Sometimes, making a disabled joke is hard work. You have to strike the correct balance, you have to think through the consequences, you have to make it not too niche. And then sometimes, one of the leading thinkers on productivity calls one of his processes the PARA method and you just laugh, and laugh, and laugh.
Tiago Forte’s system of productivity, which he calls Building a Second Brain, is built on this idea that your brain is much better at thinking and doing than it is at holding onto information. Transferring your memory into a second brain—in other words, a digital system—is meant to open up more capacity and take the stress off. Recently, in anticipation of his second book on the topic (which launches today), Forte has been producing a series on his YouTube channel going further in depth about the PARA method.
Rather than standing in for paraplegic—or, as the Paralympic movement will endlessly remind you, alongside—PARA in the productivity context is an acronym that boils down to Project, Area, Resource, Archive. In theory, each thing you’re trying to sort can fit into each of these buckets. Projects are things on a defined timeline—like, shocker, this newsletter or my freelance writing that pays my mortgage. Area is short for areas of responsibility, like your health or different sections of your business. Resources are those things you use to meet your obligations and/or things you want to explore more—for me, that’s learning ASL and French. And the archive is for all of those items that don’t need to be front of mind. This is a very paired down summary, by the way, you can read a longer explanation on Forte’s website.
My immediate though when I came across this method was: are my disabilities a project, an area, a resource, or an archive? And, fortunately (or unfortunately), I’ve come to the conclusion that it is all four. I have projects related to my disabilities—writing a grant for a wheelchair lift on the front of my house and checking in with my GP about my mental health medication, for example. Broadly speaking, it’s an area of responsibility not completely unlike paying my mortgage or finding time to spend with my family. After all, this body and brain keeps score if I don’t pay it enough attention. Shifting over to the resource bucket, there are things I am keen to learn about this body of mine, including how I can ease the transition to winter easier now that I am spending my second cold season in a house that I own. And, speaking of keeping the score, the archive holds within it many good (and bad) lessons about how I should or shouldn’t manage my disabilities.
Now, I’m not sure I need to think about every piece of my body as a type of productivity, there is no value judgement here—at least not in the abstract—but Forte makes a second point when he writes about the PARA method that I think makes incredible sense when it comes to disability and productivity. He argues that a lot of the organizational systems that we learn stem from our school experiences where we were forced to categorize by subject. That broadness, he says, can be incredibly overwhelming when you’re looking for just a small piece of the overall knowledge pie you’ve created.
And a lot of the ways we talk about disability—good, bad, and indifferent—stem from academia. I don’t know too many disabled people with positive grade school experiences, so of course there are the age-old tales of unfollowed plans, ignorant teachers, lawsuits, and arguing. But it goes deeper than that. A lot of the ways we talk about disability are steeped in academic writing in spheres that most of the rank and file disability community will not only never enter into, but may never be interested in. More and more, especially on social media, it’s the highly academic voices that are hogging the microphone. We need to learn about disability outside of this painfully drawn divisions when it comes to disability. There are still, as with any marginalized set of communities, the have and the have nots. Sadly, that line in the sand is too often drawn based on how many theorists you’ve read or how many essays you’ve written.
I have an MFA, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I found value in some of the academic sphere of disability, but it can’t be the be all and end all. Whether you are disabled or not, it’s at least an interesting thought experiment to look at how you see disability through the lens of this PARA method.
And so, just like yesterday, here are some additional resources surrounding the PARA method that may help you unpack further.
I've decided to shift CRPL to a 5 times a week newsletter about productivity as I am fascinated by the topic, am in the early stage of writing a book about it, and want to have a place to think, and write, and create work about this vital area of thinking. Click below to join the daily newsletter and/or to help financially support this project.