Briefing Notes: Brain Saver, Productive Workaholics, Doormat Effect

Published: February 23, 2020

There’s no point in being nuts if you can’t have some fun with it.— John Nash


Everything’s digital these days. Stored in bits and bytes. Available to us in pixels of all kinds and sizes.

We now have a problem our parents never had to solve: How to organize and make sense of all the digital information that dominates our work and life? How do we give our brain a break and not expect it to remember and collate everything?

This problem isn’t one we can ignore if we’re serious about productivity (and which self-respecting working man or woman isn’t?)… and ideally, efficiently productive as well.

If you’re thinking, “Oh God, yet another discussion about apps and tools”, nope. This isn’t about that.

There’s a plethora of note-taking, archiving, and ‘to read later’ apps out there. Pick your favorite(s). Mine happens to be Evernote, Pocket… and increasingly Notion.

Tiago Forte, the creator of Second Brain, recommends the PARA method (the acronym stands for Projects, Areas of responsibility, Resources, and Archive).

These four levels represent every single type of information we might encounter in our work and life. (It’s true. Think about it.) The main idea behind PARA is to organize what we are consuming or processing according to these four levels.

Being effective in the world today requires managing many different kinds of information – emails, text messages, messaging apps, online articles, books, podcasts, webinars, memos, and many others. All of these kinds of content have value but trying to remember all of it is overwhelming and impractical. By consolidating ideas from these sources, you’ll develop a valuable body of work to advance your projects and goals. You’ll have an ongoing record of personal discoveries, lessons learned, and actionable insights for any situation.

One of the key principles of PARA is to organize information by project.

Instead of organizing your files primarily by topic (for example, web design or psychology), which is time-consuming and mentally taxing, organize them according to the projects you are actively working on. This ensures that you are consuming information with a purpose – to advance your projects and goals – and only at a time and place where you’ll be able to put it to use.

I initially thought this was about some new age, electronic filing system. But it’s actually more than that.

Adopting the method pushes me to identify relationships between the pieces of information that I’m taking in. It creates a visual map of what resonates with me. It helps me better understand who I am, who I want to be, and who I could become.

Bottom Line:
If your work requires you to read and process any amount of digital information (and who doesn’t nowadays?), PARA may just be the organizing system that breaks the logjam and gives your brain a hand.


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  • Looking for a new career? What about styling plants? Apparently, people now pay $2000 for their houseplants to get styled. #seriously
  • Video: Avoiding the Doormat Effect | Adam Grant. How to be accommodating at work without being taken advantage of. (Note: Adam Grant is the best-selling author of “Give and Take”)
  • Audio: Without Fail. Any big success requires looking failure in the eye. This podcast asks people who have pursued incredible things: What worked? What didn’t? And why?


“Are you working to connect the dots, or to merely collect more dots?” — Seth Godin


The next movie or Netflix feature you watch might just be green-lit by an AI. Hollywood is now using AI tools to help decide which projects to develop. Some tools analyze success probability based on the script, whereas others evaluate actors or directors. Though, one may ask, what algorithm would have ok’d Robert Downey Jr’s casting as Iron Man given his history? One company, in particular, ScriptBook, is developing a screenwriting AI. Says its founder, “Within five years we’ll have scripts written by AI that you would think are better than human writing.”


… when Steve Jobs said (after Apple went public in 1980), “I’m not doing this for money. I’m doing it because I love it. I’m doing it because I love the people. And I’m doing it because I love the idea of making a 10 billion-dollar company.”? In August 2018, Apple became the first trillion-dollar tech company. A month later Amazon joined it. In April 2019, Microsoft crossed the threshold, and last month, Alphabet/Google slid into T-land. Trillion is the new billion. Let’s file this under #theyawninggap.


The podcast is transitioning from an on-going weekly show into a seasonal production, where we explore a topic from different angles for a few consecutive episodes. I’ve been testing this approach for the last few months — starting with the Work-Life balance series (eps 101-105) and the recently concluded season on Side Hustles (eps 107-121) — and with the feedback I’ve received, it’s a hit! The spring season 😉 starts on March 26th. Subscribe to the podcast via your mobile app today so as not to miss the new season, In the meanwhile, enjoy the previous series.


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One of my strength themes is Input, according to StrengthsFinder (affiliate link). I am naturally drawn to acquiring more information. Give me a few hours reading and researching with a highlighter – and I’m in heaven (definition of a nerd, right?)

Stumbling into the PARA method feels a little like the lamp has been turned on for me. Actually, more like a chandelier. I’ve been methodically applying the concepts little by little. Though nothing would give me more pleasure than to start with a clean slate. But I can’t do that!

With only a few days into it, I can already see how vastly improved my processes, my work, and my life will be by applying PARA. Will revert on this later and report back on how it’s come along for me!

Best wishes for a productive week. Send comments, houseplant styling tips, designer doormats, and your favorite Black Mirror episode.

Cool beans,
Lou Blaser


A former management consultant and IT leader, Lou Blaser is the editor of Briefing Notes and the host of the Second Breaks podcast. She is also the author of Break Free: The Courage to Reinvent Yourself and Your career. Lou’s work is focused on helping experienced professionals navigate an evolving work landscape so they can continue their impact and relevance in a changing world.

The world of work is changing.

Stay smart about it.

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