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Building a Second Brain - Insights

What is a 2nd Brain

  • personal knowledge management helps us harness the full potential of what we know
  • individual counterpart to Knowledge Management
  • organize information holistically—for a variety of purposes, for any project or goal—instead of only for one-off tasks.
  • the combination of a study notebook, a personal journal, and a sketchbook for new ideas
  • centerpiece of your Second Brain: a digital notetaking app
    • Buildingasecondbrain.com/resources
  • Insert: CODE high level picture
  • “knowledge garden” where you are free to cultivate your ideas and develop your own thinking away from the deafening noise of other people’s opinions

Why should I consider Building my 2nd Brain

  • little effort applying that knowledge and making it our own
  • Find anything you’ve learned, touched, or thought about in the past within seconds
  • Save your best thinking so you don’t have to do it again
  • Connect ideas and notice patterns
  • mind is for having ideas, not holding them
  • professional success and quality of life depend directly on your ability to manage information effectively.
  • confidence in the quality of your thinking gives you the freedom to ask deeper questions and the courage to pursue bigger challenges
  • Making our ideas concrete. Revealing new associations between ideas. Incubating our ideas over time. Sharpening our unique perspectives.
  • ==we think clearly and start to work with those ideas effectively
  • personal knowledge management exists to support taking action
  • minimize the time we spend filing, labeling, tagging, and maintaining our digital notes.
  • Our most scarce resource is time, which means we need to prioritize our ability to quickly rediscover the ideas

    Value of information

  • Human capital includes “the knowledge and the knowhow embodied in humans—their education, their experience, their wisdom, their skills, their relationships, their common sense, their intuition.”
  • treating my thoughts as treasures

    Aspect of Time Management

  • 26 percent of a typical knowledge worker’s day is spent looking for and consolidating information spread across a variety of systems.
  • only 56 percent of the time are they able to find the information
  • Spend less time looking for things, and more time doing the best, most creative work you are capable
  • attention is our most scarce and precious resource
    • attention we invested in producing that in-between work gets thrown away, never to be used again.

Space for Creative Work

  • “Creative people are better at recognizing relationships, making associations and connections.”

How does the 2nd Brain work

  • package it up and send it through time to our future
  • begins with the simple act of writing things down
  • What are the chances that the most creative, most innovative approaches will instantly be top of mind? What are the odds that the best way to move forward is one of the first ways we come up with?
  • We tend to favor the ideas, solutions, and influences that occurred to us most recently, regardless of whether they are the best ones
  • Remembering, Connecting, Creating: The Three Stages of Personal Knowledge Management
    • connect ideas together
    • becoming a thinking tool for creating new things

Notes as Building Blocks

  • a note is a “knowledge building block”
  • It stands on its own and has intrinsic value, but knowledge building blocks can also be combined into something much greater—a report, an argument, a proposal, a story.
  • By keeping diverse kinds of material in one place, we facilitate this connectivity
  • Informal: Notes are inherently messy, so there’s no need for perfect spelling or polished presentation
  • Open-ended: Taking notes is a continuous process that never really ends
  • A knowledge asset is anything that can be used in the future to solve a problem

CODE - Capture-Organize-Distill-Express

Capture - Keep What Resonates

  • you jot down the idea as a digital note on your smartphone
  • You dictate a quick audio memo to your phone as you drive, which gets automatically transcribed and saved in your notes
  • objectives, challenges, questions, concerns, contributions, and reminders you’ve collected
  • All the important reflections, new ideas, and unexpected possibilities your colleagues come up with also get recorded
  • failure is just more information, to be captured and used as fuel for your journey
  • the material you put into it in the first place, the more original the connections that will emerge.
  • examples, illustrations, stories, statistics, diagrams, analogies, metaphors, photos, mindmaps, conversation notes, quotes
  • make intentional decisions about what information we want to fill our minds
  • only the ideas and insights we think are truly noteworthy
  • When something resonates, it moves you on an intuitive level.
    • look inside for a feeling of pleasure, curiosity, wonder, or excitement
  • most unusual, counterintuitive, interesting, or potentially useful
  • new ideas and realizations in your inner world
  • Stories: Your favorite anecdotes, whether they happened to you or someone else. Insights: The small (and big) realizations you have. Memories: Experiences from your life that you don’t want to forget. Reflections: Personal thoughts and lessons written in a journal or diary.
  • value is not evenly distributed - extract only the most salient, relevant, rich material
    • Does It Inspire Me?
    • Is It Useful? - it might come in handy in the future
    • Is It Personal? - your own thoughts, reflections, memories, and mementos
    • Is It Surprising?
      • If you’re not surprised, then you already knew it at some level, so why take note of it?
  • Capture What Resonates
  • learning to listen to the voice of intuition inside
    • intentionally train yourself to hear that voice of intuition every day by taking note of what it tells you
    • Read later apps
    • Social media apps and taking Favorites
    • Audio/voice transcription apps
      • bookmark or “clip” segments of episodes as you’re listening to them
      • Use a voice memo app that allows you to press a button, speak directly into your smartphone, and have every word transcribed into text
  • You can make highlights, just as with ebooks, and they can also be automatically exported to your notes app using a third-party platform.
  • The moment you first encounter an idea is the worst time to decide what it means
    • the moment you first capture an idea is the worst time to try to decide what it relates
    • “inbox” or “daily notes”
  • Don’t worry about whether you’re capturing “correctly.”
  • Knowledge is best applied through execution, which means whatever doesn’t help you make progress on your projects is probably detracting from them
  • Your fears, doubts, mistakes, missteps, failures, and self-criticism—it’s all just information to be taken in, processed, and made sense of.
What not to keep
  • sensitive information you’d like to keep secure
  • special format or file type better handled by a dedicated app
  • very large file
  • collaboratively edited

Organize - Save for Actionability

  • goal of organizing our knowledge is to move our goals forward
  • avoid organizing methods that are overly rigid and prescriptive.
  • organize for action
  • “How is this going to help me move forward one of my current projects?”
  • twelve problems
  • Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work. —Gustave Flaubert
  • the environment we find ourselves in powerfully shapes our thinking
    • when it comes to your digital workspace, it’s likely you’ve spent little time, if any, arranging that space to enhance your productivity or creativity.
  • on how actionable it is, not what kind of information it is
  • “In which project will this be most useful?”
  • need clear workspaces to be able to create.
Move Quickly, Touch Lightly
  • look for the path of least resistance and make progress in short steps
  • What is the smallest, easiest step I can take that moves me in the right direction?
  • Look at your calendar: What do you need to follow up on from the past? What needs planning and preparation for the future?
  • What actions are you already taking that are actually part of a bigger project you’ve not yet identified?
  • What are you keeping around because it is part of a larger project?
PARA Overview
  • universal, encompassing any kind of information, from any source, in any format, for any purpose
  • PARA guides you in quickly sorting your ideas according to what really matters: your goals.
  • Priming Your Mind (and Notes) for Action
  • we only really improve when we standardize the way we do something.
  • starting each project with a stated goal
  • How did you do? Did you get to your goal? Did you improve on it? Did it change along the way? Could you have done it all more efficiently?
  • have a specific, clear outcome that needs to happen in order for them to be checked off as complete, such as “finalize,” “green-light,” “launch,” or “publish.”
  • What I’m Committed to Over Time
  • 12 problems
    • “What are the questions I’ve always been interested in?”
    • “How can I spend more of my time doing high-value work?”
    • ==open-ended questions
  • It’s something that we will have to think about and manage, in one way or another, for as long as we live
  • areas we’re responsible for, such as “product development,” “quality control,” or “human resources.”
  • Home/apartment; Cooking; Travel; Car. People you are responsible for or accountable to: Friends; Kids; Spouse; Pets. Standards of performance you are responsible for: Health; Personal growth; Friendships; Finances
  • Departments or functions you are responsible for
  • People or teams you are responsible for or accountable to
  • Standards of performance you are responsible for
  • there is a standard that you want to uphold in each of these areas
  • catchall for anything that doesn’t belong to a project or an area and could include any topic you’re interested in gathering information about
  • What topics are you interested in?
  • What subjects are you researching?
  • What useful information do you want to be able to reference?
  • Which hobbies or passions do you have?

Distill Find the Essence

  • Picasso’s Secret: Prune the Good to Surface the Great
  • ==Picasso’s act of distillation involves stripping away the unnecessary so that only the essential remains
  • when you drop the merely good parts, the great parts can shine more brightly.
  • Picture
  • own thoughts need some distillation before you can take action on them
  • notice patterns and connections between them
  • speed up this process of rapid association
  • be able to quickly find just the main takeaways
  • “How can I make this as useful as possible for my future self?”
  • only the most interesting, insightful, useful ideas
  • To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.
  • highlighting the most important points
  • Paradoxically, the more notes they collect, the less discoverable they become!
  • distill your message down to the key points and action steps
  • Distillation is at the very heart of all effective communication
  • Highlighting 2.0: The Progressive Summarization Technique
    • you highlight the main points of a note, and then highlight the main points of those highlights, and so on, distilling the essence of a note in several “layers.”
    • when I have free time during breaks or on evenings or weekends
    • include keywords that provide hints of what this text is about, phrases that capture what the original author was trying to say, or sentences that especially resonated with me even if I can’t explain why.
  • only the very few sources that are truly unique and valuable, I’ll add an “executive summary”
  • best stuff always sticks in your mind for an hour or two.
  • Mistake #1: Over-Highlighting
    • layer of highlighting should include no more than 10–20 percent of the previous layer.
  • Mistake #2: Highlighting Without a Purpose in Mind
  • Mistake #3: Making Highlighting Difficult
    • passages will move you, pique your attention, make your heart beat faster, or provoke you.

Express - Show Your Work

  • personal knowledge management exists to support taking action
  • Information becomes knowledge—personal, embodied, verified—only when we put it to use
  • shift as much of your time and effort as possible from consuming to creating
  • synonyms: evaluate, share, teach, record, post, and lobby
Working with Intermediate packets
  • expressing your ideas earlier, more frequently, and in smaller chunks to test what works and gather feedback from others
  • stuck on a task, break it down into smaller steps
  • Distilled notes
  • Outtakes
  • How can you package up what you know in a form that you’ll be able to revisit it again and again
  • become interruption-proof - less vulnerable to interruptions
  • make progress in any span of time
  • collect feedback more often
  • Reframing your productivity in terms of Intermediate Packets
  • To truly make an idea stick, you have to engage with it. You have to get your hands dirty and apply that knowledge to a practical problem.

How does it support creativity?

  • Creativity depends on a creative process.
  • knowledge most often shows up as “content”—snippets of text, screenshots, bookmarked articles, podcasts, or other kinds of media
  • also the content you create as you compose emails, draw up project plans, brainstorm ideas, and journal your own thoughts
  • write them down, revisit them, and view them from a different perspective in order to digest what they mean to us.
  • secret to creativity, it is that it emerges from everyday efforts to gather and organize our influences.
  • most valuable connections—when an idea crosses the boundaries between subjects. They can’t be planned or predicted
  • emerge only when many kinds of ideas in different shapes and sizes are mixed together.
  • by the time you sit down to make progress on something, all the work to gather and organize the source material needs to already be done.
  • We can’t expect ourselves to instantly come up with brilliant ideas on demand. I learned that innovation and problem-solving depend on a routine that systematically brings interesting ideas to the surface of our awareness
  • put your digital tools to work for you so that your human, fallible, endlessly creative first brain can do what it does best. Imagine. Invent. Innovate. Create.
  • it’s only by making the fundamentals of life easier that you can create the mental space needed for free thinking and creativity.
  • When we are organized and efficient, that creates space for creativity to arise.
  • Being organized is a habit—a repeated set of actions you take as you encounter, work with, and put information to use.
    • the only time we have available to maintain our systems is during the execution of our regular work.
    • need to follow an outer discipline—a system of principles and behaviors—to channel our energies, thoughts, and emotions productively.

Divergence and convergence

  • You open the space of possibilities and consider as many options as possible.
  • purpose of divergence is to generate new ideas, so the process is necessarily spontaneous, chaotic, and messy. You can’t fully plan or organize what you’re doing in divergence mode, and you shouldn’t try. This is the time to wander.
  • ==Capture and Organize, make up divergence
  • divergently gather a group of ideas, sources, or points that will form the backbone of your essay, presentation, or deliverable.
  • Convergence forces us to eliminate options, make trade-offs, and decide what is truly essential.
  • Distill and Express, are about convergence.
  • close the door, put on noise-canceling headphones, ignore every new input, and ferociously chase the sweet reward of completion.
  • ==switch decisively into convergence mode and link them together in an order that makes sense
  • The bolds and highlights of Progressive Summarization help me quickly determine which parts are most interesting

Archipelago of ideas

  • The Archipelago of Ideas: Give Yourself Stepping-Stones looking at a document filled with quotes: from letters, from primary sources, from scholarly papers, sometimes even my own notes.
  • An Archipelago of Ideas separates the two activities your brain has the most difficulty performing at the same time: choosing ideas (known as selection) and arranging them into a logical flow (known as sequencing)
  • First you select the points and ideas you want to include in your outline, and then in a separate step, you rearrange and sequence them into an order that flows logically

The Hemingway Bridge: Use Yesterday’s Momentum Today

  • end a writing session only when he knew what came next
  • using today’s energy and momentum to fuel tomorrow’s writing

Dial Down the Scope

  • there is a smaller, simpler version of it that would deliver much of the value in a fraction of the time.
  • Dial Down the Scope: Ship Something Small and Concrete
  • dialed down are the ones that are most difficult or expensive to build, that have the most uncertainty or risk
  • ==unblock ourselves and move forward even when time is scarce
  • Knowing that nothing I write or create truly gets lost—only saved for later use—gives me the confidence to aggressively cut my creative works down

4 Retrieval methods

  • saving your notes in a central place, you enable software to search
  • people strongly prefer to navigate their file systems
    • folders and file names providing small contextual clues
    • uses older parts of the brain that developed to navigate physical environments
  • Tags can overcome this limitation by infusing your Second Brain with connections, making it easier to see cross-disciplinary themes and patterns that defy simple categorization.
  • It takes far too much energy to apply tags to every single note compared to the ease of searching with keywords or browsing your folders.
  • look at five or six PARA folders just in case they contain something useful
  • focus only on the highlighted passages
  • serendipity is amplified by visual patterns.
    • saving not only text notes but images as well
  • sharing our ideas with others introduces a major element of serendipity.
    • their reaction is inherently unpredictable
    • Others might point out aspects of an idea you never considered, suggest looking at sources you never knew existed, or contribute their own ideas to make it better.
    • giving them a new interest to connect over
    • Some of our most beautiful, creative acts are ones in which we connect the dots for others in ways they wouldn’t be able to do themselves.
    • smaller chunks are inherently more shareable and collaborative.
      • much easier to show someone a small thing, and ask for their thoughts on it
      • Getting feedback is really about borrowing someone else’s eyes to see what only a novice can see.
      • It is by sharing our ideas with other people that we discover which ones represent our most valuable expertise.

For projects

  • Move Fast and Make Things
  • Make an outline with your goals, intentions, questions, and considerations for the project.
  • Start by writing out anything already on your mind, and then peruse your PARA categories for related notes and Intermediate Packets.
  • Move all the notes and IPs you might want to use into a new project folder.
  • Only work with what you already have. This first pass could be a plan, an agenda, a proposal, a diagram, or some other format that turns your ideas into a tangible artifact.
  • “What is the smallest version of this I can produce to get useful feedback from others?”
  • Project Checklists: Ensure you start and finish your projects in a consistent way, making use of past work
    • airline pilots run through a “preflight checklist”
    • The way most people launch projects, in contrast, can be described as “haphazardly.”
    • Capture my current thinking on the project. Review folders (or tags) that might contain relevant notes. Search for related terms across all folders. Move (or tag) relevant notes to the project folder. Create an outline of collected notes and plan the project
    • creating a blank note and doing a brainstorm of any thoughts that come to mind
    • pour out all my random musings, potential approaches, links to other ideas or topics, or reminders of people to talk to.
    • 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?
    • Create an outline of collected notes and plan the project.
    • Answer premortem* questions: What do you want to learn? What is the greatest source of uncertainty or most important question you want to answer? What is most likely to
    • Communicate with stakeholders: Explain to your manager, colleagues, clients, customers, shareholders, contractors, etc., what the project is about and why it matters
    • 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:
    • If I successfully achieved it, what factors led to that success? How can I repeat or double down on those strengths? If I fell short, what happened? What can I learn or change to avoid making the same mistakes next time?
    • What did you learn? What did you do well? What could you have done better? What can you improve for next time?
    • Evaluate success criteria: Were the objectives of the project achieved? Why or why not? What was the return on investment?
  • Weekly and Monthly Reviews: Periodically review your work and life and decide if you want to change anything
    • Clear my email inbox. Check my calendar. Clear my computer desktop. Clear my notes inbox. Choose my tasks for the week.
    • batch process them all at once, making quick, intuitive decisions about which of the PARA folders each note might be relevant
    • don’t highlight or summarize them. I don’t try to understand or absorb their contents. I don’t worry about all the topics they could potentially relate to.
    • evaluate the big picture and consider more fundamental changes to your goals
    • Review and update my goals. Review and update my project list. Review my areas of responsibility. Review someday/maybe tasks. Reprioritize tasks
    • “What successes or accomplishments did I have?” and “What went unexpectedly and what can I learn from it?”
    • Review someday/maybe tasks. “Someday/maybe”
  • Noticing Habits: Notice small opportunities to edit, highlight, or move notes to make them more discoverable for your future self.
    • Our knowledge is now our most important asset and the ability to deploy our attention our most valuable skill
    • Our success in the workforce depends on our ability to make use of information more effectively and to think better, smarter, faster.

What are concrete steps I can take

  • Are you hoping to remember more? Focus on developing the practice of capturing and organizing your notes according to your projects, commitments, and interests using PARA.
  • Are you hoping to connect ideas and develop your ability to plan, influence, and grow in your personal and professional life? Experiment with consistently distilling and refining your notes using Progressive Summarization and revisiting them during weekly reviews.
  • Are you committed to producing more and better output with less frustration and stress? Focus on creating one Intermediate Packet at a time and looking for opportunities to share them in ever more bold ways.


  • Your fears, doubts, mistakes, missteps, failures, and self-criticism—it’s all just information to be taken in, processed, and made sense of.
  • the lens of appreciation and abundance
    • looking at the world as full of valuable and helpful
  • calmer, knowing that every idea is being tracked
  • more focused, knowing it can put thoughts on hold and access them later.
  • freeing it to absorb and integrate new knowledge in more creative ways
  • building a Second Brain is a journey of personal growth
  • want to teach, to mentor, to help, to contribute.
  • The desire to give back is a fundamental part of what makes us human.
  • The purpose of knowledge is to be shared. What’s the point of knowing something if it doesn’t positively impact anyone, not even yourself?
  • Knowledge is the only resource that gets better and more valuable the more it multiplies.
  • Now we can speak the same language, coordinate our efforts, and share our progress in applying
  • Knowledge becomes more powerful as it spreads.
  • “Your singular perspective may patch some small hole in the vast tattered fabric of humanity.”
    • People who have no other source for the kind of guidance
    • With mere words, you can open doors to unimaginable horizons for the people around you.
  • is about cultivating self-awareness and self-knowledge.
  • discovering the tacit knowledge that lives within you.
  • uncover new layers of yourself and new facets of your identity
  • Remove: Who are you to speak up? Who says you have anything to offer? Who are you to demand people’s attention and take up their time?


[[Building a Second Brain - Tiago Forte]]

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