In the following book summary of Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organise Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential, you’ll learn what a second brain is and how to build one that serves you well.
“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
Productivity, Self Help, Personal Development, Psychology, Business, Science, Technology, How To, Language, Writin, Management, Economics, Strategy, Analysis
A second brain is a trusted digital knowledge management system AND a thought partner who provides ideas when you feel stuck.
When you build your second brain, organize ideas and information by actionability, not topic, source, or date. Organizing by actionability is like packaging up valuable information and sending it through time to your future self at the moment you need it. Start sending valuable information to your future self by creating the following four sections of actionability inside your favorite digital notetaking application:
Projects include anything you’re working on in your personal or professional life with a clear end. Example project notebooks include: 2022 taxes, Website redesign, or Quarterly team meeting.
If you have an idea or encounter information that might help you complete a project, put it into a project notebook. Each time you work on a project, open the folder/notebook for that project and scroll through the latest notes. Most people sit down to work on a project and trust their best ideas will magically come to mind, but that rarely happens. Better to gradually capture great ideas in your second brain and review those ideas when you’re ready to work on a project. When you start a project work session by scanning ideas and information you previously captured, you quickly re‐ engage with your project and kill procrastination.
Create notebooks in the “projects” section of your second brain by answering these questions:
- What have I committed to finishing this year?
- What work assignments do I need to complete?
Areas of Improvement
The areas of improvement section in your second brain contains digital notebooks on everything you’re trying to actively improve or maintain. When you’re ready to develop a skill or level up an area of your life, you visit the “areas of improvement” notebook and get to work. Some notebooks in your “areas of improvement” section might include: Fitness, Investing, Home maintenance, [Your Business Name]: Marketing, or [Your Business Name]: Sales.
Areas of improvement are long‐term and open‐ended (ex: running a successful business) while projects are short‐term and finite (ex: launching a new product).
Create notebooks in the “areas of improvement” section of your second brain by answering these questions:
- What must I do exceptionally well to have a successful career?
- What parts of my business need constant attention for my business to be successful long‐term?
- What areas of my life need constant attention for me to be happy?
The resources section in your second brain is your personal library of references, facts, and inspiration you will use to start future projects or areas of improvement.
If a project is like a meal you’re cooking up on the stove and plan to have for dinner, and an area of improvement is like a big meal you’re cooking in a slow cooker that you intend to consume during the week but don’t know when you’ll finish, a resource is like a spice or type of pasta in your pantry you can use to make your next meal.
The resources section of your second brain contains examples you’ve collected and can use for inspiration. For example, you might have a resources notebook titled “YouTube video thumbnails” with images of cool video thumbnails you’ve seen that you can reference when you’re ready to make YouTube videos.
Your resources also include templates, lists, procedures, and takeaways that could be useful for future projects. For example, you may be interested in trying the Ketogenic diet one day, so you have a resources notebook on “Going Keto” where you capture strategies and meals you might try. Your “Going Keto” notebook stays a resources notebook until you commit to going on a Ketogenic diet.
Your archive is like a giant freezer in your garage you don’t need to look at for months. Any information you do not want to forget but does not advance a project or area of improvement and will not be used to kickstart a future project goes into your archive.
Your archive is essentially a dumping ground that will allow you to keep your system clean and have your Projects, Areas of improvement, and Resources notebooks reflect who you are, what you’re committed to doing, and where you want to go. Moving completed or inactive notebooks into your archive breathes life into your second brain because it’s no longer suffocated by useless notes.
“What is the point of knowledge if it doesn’t help anyone or produce anything?” – Tiago Forte
About the author
Tiago Forte is founder of Fortelabs.co and one of the world’s foremost experts on productivity. He has taught thousands of people how timeless principles and the latest technology can revolutionize their lives. He has worked with organizations such as Toyota Motor Corporation and the Inter-American Development Bank, and his work has been featured in the New York Times, Atlantic and Harvard Business Review.
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