Unburden Your Brain – Build a Second One

Every day, an avalanche of information floods our brain. It is hopelessly overburdened with storing the relevant and interesting data and making them available when needed. However, there is a solution to this problem: building a second brain. It is amazingly simple, as productivity expert Tiago Forte shows us.

According to the New York Times the average person’s daily consumption of information adds up to 34 gigabytes – about 174 newspapers. According to a report of the International Data Corporation 26% of a typical knowledge worker’s day is spent looking for and consolidating information. Only in 56% of the time are they able to find the required information.

How can we ever deal with that?

Unload your first Brain

Well, it simply takes more than one brain. You will have to build a second brain. Using Tiago Fortes method, it is surprisingly easy. Forte is a renowned expert on productivity. The tips in this article are based on his book “Building a Second Brain”.

By building a second brain, you achieve many goals:

  • You find things you’ve learned or thought about within seconds
  • You organize your knowledge
  • You save your best thinking
  • You connect ideas and notice patterns
  • You share your work
  • You can turn work off in your free time (as everything important is stored in your second brain)
  • You spend less time looking for information

The Superpowers of the Second Brain

Your second brain helps you unload your first, your biological brain. You will quickly realize what a relief that is.

According to Tiago Forte the second brain gives you the following superpowers:

  • Makes your ideas concrete
  • Reveals new associations between ideas
  • Incubates your ideas over time
  • Sharpens your unique perspectives

It’s Simple: Take Notes

Building a second brain couldn’t be any simpler. It is based on a principle that we have always known and used: Taking notes.

Thanks to digitization, however, we can do it in a much more sophisticated way than on slips of paper. By using “eBook apps”, “read later apps” and note apps like Notion, OneNote, Google Keep, Apple Notes or Evernote your notes can be searched, organized, rearranged, edited and combined.

The 4 Steps to Your Second Brain

In order to make your second brain actionable, you must take four steps. Tiago Forte calls it the CODE Method:

  • Capture: keep what resonates
  • Organize: save for actionability
  • Distill: find the essence
  • Express: show your work

Capture: Note what Strikes You

You can note anything, anytime: passages from books or studies, photos, quotes, experiences, highlights, takeaways, stories, insights, memories, reflections, musings etc. The only important question is: what is worth noting? Tiago Forte recommends noting things that strike you, that are important to you, that resonate, that may be counterintuitive.

Note things in short form and in your own words. Don’t analyze too much what to note, rely on your intuition. Use the following criteria to decide:

  • Does it inspire me?
  • Is it useful?
  • Is it personal?
  • Is it surprising? (and not just confirming what you already know)

Make Your Notes Complete

For your notes to be valuable, you need to include this important information:

  • Source
  • url
  • title of publication
  • author
  • publishing date

Note immediately, Organize Later

You should take notes whenever you come across relevant information or have a good idea. With your smartphone that is easy to do. If you cannot write because you’re driving or cooking, you can voice record a couple of sentences. Your transcription app will write it out for you.

The time when you note something is seldom the right time to organize your notes. You can always do that later – we will tell you how.

Organize According to where Ideas Are Going

When you have enough time, organize your bunch of notes. You should organize your ideas according to where they are going rather than where they come from.

Tiago Forte suggests this method of organization:

  • Projects: short term efforts, what you’re working on
  • Areas: long term responsibilities
  • Resources: topics of interest that might become important in the future
  • Archives: Inactive items from the other categories

You can move the notes around as necessary. When a project is completed for example, the notes can go into archives.

Read in the article “How to Use Your Second Brain” how to make the second brain work for you (see below).

Further Reading

Book by Tiago Forte: Building a Second Brain


Hansjörg Schmid

Hansjörg Schmid