow precise, predictable, and economical actions. We’re not going for an idealized aesthetic beauty, but rather an environment where all our movements can be free, small, rhythmic, and automatic.
Controlled randomness 控制的随机性
P.A.R.A. demands precision in only one very specific place: the definition of projects. Everywhere else, fuzziness is not only allowed but encouraged. It recognizes that imposing order on information doesn’t always make it more valuable. The greatest breakthroughs are usually found in bizarre, unexpected, or counterintuitive connections. This requires a system that allows diverse ideas to mix together.
This is why I don’t advise creating an internal structure for notebooks, using a standardized template for all notes, or even using a common naming convention. Perhaps there is value in these things, but they take up time that is better suited to engaging with the content itself. Allowing some randomness into the system creates opportunities for very different ideas to be juxtaposed or intermixed.
Similarly, chefs distinguish between “process time” and “immersive time.” Many foods require a quick setup, like placing a sauce to simmer so it reduces, but while that’s happening the chef is free to work on things that require their direct involvement. The notebooks of P.A.R.A. are like pots and skillets, sustained chemical reactions that eventually will produce valuable results entirely on their own.
同样，厨师们也区分了 "过程时间 "和 "沉浸式时间"。很多食物需要快速设置，比如把酱料放进锅里炖煮，这样就会减少，但在这时，厨师可以自由地处理需要他们直接参与的事情。P.A.R.A.的笔记本就像锅和烤锅一样，持续的化学反应，最终会完全靠自己的力量产生有价值的结果。
Complex systems have to be grown, not made 复杂的系统会自己发展，不需要去制造
This is a variant of Gall’s Law, which states that “all complex systems that work evolved from simpler systems that worked.” In other words, you can’t design a complex system from scratch and expect it to work. Complex systems have to be grown slowly over time, because their interdependencies and variables are too complex to guess correctly the first time.
This is why mise en place is a set of principles, not a universal prescription. It needs to be adapted to the constraints and exceptions of each kitchen, because “economical” and “efficient” have different meanings depending on the context.
Similarly, P.A.R.A. cannot be deployed all at once. It needs to start as a small seed that gradually unfurls and evolves to meet the changing needs of its designer. This is why I avoid showing too much of my own system – it has grown to a certain level of sophistication over years. Going straight to this level of maturity would be counterproductive for any novice.
这也是为什么mise en place是一套原则，而不是万能的药方。它需要根据每个厨房的限制和例外情况进行调整，因为 "经济 "和 "高效 "根据不同的环境有不同的含义。
Focus on outcomes 注重成果
One of the biggest temptations with organizing is to get too precious, treating the process of organizing as an end in itself. There is something inherently satisfying about order, and it’s easy to settle for that payoff, instead of going on to share our knowledge with the world.
Everything in P.A.R.A. is subordinated to the outcome of getting things done. All upfront, extraneous tasks are stripped away, there is no routine maintenance work required, and the most actionable category of projects is closely guarded from interference.
In mise en place, everything is similarly centered around the outcome of a finished plate. Envisioning the moment of delivery and walking backward, the method seeks to eliminate everything that doesn’t advance the dish, for example:
- tying up tasks in a state that is easy to pick up again
- scheduling complex tasks and fitting others around them
- communicating progress to everyone who is depending on it
- always unblocking what is keeping you or others from moving forward
在mise en place中，所有的事情同样围绕着一个完成的盘子的结果为中心。设想交付的时刻，走回头路，这种方法力求消除一切不能推进盘子的东西，比如说。
Fail gracefully 优雅地失败
P.A.R.A. is designed around the needs of real humans, not idealized ones. It recognizes that maintaining files will not usually be our top priority, so it needs to be able to survive long periods of neglect as we attend to other things.
The fact that keeping different programs in sync requires manually retitling and resorting folders and notebooks may seem like a flaw. But in fact it can be seen as a strength: because P.A.R.A. is neither centralized nor decentralized, but federated, it doesn’t need to be perfectly maintained like a well-oiled machine. I’ve found that the folders can drift apart for months with no real impact on my productivity.
The same applies to the decision where to keep notes. Because we have multiple mechanisms for constantly flowing notes between notebooks, the decision is very forgiving. There are backup plans and safety nets at every stage. If you misplace a note for now, it is only a matter of time before it gets resurfaced.
This is where mise en place takes an unexpected turn. Despite the emphasis on process, it also strongly advocates for communication, teamwork, and treating each other with care. It advises maintaining one stream of communication in the kitchen, using a common language and double confirmations for accuracy. In the kitchen it is people who catch us when we fall.
这时候，mise en place 的地方就会出现意想不到的转折。尽管强调过程，但它也极力主张沟通、团队合作、彼此关爱。它建议在厨房中保持单流沟通，使用共同的语言和双重确认的准确性。在厨房里，当我们跌倒的时候，接住我们的是人。
Shallow hierarchies 浅层次
One of the biggest differences between P.A.R.A. and other organizational schemes is its shallow depth. The infinite vertical nesting of file systems is replaced with the horizontal movement of project turnover, like a conveyer belt. Instead of getting shuffled to ever greater depths, where we lose sight of them, files are shuffled from actionable notebooks into the Archives.
There is a parallel here to the visual layout of dishes, which is an important part of mise en place. Chefs are advised to use any free time to clean their workstation and pre-prepare any ingredients they’ll need in the future. This is where the focus on outcomes is so important: because counter space (like screen space) is limited, knowing which dishes need to be laid out depends entirely on the dishes to be prepared. What allows us to get away with shallow hierarchies is that we can store the great majority of ingredients out of sight.
Starting over is magical 重新开始是很神奇的
When I was in high school, I had a business fixing people’s Windows computers. I would drive around in my little Honda Civic, applying the same solution every time: formatting their hard drive and reinstalling my bootlegged copy of Windows XP. This gave me several hours of free time, which I often spent talking to my customers and hearing how they thought about technology. I soon transitioned to teaching people how to use their computers, including tasks as simple as checking their email, visiting webpages, and creating Word documents.
A few years later, in college, I worked at an Apple Store in San Diego. I listened to customers’ needs and helped them buy a computer, and became very familiar with the thought process they went through in spending a couple thousand dollars on a machine. I later started teaching classes on how to use Apple computers, and did 1-on-1 personal training sessions.
Throughout this time, I noticed a common theme: the moment of starting over is magical. Whether it was getting a newly reformatted PC, or a brand new Mac, I sensed an enormous sense of relief and happiness as the slate was wiped clean. People often would feel a profound rush of creative energy, as they were unburdened from years of digital hoarding.
At some point I started thinking, “What would it look like to design an organizational system completely around the feeling of starting over?” The ideal time to “start over” seemed to be when completing a project, so I made projects the basic unit of organization. Areas and Resources quickly emerged as I realized there were ongoing responsibilities and interests that I wanted to remain consistent over time.
The only downside to starting over, of course, was that I lost the work I’d already done. Slowly, I realized that this could be turned to my advantage. I began finishing every project by exporting or publishing one tangible artifact as a takeaway. This was the golden era of Apple’s iLife suite of creative apps, and I pushed iMovie, iPhoto, iDVD, GarageBand and iWeb to their full potential. Every project I worked on ended by exporting a slideshow, video, audio track, photo book, DVD, or website, which were far more valuable to me than all the bits and pieces I used to put them together.
在某个时候，我开始思考，"如果完全围绕着重新开始的感觉设计一个组织体系，会是什么样子？" "重新开始 "的理想时机似乎是在完成一个项目时，所以我把项目作为基本的组织单位。领域和资源很快就出现了，因为我意识到有一些正在进行的责任和兴趣，我想在一段时间内保持一致。
I noticed that once the final export was complete, and I’d gotten the payoff of showing it to my friends or family, I could wrap up all the constituent parts in one big folder, and move them wholesale to an archive folder. There was no need to further organize or catalogue anything in there, because it was rare for me to ever open it up again. On occasion when I did, everything was preserved exactly how I’d left it, so there was no downside.
Starting over has major costs in physical work, because it’s wasteful to destroy or set aside raw materials. But not in digital, where saving a folder forever is virtually free. As technology evolves, it actually becomes easier to search or visualize these old files.
Beyond just serving as mementos, the tangible artifacts I created started having a tremendous impact on my life, my career, and how I thought about the impact I could have. A photo slideshow set to music I made for Christmas brought my mom to tears. A movie I made of a vacation became a cherished family treasure. A website I made for fun in iWeb became a critical asset in my dad’s business.
Eventually, I gained the confidence to ask for something in exchange. I sold an ebook compilation of blog posts as a fundraiser for a project in the Peace Corps. I created a portfolio website that helped me get my first job in San Francisco. And one day in 2013, I combined all these creative production skills to launch my first online course, Get Stuff Done Like a Boss, charging $25 for the first product from Forte Labs.
Here’s a thought experiment: what would you do if all your digital files were automatically erased every year? No matter which backup solutions you employed, it would all be gone when the clock struck midnight on December 31.
I think you would start putting a lot more effort into showing your work. You would spend the absolute minimum amount of time gathering research and raw material, and more time sharing your knowledge and helping people solve real problems. I think you would get a lot less particular about your organizational hierarchies, which note-taking app you use, or the endless debates about plain text versus rich text.
最后，我终于有了信心要求交换一些东西。我卖掉了一本电子书的博客文章汇编，作为和平队的一个项目的筹款人。我创建了一个作品集网站，帮助我在旧金山找到了第一份工作。而在2013年的某一天，我将所有这些创意制作技能结合起来，推出了我的第一门在线课程《像老板一样完成工作》（Get Stuff Done Like a Boss），从Forte Labs的第一个产品收费25美元。
I think the world would be a much better place if all these things came to pass. And I can hardly think of a downside. It sure seems like our perfect digital memory is both a blessing and a curse. It frees us from the burden of forgetfulness, only to imprison us with perfectionism.
The promise of P.A.R.A. is that it makes “getting organized” a straightforward affair to get over with as quickly as possible. My wish is that the smart, creative people of the world spend less time behind their computer screens, and more time taking direct action in the world. We need people who are empowered and propelled forward by their creative process, not consumed by it. Our talents and knowledge are sorely needed in the real world.
P.A.R.A.的承诺是，它让 "整理 "成为了一件直截了当的事情，让我们尽快的搞定。我的愿望是，世界上聪明的、有创造力的人少花点时间在电脑屏幕后面，多花点时间在世界上直接行动。我们需要的是有能力的人，他们的创作过程会让他们有能力并推动他们前进，而不是被他们的创作过程所消耗。我们的人才和知识在现实世界中非常需要。
PARA Part 8: Core Principles of Digital Organization - Forte Labs
Series Navigation: The P.A.R.A. Method<< PARA Part 7: Creating a Project NetworkOver the past year, I've seen P.A.R.A. implementations of all shapes and sizes. I've seen them from every corner of the globe, in languages I don't even recognize, in at least a dozen different programs, and both digital and physical forms. Over that time, ...