Building a Second Brain

Building a Second Brain

Author
Tiago Forte
Year
2022
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Review

Disclaimer → I’ve had a Second Brain of my own (powered by Notion) for a few years now. I’ve followed Tiago for a long time - and probably read more than a books’ worth of his articles online.

I strongly recommend this book. Finally I have a book I can share that articulates why I’m building a second brain and why it’s such an advantage. I love how Tiago describes the flow of ideas (Capture, Organise, Distill and Express) → and how a Second Brain compounds the power of ideas and makes them actionable. The concept of work being intermediate packets → that can be reused later is a revelation.

Tiago is the authority on this stuff, even though I don’t follow his exact approach - he articulates the trade-offs of different designs really well.

My approach is different - if you’re interested…
  • Tiago anchors on files and folders. I use Notion - where the main units are blocks not files - and Tiago’s approach doesn’t make as much sense in that paradigm.
  • I don’t follow PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive). My hierarchy doesn’t differentiate between Projects, Areas and Resources.
  • I use tagging heavily. Although in Notion some of my tags are entities (e.g people, companies, resources and projects) while others are workflows (status). This allows for more depth and many more useful views.

Read this book - so you can make informed choices about personal knowledge management.

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Key Takeaways

The 20% that gave me 80% of the value.

  • We are an inflection point - it’s possible to integrate our biological brains with technology and think outside the brain. Being able to build and utilise a second brain is going to be a skill that sets people apart.
  • Digital notes can be searched, organised, backed up and synced across devices. You can hold ideas in perfect fidelity, in exchange for a slight lag in response time.
  • Cultivate a body of knowledge that’s uniquely our own. Use it to tackle your big challenges. Save your besting thinking to reduce rework. Connect ideas in new ways. Share your work more easily.
  • There’s an art to packaging information up and passing it through time to your future self.
  • Structure your knowledge in small blocks (like LEGO) so they can be re-used, assembled and rearranged into new forms.
    • Create once → use forever → mix and match different combinations
  • 4 Key Capabilities of a Second Brain:
    1. Make ideas concrete
    2. Reveals new associations between ideas
    3. Incubates ideas over time (making time your friend not your enemy)
    4. Sharpens our unique perspective
  • The CODE Method: 4 Steps to Remembering What Matters (and sharing it ELSE why bother?)
    • Capture what resonates
    • Organise - Save for Actionability
    • Distill - Find the Essence (think of yourself as a giver of notes, help your future self)
    • Express - Show Your Work
  • Shift as much of your time and effort as possible from consuming to creating
  • Capture only: inspirational, useful, personal or surprising information
  • Define up to 12 problems you’re interested in solving during your lifetime → capture things that help you solve them
  • Value is not evenly distributed in content → Be a picky curator
  • Are you capturing the right stuff? The best test - is are you using it later on?
  • As a rule → capture only about 10% of information (each round)
  • Organise information based on how actionable it is - not what kind of information it is. Tiago recommends therefore a hierarchy of…
    • PARA - Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.
    • Projects
      Short-term efforts in work or life. · Time-bound → they have beginning and an end · Specific and clear outcome · E.g. Design and launch a website
      Areas (of responsibility)
      Long-term responsibilities → committed to over time · no goal to reach - but a standard you want to uphold · E.g. Personal Finance, health, people,
      Resources
      Topics or interests that may be useful in future · What topics are you interested in? · What subjects are you researching? · What useful information do you want to be able to reference?
      Archive
      Inactive items from the other categories · Things that are completed, cancelled or put on hold · Things that are no longer relevant
    • When you take a note - decide where to store it using this decision tree →
      • Is this useful for an active project?
      • Is this useful for an active Area?
      • Is this useful as a resource?
      • OR Archive
  • Organising isn’t the goal - using information is the goal.
  • Keep capture and organise as two distinct steps → push everything to an inbox first, so it’s frictionless
  • If you don’t distill - the more notes you collect the less discoverable they are
  • Use Progressive Summarisation
    • Essentially highlight the main points of a text - then highlight the main points of those highlights, and so on..
    • Each of these layers uses a different kind of formatting so you can easily tell them apart. E.g…
      1. Save only the relevant bits
      2. Bold the most important parts
      3. Highlight the best of the bold
      4. Add an exec summary at the top (only if the note is really useful)
    • You can do the steps at different times - during breaks, it doesn’t take much energy
  • Don’t highlight too much, highlight without a purpose OR overthink it.
  • Stigmergy = leaving “marks” on the environment that make your future efforts easier. Ant colonies use it.
  • Attention is our most scarce and precious resource → Strategically allocating attention is a competitive advantage
  • The more packets you have the easier it is to build something → start your next project with a set of building blocks that represent your long-term effort to make sense of your industry
  • Think of everything as intermediate packets of work:
    • Distilled notes (progressively summarised)
    • Outtakes from previous projects
    • Work in process stuff - artefacts used and created on the way to completing past projects
    • Deliverables from previous projects
    • Knowledge assets created by others around you (keep best practice WGLL)
  • Benefits of Intermediate packets
    1. Robust to interruption - as you’re only working on a small thing
    2. Make progress in small amounts of time (make us of odd moments)
    3. Quality of your work increases as you can get feedback more often
    4. Eventually you’ll have enough intermediate packets to create entire projects just by assembling them
  • Assembling building blocks is the secret to frictionless output
    • You can acquire building blocks from elsewhere!
  • Instead of thinking of your work as tasks → think of it as an opportunity to create packets that you can later use as building blocks and assemble into something that can propel you forward
  • Start thinking several steps beyond what you’re consuming to consider its ultimate potential
  • Each time you start a new project → leverage your second brain and your intermediate packets
  • With the power of a Second Brain behind you - you can do and be anything you want.
  • Everything is just information - and you can master the flow of it and how to shape it
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Deep Summary

Longer form notes, typically condensed, reworded and de-duplicated.

Part 1 - The Foundation

The Second Brain System
  • How many ideas have we lost before actioning them?
  • Often insights aren’t immediately actionable. We consume them at the wrong time.
  • We need to package up information and send it through time to our future self
  • Cultivate a body of knowledge that’s uniquely our own - use that to help tackle our big challenges.
  • Starts with writing things down.
What a Second Brain Enables
  • Rapid retrieval of important insights
  • Mobilisation of insights → to help achieve goals
  • Save your best thinking → reduce rework
  • Connect ideas in powerful new ways
  • Share your work more easily
  • Offload your ideas - no burden of memorisation
  • Less time looking, more time creating

From storage medium → to a tool for thinking.

Personal knowledge management is a challenge but also a massive opportunity. Those who successfully adopt a second brain system are going to have a massive advantage. Those who rely on their fragile biological brains will be left behind.

A second brain is like a bicycle for the mind.

Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them. David Allen - Getting Things Done

Author on a personal mission to make the most of what he knew. Chats became a book club, which became a workshop, which became a paid class.

2) What is a second brain?
Information is the fundamental building block of everything you do
  • Your success depends on your ability to mange information effectively.
  • We’re in the information age and it’s overwhelming us.
    • 26% of our working day is spent looking for and consolidating information.
    • 44% of the time we don’t find what we’re looking for
  • Outsource your memory → you can’t memorise everything you need
  • To get the most out of machine memory - you need a system
  • Leonardo da Vinci and others recorded the ideas they found most interesting in a book they carried around with them, known as a “commonplace book.”
    • A learning tool that helped him understand the world
  • How commonplace books worked
    • Broke ideas into fragments - to be rearranged into new patterns.
    • Reading and writing were therefore inseparable activities.
    • Used to make sense of things - you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.
  • What if we consumed less - AND reread, reformulate and remix ideas more
  • A digital commonplace book → what I call a Second Brain.
  • Digital notes can be searched, organised, backed up and synced across devices
  • A Second Brain is a private knowledge collection designed to serve a lifetime of learning
    • A place to develop and prioritise your thinking → before sharing with others
2a) Notes are Knowledge Building Blocks
  • A knowledge building block is a discrete unit of information interpreted through your unique perspective and stored outside your head.
  • Knowledge building blocks can be combined into better bigger things (proposal, report, story etc)
  • Like LEGO they can be re-used, assembled and rearranged into new forms
    • Create once → use forever → mix and match different combinations
  • Technology transforms the nature of notes.
    • Less fragile
    • More searchable
    • Available everywhere
    • Faster to collect
  • Your Second Brain can increase your self awareness and help you identify ideas worth acting on
  • Your mind becomes intertwined with the system - it’s more than your memory
    • You’ll see you have everything you need to get the future you want
    • There’s no need to do more research. Take action.
  • We are at the inflection point - we can integrate our biological brains with technology. It’s possible to think outside the brain.
What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention Herbert Simon
3) How a Second Brain Works
  • Your Second Brain is a personal assistant - providing 4 key capabilities
  1. Makes ideas concrete
    • Off-load ideas - put them in concrete form
    • Declutter our brain - so we can work on those ideas
    • We can turn concepts into tangible entities - the can then be edited and combined in new ways
  2. Reveals new associations between ideas
    • Creativity is about connecting ideas - recognising relationships and associations
    • Your experience will bring a unique perspective
    • Keeping diverse material in one place facilitates the connections
  3. Incubates ideas over time
    • You can only use the ideas you have access to in the moment. This creates recency bias.
    • The second brain allows ideas to live forever - ideas can develop slowly
    • Having a Second Brain where lots of ideas can be permanently saved for the long term turns the passage of time into your friend, instead of your enemy. Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain
  4. Sharpens our unique perspective
    • We need to be able to advance a particular point of view - and persuade others to adopt it. For that we need supporting material - which your Second Brain will be great at.
  • Writers block can be overcome - you’ll always have some raw material to start with.

Your Second Brain should be in a digital notes app because:

  • Multi-Modal - you can store different types of content - so there’s only one place to look
  • Informal - no need for perfect presentation - you want things to be frictionless
  • Open-ended - taking notes never ends, you want something that allows freeform input. Don’t work in software designed to produce outputs
  • Action-oriented: Notes don’t have to be comprehensive or precise. Designed for frictionless capture, so you can get on with more important things

Personal Knowledge Management Stages

  • Remembering: using your SB (Second Brain) as a memory aid
  • Connecting: using your SB as a thinking tool - connecting ideas together
  • Creating: turn your knowledge and perspective into something concrete and sharable.

The CODE Method: 4 Steps to Remembering What Matters

  • Capture what resonates
    • We are immersed in an information stream - we can’t consume it all - some of it is useful and interesting.
    • Capture only noteworthy ideas.
    • Train yourself to notice when something resonates
  • Organise - Save for Actionability
    • Don’t try to recreate a folder system with a ‘Dewey Decimal’ type of hierarchy. Avoid rigid and prescriptive methods - they’re too time consuming
    • Don’t organise by subject - organise by project. Prioritise actionability.
    • Q: How will this help me move forward a project?
  • Distill - Find the Essence
    • Once capturing and organising you’ll notice patterns and connections
    • Distilling notes to their essence accelerates this - summarising so that the main point in clear dramatically increases the chance that note is going to be useful to you later
    • Q: How can I make this as useful as possible for my future self?
    • Don’t think of yourself as a taker of notes,
    • Think of yourself not just as a taker of notes, but as a giver of notes—you are giving your future self the gift of knowledge that is easy to find and understand Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain
  • Express - Show Your Work
    • The previous steps are geared towards sharing your ideas with others.
    • What’s the point of knowledge if you
    • Don’t fall into the trap of doing the research - but not putting forward a point of view
    • Information becomes knowledge only when we put it to use
    • Shift as much of your time and effort as possible from consuming to creating Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain
    • You’re already doing most of the work required - be a little more deliberate about information management and creating

Part 2 - CODE

4) Capture - What Resonates
Everything not saved will be lost Nintendo quit screen message.
  • It’s our responsibility to choose our information diet - you are what you consume
  • The SB allows us to curate only the very best ideas we encounter
  • Seed your knowledge garden with only the most interesting insights
  • Taylor Swift - writes on her phone, she captures inspiration throughout the day. Has to be quick and easy to capitalise on the excitement.
  • Jerry Seinfeld - kept all of his standup notes - recognises how valuable they are

What kind of information is worth preserving?

  • Knowledge assets often show up as “content” (text, bookmarks, snippets, podcasts)
  • Collect external information and document your own thoughts
  • A knowledge asset is anything that can be used in the future to solve a problem, save time, illuminate a concept, or learn from past experience Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain
  • The meaning of a thought isn’t always clear. They need to be revisited, viewed from a fresh perspective, remixed - that’s much easier with a SB
  • Your SB should be private by default - but it’s easy to share if you want
Does it Inspire me?
Inspiration is rare - so if your’s is sparked, capture it
Is it useful?
Somethings are useful but not inspirational.
Is it personal?
Your own thoughts, reflections and memories. Wisdom gained from conversations, mistakes, victories, and lessons learned.
Is it surprising?
If something is surprising - it has potential to change how we think. Don’t just look for ideas which confirm your way of thinking. Saving ideas that contradict yours can stop you jumping to conclusions and help you build better arguments.
What not to keep in your Second Brain
  • Sensitive information
  • Files with special formats that need to be handled by dedicated apps
  • Very large files
  • Things you need to collaborate on heavily
Twelve Favourite Problems
  • Feynman maintained a list of 12 open problems - When reading new papers he checked their relevance to his 12 problems
    • This helps make connections across seemingly unrelated subjects
  • List your 12 favourite problems
  • What are the questions that you’ve always been interested in?
  • Examples
    • “How can I make it a habit to exercise every day?”
    • “How can I spend more of my time doing high-value work?”
    • What does it look like to move from mindless consumption to mindful creation?
    • How can I make decisions with more confidence?
  • Make sure they’re open-ended and trigger your curiosity
  • They are likely to stay constant over time
  • The goal isn’t to answer the question - but guide your learning

Capture Criteria: How to Avoid Keeping Too Much (or Too Little)

  • Value is not evenly distributed in content - some parts will be more valuable to you
    • Therefore extract the material that’s most relevant in a succinct note
  • Be a picky curator - judge what information you let into your life.
  • Most people save too much - the less you save the less time spent organising, distilling, and expressing it

Ultimately, Capture What Resonates

  • To make reading a habit - make it effortless and enjoyable
  • Resonance is an emotion - a feeling that tells you when something is noteworthy
  • If time slows down - that’s a sign
  • Capture key information about the source of a note (URL, author, publisher, date). Chapter title, headings and lists help too
  • You can have many capture tools - but route everything back to your second brain, where you can pull everything together and act on them
    • YT videos automatically generate a transcript - allowing you to copy and paste text

The Surprising Benefits of Externalising Our Thoughts

  • Ideas occur at random times
  • Quickly grab them - park them in a waiting area for safekeeping
  • Generation Effect - you’re more likely to remember something you’ve written in your own words.
    • Writing enriches thinking
  • Set ideas aside - take time to absorb and integrate them into your thinking
  • Once outside our head - we can play with them, and make them better

What Would This Look Like If It Was Easy?

  • Capturing should be effortless - second nature - conserve time and energy for the later steps
  • Are you capturing the right stuff? The best test - is are you using it later on
  • Capture only about 10% of a source at a time
5) Organise - Save for Actionability
  • Creating a simple container gives you a place to start a project. Containers help us collect, group, share and store ideas
  • The Cathedral Effect - your environment changes how you think
  • Design your digital environment - think of how much time you spend there
  • Shape your virtual space to support what you want to achieve
  • Escape the world - when you enter your Second Brain
  • Goal - take the insight you’ve captured - organise it in a space where you can do your best thinking
  • Organise for action - most people get this wrong
  • We want our setup to scale positively - more notes make it easier to get value out (not harder)
  • Organising by project is easy - and it has a bias for action - using your notes now

PARA - Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.

Organise information based on how actionable it is - not what kind of information it is

Placement Decision Tree

  • Is this useful for an active project?
  • Is this useful for an active Area?
  • Is this useful as a resource?
  • Archive

Projects become the main unit of organisation - we want to use information fast

  • In which project will this be the most useful?
  • Organising your information to support your current projects and goals - put it to work on your active projects.

Don’t treat the process of organising as an end in itself. It’s not the goal of your SB

Projects
Short-term efforts in work or life. · Time-bound → they have beginning and an end · Specific and clear outcome · E.g. Design and launch a website
Areas (of responsibility)
Long-term responsibilities → committed to over time · no goal to reach - but a standard you want to uphold · E.g. Personal Finance, health, people,
Resources
Topics or interests that may be useful in future · What topics are you interested in? · What subjects are you researching? · What useful information do you want to be able to reference?
Archive
Inactive items from the other categories · Things that are completed, cancelled or put on hold · Things that are no longer relevant
  • Not everything is a project. Areas are things like ‘finance’ that are important but never done.
  • Keep capture and organise as two distinct steps
    • You don’t have to know where a note is going or what it means at the moment of capture
    • Capture what resonates in the moment - organise it later
    • Therefore you should have some sort of inbox - which is a waiting are for new ideas to live until they can be digested into your second brain
  • PARA is ordered by actionability - helps fight procrastination
  • Mise en place (putting in place). Kitchens are designed and organised to support an outcome - preparing a meal as efficiently as possible - our notes should be organised that way too
  • Organise ideas by where they are going (and the outcomes they can help you with) - not where they’ve come from.
  • If your system is working - its going to have an impact on your goals and projects
  • PARA isn’t a filing system → it’s a production system.
    • The system shifts and changes with your life
    • As life changes quickly - we don’t want to invest too much time in filing, labelling, tagging, and maintaining
    • The purpose of a note changes over time as your needs and goals change
  • Creating things is what really matters - you need a clear workspace to create
  • Completing projects keeps your SB relevant
  • Creative wins - provide momentum.

Move quickly - touch lightly

  • Don’t brute force your productivity
  • Set your intention - gather sources of leverage that allow you to accomplish things with minimal effort
  • Look for the path of least resistance → move down it one step at a time

Identify your projects:

  • What’s on your mind?
  • What’s in your calendar?
  • What’s in your to-do list?
  • What’s in your emails, downloads, desktop, browser tabs, bookmarks

Para is dynamic - not static. Your SB evolves with your goals

6) Distill - Find the Essence GOT TO HERE
Godfather Prompt Book Anecdote 🎥
  • Coppola initially turned down the Godfather project
  • He used a “prompt book” to shape the film
    • he read the novel - capturing the parts that resonated with him in a notebook
    • his prompt book became a thinking tool
    • He added his own interpretations, distilling and reconstituting his own version of the story
    • Braking down each scene into 5 criteria:
      • A synopsis (or summary)
      • historical context
      • imagery and tone / look and feel
      • core intention
      • pitfalls to avoid
    • Trying to distill the essence of each scene into a sentence - expressing the point of it
    • The book became a roadmap when directing the film
  • On writing in the margin - “the more pens I was using and the more rulers, and the more squiggly lines, sort of implied the excitement of the book was higher and higher, so that the sheer amount of ink on the page would tell me later on this is one of the most important scenes.”
  • We can gather building blocks from research that ultimately make the final product richer, more interesting, and more impactful.

Quantum Notetaking: How to Create Notes for an Unknown Future

  • You many only have a few seconds to capture a note - but you need to refine them before they can be valuable knowledge assets
  • Separate the capturing and organising from distilling and expressing
    • You may have to capture a note quickly
    • BUT you have to come back to refine it before it’s useful
  • You’re passing packets of knowledge through time to your future self
  • Goal as a notetaker: preserve your notes so insights can survive the journey into the future.
  • Building your excitement and enthusiasm over time

Discoverability—The Missing Link in Making Notes Useful

  • For notes to survive the journey into the future they need to be discoverable
  • People often get discoverability wrong
  • To improve discoverability - highlighting the most important points
  • Imagine your future being impatient and very busy
  • If you don’t distill - the more notes you collect the less discoverable they are
  • Effective Communication = Distilling your message down to the key points and action steps

The Progressive Summarisation Technique

  • Highlight the main points of a note - then highlight the main points of those highlights, and so on
  • Each of these layers uses a different kind of formatting so you can easily tell them apart. E.g…
    1. Save only the relevant bits
    2. Bold the most important parts
    3. Highlight the best of the bold
    4. Add an exec summary at the top (only if the note is really useful)
  • You can do the steps at different times - during breaks, it doesn’t take much energy
  • When searching - speed is everything - the faster you can move through your notes the more ides you’ll be able to connect.
  • Layers of Progressive Summarisation allow you to interact with your notes at different levels of depth (like being able to zoom in and out)
  • Information is largely preserved - but you’re getting to the essence of what matters
  • Spend less time labelling, tagging, linking
  • Progressive Summarization is not a method for remembering as much as possible—it is a method for forgetting as much as possible.
  • To be clear, it takes skill and courage to let the details fall away.
Picasso Anecdote
  • 1945 - Picasso’s Bull is a master class in how distillation works.
  • Picasso preserved each step of the process
  • Ending with a drawing that is nothing but a single, continuous stroke, which somehow still manages to capture the very essence of the bull
  • Mistake 1: Highlighting Too Much
    • Less is more. If you capture everything - you’re capturing nothing
    • Don’t include every detail
    • Each layer should include just 10–20 percent of the previous layer.
  • Mistake #2: Highlighting Without a Purpose in Mind
    • Do the highlighting when you’re getting ready to create something
    • Assume a note won’t necessarily ever be useful - until you know it will be
  • Mistake #3: Making Highlighting Difficult
    • Don’t over think it - rely on your intuition
  • Keep Your Future Self in Mind
Distilling makes our ideas small and compact, so we can load them up into our minds with minimal effort Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain
  • When it’s time to do your best work - the research should already be done
  • Stigmergy = leaving “marks” on the environment that make your future efforts easier. Ant colonies use it.
  • Paradox of writing: do the research before you know what to write about. =
7) Express
Octavia E. Butler - Creating an alter ego
  • Estelle created an alter ego for herself ‘Octavia’ - she made her powerful and assertive. She took on part-time jobs that allowed her to maintain her routine of waking before dawn each morning to write.
  • Octavia made three rules for herself:
    • Don’t leave your home without a notebook, paper scraps, something to write with.
    • Don’t walk into the world without your eyes and ears focused and open.
    • Don’t make excuses about what you don’t have or what you would do if you did, use that energy to “find a way, make a way.”
  • “Use what you have; even if it seems meager, it may be magic in your hands”
  • Attention is our most scarce and precious resource
  • Strategically allocating attention is a competitive advantage
  • Out of 24 hours - how many are high quality?
  • Attention can be destroyed - by distractions, interruptions, and environments that don’t protect it
  • We must recycle knowledge back into a system where it can become useful again
    • What knowledge assets will be reusable in future?
    • What are the building blocks of your projects?
  • How can you package knowledge into a form that you can revisit it again and again
  • Test what ideas work → Express them earlier, more frequently and in smaller chunks
  • Intermediate Packets - Thinking Small
    • Dividing tasks isn’t enough - you then need a system for managing those pieces
    • Small pieces of work-in-process are called “Intermediate Packets.”
      • They are concrete, individual building blocks that make up your work.
    • Like LEGO blocks, the more pieces you have, the easier it is to build something interesting
    • Start your next project with a set of building blocks that represent your long-term effort to make sense of your industry
  • Reusing Intermediate Packets frees up attention for creative thinking.
  • 5 Kinds of intermediate packets:
    • Distilled notes (progressively summarised)
    • Outtakes from previous projects
    • Work in process stuff - artefacts used and created on the way to completing past projects
    • Deliverables from previous projects
    • Knowledge assets created by others around you (keep best practice WGLL)
  • Cite your sources and give credit. Point to your sources - stand on the shoulders of giants
  • Benefits of Intermediate packets
    1. Robust to interruption - as you’re only working on a small thing
    2. Make progress in small amounts of time (make us of odd moments)
    3. Quality of your work increases as you can get feedback more often
    4. Eventually you’ll have enough intermediate packets to create entire projects just by assembling them 🔥
  • Assembling building blocks is the secret to frictionless output
    • You can acquire building blocks from elsewhere!
    • There are best practices for almost everything you’re trying to do
  • Tour ability to quickly tap these creative assets and combine them into something new will make all the difference to your life
  • How can you find and retrieve Intermediate Packets when you need them?
    • There are 4 major retrieval methods:
    • Search - fast and effortless (but you need to know what you’re looking for)
    • Browsing - hone in slowly - starting general and getting more specific. You can sort information which allows you to browse it in different ways.
    • Tags - connect different notes by tag - good for making connections between siloed notes. It takes too much energy to tag everything - so use search most of the time
    • Serendipity - Can’t be forced - we just create the ideal conditions.
      • Make sure everything you capture gets into your SB
      • Keep your focus broad - look around for similar projects, areas
      • Save images too
      • Share ideas with others
  • Three Stages of Expressing: Remembering, Connecting, and Creating
    • Remember: Retrieve exactly what you / somebody else needs
    • Connect: Use Notes to Tell a Bigger Story
    • Create: Complete Projects and Accomplish Goals Stress-Free
  • Creativity is inherently collaborative. Intermediate Packets are more shareable and collaborative. Often you’re too close to it to see it objectively
  • Once you understand how incredibly valuable feedback is, you start to crave as much of it as you can find.
  • Everything Is a Remix - No one creates anything out of a pure void. BUT take only parts of other peoples work
  • Instead of thinking of your work as tasks → think of it as an opportunity to create packets that you can later use as building blocks and assemble into something that can propel you forward 🔥 💯
  • Every artefact you create is part of your body of work
  • Ideas are only thoughts until put into action. Turn your knowledge into action.
  • Once you start creating and storing packets - you’ll start looking for venues to talk about them
  • Start thinking several steps beyond what you’re consuming to consider its ultimate potential 🔥 💯
You have to value your ideas enough to share them. You have to believe that the smallest idea has the potential to change people’s lives Tiago Forte - Building a Second Brain

Part 3 - Making things happen

8) The Art of Creative Execution
  • Habit and routine can enable your creativity. Rigorous routine can allow you to pursue his creative calling (when your life is busy)
    • Create your own strategies to integrate creativity into your life
      • Habit stack, quickly get into the mindset, have materials ready
  • Innovation requires a routine that systematically brings interesting ideas to the surface
  • Standardising the way you work enables you to make improvements over time
  • CODE helps you practice the basic moves of knowledge work
  • The creative process is ancient and unchanging. Divergence and convergence
    • Creation follows the same simple pattern, alternating back and forth between divergence and convergence
    • Divergence → Open up to possibilities consider many options. Generate new ideas, spontaneous, chaotic and messy. Can’t be planned easily - time to wander. As powerful and necessary as divergence is, if all we ever do is diverge, then we never arrive anywhere
    • Convergence → start discarding possibilities and converging toward a solution. Focus on eliminating options, making trade-offs, and deciding what is truly essential. It is about narrowing the range of possibilities so that you can make forward progress and end up with a final result you are proud of.
      • This is why product is just about trade-offs
  • CODE aligns to the creative process
    • Divergence: Capture and Organise
    • Convergence: Distill and Express
  • It’s always tempting to do more research - as it feels productive

Three Stages of Completing Creative Projects

  1. Start with an Archipelago of Ideas
    • Start each project with a set of idea islands - now all you have to do is build the bridges between the islands
    • Gather a group of ideas, sources, or points that will form the backbone of your essay, presentation, or deliverable.
      • Copy only the relevant sections of text
    • Then switch decisively into convergence mode and link them together in an order that makes sense.
    • Essentially - this is digital outlining. It can include more detail, its multi-modal, searchable and accessible from everywhere
    • This approach separates selection and sequencing. These are different brain modes.

2. The Hemingway Bridge: Use Yesterday’s Momentum Today

  • Hemingway would always end a writing session only when he knew what came next in the story. So when he sat down to work - he knew exactly where to start. He built himself a bridge to the next day, using today’s energy and momentum to fuel tomorrow’s writing.
  • Reserve the last few minutes of a working session to write
    • next steps, biggest challenge, most important open question, future roadblocks, details you don’t want to forget. Set an intention for the next session - might include a milestone you want to reach.
    • This gives you a rich set of jumping off points when you return to the work

3. Dial Down the Scope: Ship Something Small and Concrete

  • Dial down the scope of a project to make it more manageable
  • Collect the scraps from the cutting-room floor that got postponed or removed in your Second Brain.
    • As nothing is wasted - you can be more ruthless with scope
    • Divergence and convergence are a loop - you can always go around again
  • There is always a smaller, simpler version that can deliver much of the value in a fraction of the time

Move fast and make things (How it works)

  • Pick a project you want to move forward.
  • Outline your goals, intentions, questions, and considerations for the project.
  • Write anything already on your mind
  • Peruse PARA categories for related notes and Intermediate Packets - get all the potentially usable material in one place
    • Book or article experts that would be good inspiration?
    • Websites that might have resources you could build upon?
    • Podcasts by experts you could listen to while doing other things?
    • Are there relevant IPs from previous projects?
  • Set a timer (20 mins) see if you can complete a first pass on your project using only the what you have
    • Turn those ideas into an artefact - a plan, an agenda, a proposal, a diagram
  • You’ll be tempted to more research - resist
  • Question: What is the smallest version of this I can produce to get useful feedback from others?”
  • If you can’t complete the first iteration in one sitting - build a Hemmingway bridge.
  • Share as early as possible - pick a venue you feel comfortable with
  • If you feel resistance - dial down the scope
9) The Essential Habits of Digital Organisers
  • The SB system balances order and creativity
  • Being organised is a habit
The Mise-en-Place Way to Sustainable Productivity
  • Chefs have high demands on both the quality and quantity of their output - similar to knowledge workers
  • Chefs can’t stop to clean up - they learn to clean and tidy as they go. Small habits like putting things back in the same place, wiping a knife clean immediately after use, laying out ingredients in order - so they act as placeholders.
  • Chefs use mise en place—a philosophy and mindset embodied in a set of practical techniques—as their “external brain.” (Location 2623)
  • Life won’t gift you time to re-organise your second brain
  • Get the most out of your SB by adopting habits - so it remains functional and relevant
  • Creates boundaries around time, space and intention

Three key habits - the maintenance schedule for your Second Brain

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1) Project Checklists: Start and finish with consistency - make the most of past work
  • Project Checklist are the key to starting a knowledge flywheel
  • Information → Results
  • We need a feedback loop to recycle knowledge from past projects
  • Invest your attention → get knowledge → reinvest into your next venture
  • This makes knowledge grow and compound over time
  • Project Kickoff Checklist and Project Completion Checklist will standardise this process
  • Project Kickoff Checklist (like a preflight checklist for pilots)
    1. 1. Capture my current thinking on the project.
      • What do I already know about this project?
      • What don’t I know that I need to find out?
      • What is my goal or intention?
      • Who can I talk to who might provide insights?
      • What can I read or listen to for relevant ideas?
      2. Review folders (or tags) that might contain relevant notes
      3. Search for related terms across all folders
      • Your previous curation really helps here
      • Run a series of searches for terms related to the new project
        • Quickly scan notes that might be relevant
        • Progressive Summarisation speeds this up
      4. Move (or tag) relevant notes to the project folder.
      • Move notes to the newly created project folder
      • Or tag/link relevant notes
      5. Create an outline of collected notes and plan the project
      • Create an outline (an Archipelago of Ideas) for the project.
    2. Within 20 minutes - you’ll have a plan
    3. More Kickoff Checklist Items
      • Pre-mortem questions
        • What do you want to learn?
        • What’s the most important question?
        • What is the greatest source of uncertainty?
        • What is most likely to fail?
      • Communicate with stakeholders:
        • Explain what the project is about and why it matters
      • Define success criteria:
        • What needs to happen for this project to be considered successful?
        • What are the minimum results you need to achieve, or the “stretch goals” you’re striving for?
      • Have an official kickoff:
        • Schedule calls, make a budget, make a timeline
        • Write goals and objectives
        • Do a RACI or DICE
        • Doing an official kickoff can be useful for solo projects too!
  • Project Completion Checklist
    • Take steps to decide if there are any reusable knowledge assets worth keeping, before archiving the rest
    • The Checklist :
    • Mark the project as complete and move to archive
    • Review Intermediate Packets and move them to other folders.
    • Take time to reflect
      • Were you successful? Did you hit your goals?
      • What factors led to success/failure?
      • What factors led to that success? How can I double down on these?
      • If I fell short, what happened? What can I learn or change to avoid making the same mistakes next time?
    • Identify Intermediate Packets that could be repurposed in the future
    • More Completion Checklist Items
      • Postmortem questions: What did you learn? What did you do well? What could you have done better? What can you improve for next time?
      • Communicate with stakeholders that the project is complete and what the outcomes were.
      • Evaluate success criteria: Were the objectives of the project achieved? Why or why not? What was the return on investment?
      • Close out the project and celebrate: Send the last emails, feedback forms etc then celebrate your accomplishments with your team
  • The checklists don’t need to make work rigid and formulaic - but make the most of what you’ve learn
2) Weekly and Monthly Reviews: Periodically review work and life and decide if you want to change anything
  • The Review Habit: Batch process your notes
  • A Weekly Review Template: Reset to Avoid Overwhelm
    • Write down new TODOs
    • Review active projects
    • Decide on priorities for upcoming week
    • Review notes you’ve created over the past week - give them better titles that hint to what’s inside
    • Sort notes into PARA folders
    • Clear email inbox
    • Check calendar
    • Clear desktop
    • Clear notes inbox
    • Choose tasks for the week
  • This takes just a few seconds per note.
  • A Monthly Review Template: Reflect for Clarity and Control
    • Review and update my goals
    • Review and update my project list
    • Review my areas of responsibility
    • Review someday/maybe tasks
    • Reprioritise tasks
3) Noticing Habits: Notice small opportunities to edit, highlight, or move notes to make them more discoverable
  • Start engineering luck
  • Act on your noticing habits
    • when content is worth capturing
    • when a note can be made more actionable or discoverable
    • when an idea you have is worth capturing
    • highlighting what resonates
    • rewording a title
    • move a note to another project
    • when to combine two or more Intermediate Packets into something new
    • when to merge ideas
    • when you could share an idea with somebody else
  • Organising doesn’t need to be heavy lift
  • The more time you spend in your second brain - the more you’ll notice these opportunities. You’ll create an environment that works for you
  • Missing a few weeks or months isn’t a problem - its all still going to be there
  • The best ideas come around again
  • Your SB inbox doesn’t need to be a zero inbox. PARA is very forgiving.
10) The Path of Self-Expression
  • Sharing ideas makes them more complex, interesting, and likely to resonate with others
  • For most of history - the challenge was to acquire scarce information. Now we’re overwhelmed with access to information - our challenge is closing the information stream and getting something done.
  • Knowledge is our most important asses - deploying our attention our most valuable skill 🔥
    • Our tools are now ideas, insights, facts, frameworks, and mental models
  • Our success depends on making use of information more effectively
  • Build a second brain and your biological one will inevitably change.
    • Become calmer - knowing every idea is tracked
    • More focused - knowing thoughts can be put hold and accessed later
    • More conviction - for your goals, as theres a system amplifying their intent
  • You will view the world through the lens abundance - not scarcity
    • More isn’t always better
    • Don’t guard your information share it
    • Our value and self-worth come from what we know and can recite on command
  • The paradox of hoarding: no matter how much we collect and accumulate, it’s never enough.
  • Our scarcity lens makes us believe what we have isn’t enough, the value must be elsewhere
  • The Abundance Mindset: the world is full of valuable and helpful things—ideas, insights, tools, collaborations, opportunities
    • knowledge is endless - we don’t need to consume it all
    • we just need seeds (most will find us again and again)
  • Shift from obligations to acts of service
    • the purpose of knowledge is to be shared
    • knowledge gets more valuable when it’s multiplied
    • there are people out there who could benefit from your experience
  • Your SB starts supporting you - but you can support others by sharing too
  • Shift from consuming to creating
    • If idea that resonates with you - its reflecting something you know
  • Polanyi’s Paradox: We know more than we can say (tacit knowledge)
    • we can’t describe how we know what we know
  • You will see patterns and connections nobody else will - as your life experiences give you a unique lens
  • Two Big Ideas that changed the authors life:
    • Meditation and Mindfulness → you are not your thoughts. Thoughts are background chatter, you can choose to believe them or not
    • Writing in public → self-expression is a fundamental human need. There is no reason to wait. The world is desperate to hear what you know. You can change lives by sharing yourself with others. It takes courage and vulnerability to stand up and deliver your message
  • With the power of a Second Brain behind you - you can do and be anything you want.
  • Everything is just information - and you can master the flow of it and how to shape it
Where to get started
  • Decide what you want to capture.
  • Choose your notes app.
  • Choose a capture tool.
  • Get set up with PARA.
  • Get inspired by identifying your twelve favourite problems.
  • Automatically capture your ebook highlights.
  • Practice Progressive Summarisation.
  • Experiment with just one Intermediate Packet.
  • Make progress on one deliverable.
  • Schedule a Weekly Review.
  • Assess your note-taking proficiency.
  • Join the PKM community.
  • chase what excites you.
11) Creating a Tagging System that works (Bonus Chapter)
  • The dream of finding the optimal taxonomy to organise knowledge has died - after hundreds of years
  • The problem with tagging
    • People spend too long creating personal tagging systems
    • Trying to create a perfect system will lead to frustration
    • People who use tags, try to tag every note with every tag (it’s impractical)
    • You to spend too much energy up-front → before you know how you’re going to use the note
    • It’s going to put you off your system
    • Traditionally tags helped bad search algorithms
  • Your time and energy is better spent using the contents of your notes to push forward your goals
  • Tagging Is an Advanced Technique - it can be incredibly tempting to start labelling every note - without considering if the effort is worth it
  • Wait until you’ve captured 100s of notes and completed a bunch of projects before tagging
  • 3 Actionable Approaches to Tagging
  • Create personalised tags for your use cases
    • A taxonomy is useful or essential in your profession
    • You know how your note is going to be used (e.g. as a citation)
    • Scriptwriter example: • C = description of a Character who could be used in a story. • L = interesting or visually interesting Location. • O = curious or evocative Object. • S = loaded or revealing Situation. • A = unusual or revealing Act. • T = any intriguing Theme that is embodied in life.
    • What are the most common use cases for the content I capture?
      • Tag the final product that’ll use it : [Presentation], [Essay], [Report], [Website], [Project plan], [Meeting agenda], or [Budget]
      • Tag the kind of information: [Arguments], [Theories], [Frameworks], [Evidence], [Claim], [Counterpoint], or [Question]
    • Picking the right tags will be an iterative process
    Use tags to track the progress of notes
    • Some notes aren’t clearly and directly related to project
    • You may feel the need to track the progress of notes towards the outcomes you’re trying to create
    • Example status tracking tags:
      • Role in a project: [Meeting notes], [Timeline], [Budget], [Decision], [Action], [Idea], or [Objective]
      • Current stage of their workflow: [Planned], [In process], [Waiting for approval], [Reviewed], [Approved], [On hold], or [Finished]
    • The tags are about status not content
    Tag notes retroactively and only as needed
    • Use tags retroactively vs trying to guess up front
    • Tag when you want a different way of “viewing” your notes (not using PARA)
    • Tags provide an alternative lens through which you can view your knowledge and expertise
    • Instead of applying tags when you first capture content - apply them when its time to use it
      • you’ll have the motivation and the clarity once you know why you’re using the notes
      • This is an actionable approach to tagging
      • Best of all it’s fine to skip adding tags altogether if you don’t feel like it
      • Your end goal is to have the fewest, clearest, and most consistent tags as possible (or none at all)
  • The magic of digital information is that it’s easy and frictionless to make changes after you’ve captured it