WNW An Area Example

How do areas differ from projects? This article kicks off a series to look at how I work with Areas in side my Where Not What system.

WNW An Area Example

One of the core concepts of Where Not What is that roles should be qual peers with goals. Not everything in life is a goal. Sometimes we have roles that we play, and like projects should align with goals, roles should align with standards.


What are standards? I'm glad you asked. Standards are value and moral driven aims we all have. I think of it this way, a standard is how I want to show up in the world. Standards don't finish. Think about being healthy. When do you want to finish being healthy? Or a key relationship, say being a parent, or a sibling. When do you want that to end?

Goals are good for accomplishments. Standards are good for relationships.

Within PARA we organize our roles into Areas (if you used the folder name Roles - then we would have PRRA and well, that's stupid.), because some standards cover more than just a role we play in life. For example, I want to live in a clean home. That's a standard. So I have an area called "Home".

Standards vs Goals

I hope this will make it clearer how standards compare to goals by using the SMART model for defining goals.

Goal Standard
Specific General
Measurable (Quantitative) Subjective (Qualitative)
Actionable Emotional
Relavent Relational
Timebound Timeless

Not only do standards complement goals, they can also inform them, and shape them. Goals trigger two key hormones, dopamine, and cortisol. Goals trigger reward and stress. Standards in contrast cultivate oxytocin, and serotonin. Those are the hormones of connection and joy. We need all four to thrive.

How it Works

How this works, Is that when I am going to start a new "Area" of my life, then I start a new Area folder in my notebase.

The best example I have right now is that I'm going to be president of the Entrepreneurs Organization, a volunteer position with a roughly 2-½ commitment.

While it will end, it will not end soon. (I'm 18 months in with another 12 to go). Once I realize that I am going to be going into this new role, I create a folder called Area - EO President, and just like with a project, I make a home note.

The home note for an area is formatted differently from a project plan, but you can begin to see the practice is very similar.

  1. Create a new folder.
  2. Create a base, or home note for the folder (using a template)
  3. Fill out the template.
  4. Start aggregating information

That's it. Same as a project.

If you glance at my Areas folder, you will see multiple Areas / Roles.

Why do folder names start with Area -?
Because when I finish with an area, I will move it to the 4 Archives folder. If I don't put the Area prefix on a folder everything is likely to get mixed together and will be harder to find. Prepending any folder with its group makes it easier to track down and recover from the archives.

Here's quick run down of what you're looking at In the image above:

  1. Area - Better Thinking: This could be a resource but I decided I wanted to have an area of my life that captured my best thinking and mental models as a part of my life.
  2. Area - Brompton: I am a member of the "Brompton Mafia", (an owner of a British foldable bike), and I haul it all over the world to ride.
  3. Area - Business Coach: What it sounds like. I coach small business owners.
  4. Area - EO: I am a member of EO, so my notes about being a member are organized here.
  5. Area - EO President: This will be my example for exploring areas, but this is the role I'm taking for 2-½ years.
  6. Area - Executive: I am the CEO of two companies.
  7. Area - Faith: Thoughts, journal entries, resources and notes on my faith.
  8. Area - Family: I'm a son, a brother, an nephew and a cousin. (I have a separate area for Father, and Husband)
  9. Area - Father: I am the parent of 3 amazing children.

The list goes on and on, but one thing I do like about the PARA system, is the moment you open a top level folder, like Projects, or Areas, simply looking at that list is a refresher to what is important to you. The folders themselves are reminders of your priorities, interests, and values.

In the next article we'll dig into the Area Template, and what kinds of information I tend to aggregate in Area folders.