Building a Second Brain


I just finished reading Tiago Forte’s book “Building a Second Brain”. The title is intriguing but it is about a methodology for organising notes in such a way they are actionable and useful for sharing and creating things. 

I discovered this author through a series of connections starting with a Google Search on note-taking which showed the Zettelkasten (slip card box) method described in How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens , YouTube videos about the Obsidian note-taking app, and the YouTube channel of Ali Abdaal. Ali had a video about the book Building a Second Brain which consolidated so much of what I had previously read online.

I have been keeping notes most of my life and since 1997 I have used A5 sized hard-cover notebooks. You can read about this in a blog article on how I used the notebooks, as well as capturing notes on my phone using Momento, and note-taking on the computer using Emacs and ord-mode.

A Second Brain is a system external to the human brain that is primarily used to store our notes so we can use this external collection to create knowledge and outcomes. After all, the point of taking notes is to use them for some purposes. These notes help our future-self and others by sharing knowledge, ideas and stories. Information becomes knowledge and is useful when we put it to use and make it practical.

This is what I had been missing with my note-taking! I was making notes but not really doing anything with them. Notes need to be organised by actionability. The aim is to shift as much of your time and effort as possible from consuming information to creating – share, teach, create, perform, write, draw, and speak.


The methodology described in this book covers four broad areas easily remembered with the CODE mnemonic:

  • Capturing what resonates with you. Realistically we use several capture systems – paper, phone and computer
  • Organising Notes and Information. There are many great programs available and I chose the free Obsidian software
  • Distilling these notes and making connections. The author describes the process of Progressive Distillation
  • Expressing – showing your work, sharing your ideas and your own story. This could be in the form of blog posts, videos, articles, projects, etc.



The organising of the notes and associated files is described with the PARA mnemonic:

  • Projects – a project is a series of tasks linked to a goal with a definied outcome and deadline. Create folders (and tags) for the short term effort of the active projects in my life.
  • Areas – An area is a sphere of activity with a standard to be maintained over time. I create folders and tags for these longer term responsibilities such as Family, Career, Financial and Health.
  • Resources – topics or themes of ongoing interest. These may be useful for the future and part of future projects
  • Archived – inactive folders and items from the three previous catgeories. This is the place for completed projects.

More information can be found on the Para Page.


What’s next?

A good place to read more is on Tiago Forte’s website on the start here page. Watch the videos, read the posts and get started.

2 responses to “Building a Second Brain”

  1. Great post Charles – very interesting

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