How can PARA and Zettelkasten workflow live together?

I’m reading Sonke Ahrens’ book on zettelkasten. while on the surface level, PARA and zettelkasten seem compatible, when it comes to a level under, I don’t know how to integrate them both. So Sonke is against hierarchical approach, especially by topic. However, When organizing Areas and Resources folder, the data can end up getting a hierarchical organization by topic. Do you know of anyways to harvest both of them without sacrificing too much?

Just to mention, just giving numbers to notes and putting them in folders is not the same as the zettelkasten workflow.

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For me, my slip box is just the “Resources.” Both Projects and Areas draw from the slip box - but are compositional in nature and therefore not atomic or concept/idea.


For those who don’t know PARA stands for:

  • Projects
  • Areas
  • Resources
  • Archive

Here is a nice infographic set on it. I’m only familiar with zettelkasten, so I’m not sure how to reconcile the two systems. @nickmilo I think is familiar with PARA and zettelkasten system. This also might be a good question for the Zettelkasten De Forum.

P.S. OP I recognized your username from goodreads reviews of all places, I should use the same username across platforms


I shouldn’t even attempt to add an opinion here because I’m woefully ignorant about both systems but to me, the PARA system and zettelkasten were designed for different purposes. PARA is for business project work and zettelkasten is for academic writing work. So if your work and your reason for a zettelkasten are in line with each other then the information shouldn’t clash. If the reasons for each are different, I would probably create a vault for PARA and one for zettelkasten. I guess what I’m trying to say is base your decision on your use case and your information type.


right now, I’m putting most of my zettelnotes in the resources as well, yet I’m not sure how to organize resources then. Right now I’m putting notes related to each topic in a dedicated folder. Which in Ahrens’ book is a no-no.

Oh Hello! :smiley: yeah I use the same username for every account I have.

I will certainly attend there if I don’t get any answers here or over the slack group of fortelab. Mostly I love to see what people here practice if they are mixing these two methods.

So I sort of took BASB class and I have to say that you can adapt it to whatever needs you have, but as far as I understood from Tiago and others, PARA and BASB are not limited to business. So as an example, AREA may include every area of responsibility that you have to keep a level of standard for a long while. It may include pets, partners, health and etc.
But for Zettelkasten it seems to me that you are right. But for me, I cannot separate academic activities and everything else. So as an example I’m researching time-perception in ADHD. I also have ADHD and I manage a telegram group that is about ADHD and a blog that contains information about ADHD and … So for me, whatever system I have to choose cannot be separated from my PARA, as it can get confusing for me very quickly.

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I think it’s a kind of fallacy to see them as mutually exclusive, or wedded to a particular discipline. It’s just knowledge. One is a record of thinking and the other is organized projects in terms of actionability. So it’s just a matter of emphasis for your workflow.


hmmm. Interesting. Can you maybe share an example or make it a bit more concrete for me?

As soon as I can, I will elaborate further. Let me at least state more in combination with my two above posts.

PARA represents a ‘state’ of a knowledge constellation at anyone time. PARA reflects aggregates/projects that are composed of zettels. In a way, a zettelkasten are stars in the sky, constellations, etc; while PARA is the belief system built on those representations.

Wait that wasn’t more concrete. Zettels are the building blocks, PARA just represents different states of the architecture (projects) built out of the building blocks.

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The reason you have all the notes together in a zettelkasten is that you do not know when a piece of information will be relevant in the future. You may find the desire to elaborate on it or connect to it 5 years from now. For example, see my post on an timeline for learning about storytelling using the zettelkasten.

I don’t think there is a problem with having the two systems as long as you have an easy way to update links as you move notes between folders. It is also important to not archive your notes such that you no longer have easy access to them. If you archive them in such a way that you don’t automatically search them then that is a problem. But Obsidian searches all folders in a vault, so I don’t think that should be a problem.


So what you are saying is that if the links are not broken between different notes, it is okay to keep them in folders based on topics?

I have a question for anyone. Does adding projects, todos, work knowledge, personal interests, etc. muddy up the waters? Obsidian sees the whole vault, doesn’t having all that information in one bucket make unlinked mentions and the graph less useful? It seems like once you reach a certain threshold in number of notes it might be an issue. I was thinking last night it might be useful to have a “hide directory” option in Obsidian to get around, say, not seeing your interest in dog information mixed in with your mental model information. But maybe this isn’t an issue.

  1. Want to have a system that keeps links from breaking
  2. You want a system that gives you easy access to all notes all the time. This is why they tell you not to have multiple zettelkastens. That causes you to fracture your notes, which makes future linking harder.
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@kbrede yes and no. If you think of Luhmann’s zettelkasten as an example, he had 90,000 notes by the time he was finished. I don’t think he manually flipped through all the notes when he wanted to contemplate what notes might connect to his newest note. Instead, I imagine he used his minds spreading activation or looked through the index to spark an idea of where it might connect.

If you connect notes that way, then having all of them together doesn’t really matter. On the plus side, you never know how information will connect. You realize that you create a mental model around the concept of a dog, so those two concepts are tied together in a way.

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I’m also reading the Ahren’s book and at least at this time my understanding is the containers of the notes (folders) matter less than the bottom-up connections of links and top-down organization of index pages you create and manage. In this way I think you can use a note to index your Projects, Areas, Resources… Or a note to index tags and then you can show which tags or notes are actionable.

While I am reading the book I heard about PARA and am curious about it but I don’t see the value of an Archive folder where everything no longer actionable ends up.

I’m thinking of letting index notes provide more top-down organization as needed and I have a hunch this is how Luhmann (spelling?) was able to make use of all his notes, he probably used high-level indexes like a map to get to the right part of town where exploration would be best to start, then non-linear links lead the journey forward.


So BASB also has a second part, which is capturing and progressive summarization. I haven’t taken the course so I’ve only read blog posts about it, but the name is fairly suggestive of what it is.

IMO “progressive summarization” is not as good a method of knowledge creation, especially for original, creative work, compared to Zettelkasten. Presumably, one’s hope is that the later layers of summarization would be more synthesis than summary. Zettelkasten seems more explicit in that respect.

If you delegate content of the work and management of thoughts and information to the method described by Ahrens, then the part that PARA that matters is “PA” like others have said. PA by itself is just GTD with some grouping, which I think one will probably do anyway.


I’ve actually found the idea of “progressive summarization” to be very helpful, though I wouldn’t claim to have much experience with the idea yet. I’ve found that it has made me a better reader, in the sense that I actively highlight passages as I go, then I go back once I’ve read the whole thing and use a combination of the highlighted passages and my own thoughts to summarize the work. This summary becomes its own note in my vault. Now, instead of reading stuff passively, and forgetting it a week or two later, the process of highlighting and summarizing has led to a habit where I now get more out of what I’ve read. In that sense, the method has just produced better reading discipline, which I’m OK with for now.

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With regard to @kbrede’s comment about muddying the waters, I’ve chosen to err on the side of putting everything in my vault – personal, work, deep thoughts – and I’ll let the organization scheme sort it out. Haven’t been doing this long enough to know how it works out, but I have a sense it’ll be fine. There’s ephemeral stuff, like current project meeting notes, which I’ll care about now and for the duration of the project, but then will probably consider to be clutter. I imagine I’ll want to find a way to retire that stuff with an #inactive tag, or something similar, so that it’s not gone, just filtered out (of Graph view, queries, etc.)


If you can easily sort your knowledge into clearly-defined folders, you probably don’t need a Zettelkasten. I couldn’t, so I have benefited from moving most of my PDFs in one big folder in Zotero, and most of my notes into one big folder in Obsidian.
Structure and clarity are emerging as I develop linkages and index notes. I could use tags, but prefer links so I can annotate why I think this note is relevant to the topic, or why I want to keep this image for inspiration.

This would be compatible with my Zettelkasten. Topic-specific folders wouldn’t. I use folders to distinguish note type (i.e. meeting notes, clipped articles) or status (i.e. fleeting vs permanent notes).

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