Taking advantage of orderly PARA and chaotic Zettelkasten methodologies simultaneously

I am trying to figure out a way to integrate Zettelkasten, a fundamentally top-to-bottom approach without a hierarchy and a PARA system, which uses folders and is a bottom-up approach with a clear order of categories.

I will assume people reading this post are familiar with MOCs, Zettelkasten and PARA methodologies, so I won’t try to explain them.

Should I use a note MOC as an index with categories that act as folders? Not a good solution.

You could use folders for projects, but MOCs for areas and categories?

Do I use folders or MOCs for my areas and resources? Or perhaps both?

I have a folder for storing my Zettelkasten notes. That means I can’t put a Zettelkasten note inside one of the PARA folders. So should I use tags? But I already use tags for other things, Zettelkasten is a large part of my system, and I have tags for different types of Zettelkasten notes: #literature-note, etc.

These are some questions I asked myself. I believe it’s an individual choice which of the systems you’ll use more, but you can benefit from both, and it’s a matter of degree.

It’s about choosing between being orderly and chaotic (in a good sense), and I am leaning towards the latter, but I like organisation too!

What I’d like to do with this topic is to start a discussion, and I’d love to hear your solution and thoughts on the topic!

1 Like

I don’t use PARA and am not super familiar with it, but a Google search reaveals I use something very similar that was probably indirectly ripped off of it. Maybe it’ll be helpful to you.

Here’s a picture of the folder part of my Files tab:


000 Home is kind of defunct, honestly, except that I keep my personal journal in there. Originally it was a launchpad/home page type of thing, but I never used it.

001-002 are different kinds of projects. 001 is classes, 002 is articles and speaking engagements. Could be one folder if I wanted it to be.

003 Seeds are unpolished notes and thoughts, articles to read, etc. Not atomic notes yet, just random junk.

004-006 are different kinds of indices/MOCs. (004 is general topics, 005 are open questions, 006 are controversies that can be expressed as clear yes/no questions). 004 includes life areas (finances, stuff my wife likes, stuff to do with my kids) as well as intellectual topics. I should probably divide that out.

007 Points are atomic notes.

008 Library is literature notes, both bare bibliographic notes and commentary I’ve written about texts (as opposed to atomic notes, which are primarily about ideas).

009 Archive are non-md files. I keep them here so it’s easy to tell my phone not to download them.

So essentially, ignoring the defunct Home note, my categories rae

  • Projects (001, 002)
  • Areas and Topics (004, 005, 006)
  • Notes (003, 007)
  • Resources (008, 009)

Which is, I suppose, kind of a blend of PARA and Zettelkasten.

Also I used to use folder-notes for MOCs and most of them are still in 007 (as you can see by # of files in each folder). I’ll organize that later. Or not.

I also haven’t decided if 005 is a useful category for me.


You might want to look at this thread, which has a lot of interesting discussion on this topic.

I read Forte’s Building a Second Brain a while ago, but I got the impression that the slip box fits best inside the Resources folder, which is what I do. Essentially all of my atomic notes are in Resources, and the other folders are used primarily for projects and other “not knowledge” notes. (Journals and dashboards, for instance)

I also have a “Fleeting” folder in addition to the PARA folders which is where I stage my fleeting notes until I can refactor them.

I’m a big fan of allowing your note structure to evolve organically through links, so MOCs and links are much more important to me than my PARA folders. But I like to have a little more organization in my vault than is typical with Zettelkasten, just as a quality of life thing.


Why is using a note MOC as an index with categories that act as folders not a good solution?

The more I read of these forums, the more I realize there are a lot of terms I don’t understand…I tried looking up MOC and none of the many many hits looked like anything relevant to pkm (another term I had to look up, though at least I’d heard of pim)

But I developed a paper notebook system through years of trial and error and it works pretty well. Putting it into Obsidian makes it work gloriously well. (Thank you all those who built Obsidian and/or put information on the internet on how to use Obsidian.)

I like MOC-as-category much better than folders because a document can have as many parents as you like.

It was however difficult for me to set up a system that works, because any system that requires I get around to finding time to updating things will become an overgrown mess (probably in less than a month).

To me the key is making sure every document has the information it needs to sort itself, so that

  • (a) I can find it from my numbering system, which is what I used before I figured out how to use Obsidian (I sure wish I’d heard of Luhmann before I came up with my own numbering system, his is so much better),
  • (b) I can find it from the amazing graph Obsidian includes, or
  • (c) I can find it using Obsidian’s equally amazing “backlinks” feature.

The information on the document is what categorizes the document. I like it that way because then I can have something be part of more than one category. Using a folder system, I occasionally had to choose which folder to put something in, or make a duplicate - neither solution ever struck me as satisfactory.

I use folders when my “inner sense” warns me that something just feels like it should be kept separate, for various reasons (usually involving either me not fully trusting my reminders/to do system, or me wanting to be able to grab the folder with all of a given thing in one place, to either delete or copy it).