Folders vs Links for PKM

I started using PARA after taking Building A Second Brain. This structure is productivity-oriented, and organizes information into folders based on how immediately actionable it is.

I’m currently taking Linking Your Thinking. This course is focused more on using your notes to improve your thinking (as opposed to productivity reasons).

As the course is starting to wind down, I’m starting to experiment with integrating these two systems together. One experiment I’m trying is to switch from PARA’s folder structure to using Maps of Content (MOCs) (ie. notes primarily used to link to other notes) to organize my information.

When I did my most recent weekly review, I started my new projects in MOCs instead of in new folders. In PARA, the Project folder had a number of folders inside, each representing a project. This maps to the idea of a project list from Getting Things Done. To replace this, I’ve created a 2020 Projects note, with separate headings for Completed and In Progress projects.

I’m hoping to see the following benefits from this experimental structure:

  • I will have a single system to navigate my notes. Before this change, I had two distinct systems side by side. I had my PARA system and what I had called my Thought Bank. I navigated my PARA system by opening the relevant folders, whereas I navigated my Thought Bank either via a Home note (ie. top-down navigation) or by opening a file based on the name (ie. bottom-up navigation). As I move towards moving PARA into MOCs, I may be able to navigate my notes in a more consistent way.
  • Notes can now live in multiple places. With PARA, a single note may be relevant to multiple projects and multiple areas and multiple resources at the same time. Where it ends up lives depends entirely on where it is most immediately actionable (and that home will change as projects get completed, areas change, etc). Using MOCs instead of folders will allow these notes to live in multiple places, and serve multiple purposes, at one time.
  • Historical integrity can be maintained. When you complete a project in PARA, each note from that project is potentially moved from that project folder elsewhere into PARA depending on where it is most immediately actionable. As a result of this, if future you is looking back at a project you completed, some/all of the context you had at one point may no longer be there. Using MOCs instead of folders allows that same context to persist even after the project has been completed.
  • Unexpected connections between projects may be discovered. Because notes can now live in multiple places, they can also serve as bridges between multiple projects and ideas. This may lead to serendipitous discovery of new ideas/projects to explore in the future.

Some of the concerns I’m looking out for with this new structure:

  • Loss of constraints may decrease intentionality and focus. Choosing the singular place where a note is most immediately actionable served as a valuable constraint. This ensured that I was being intentional with where I’m choosing to organize my information, but also re-focused me on my highest priorities.
  • Things may get messy. Without having a folder structure to organize my notes, more of my notes may get thrown together in a single folder that may grow to become unmanageable (ie. difficult to keep track of what’s in my system, quicker to reach sync/storage limitations) over time. This also makes the PARA idea of archiving more difficult.

If this week goes well, I may start moving my areas over to a similar MOC structure next week. I’ll try to update again here as I discover new things 🙂

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