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Building a second brain by Tiago Forte


🌈 Overview

In the information age, the value of human capital is tenfold than the value of physical capital in the US. (Source) 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. Most of us are knowledge workers i.e., involved in working with information. Instead of being mere consumer of information, our focus should shift to assimilating and making sense of large amount of data. We can start using technology as a tool for thinking.

Historically great artists, poets, creative thinkers use to keep their notes in a place called ‘the commonplace book’ which had the record of the most interesting thoughts, ideas that they came across. This translates to the ‘Second brain’ in the digital age. Imagine it to be a combination of a study notebook, a personal journal, and a sketchbook for new ideas.

👉🏼 Who Should Read This Book?

Anybody who is into note-taking (students, writers etc) and does knowledge work must read this which i think is a big majority of people. I read it because I found the idea of second brain quite intriguing. I have also watched a couple of YouTubers raving about it and applying it to their lives which made me go to the bottom of the concept and hear it from the ‘horse’s mouth’.

❤️ Impressions

The book was easy to read with highly practical and actionable insights into the process of note-taking and expands on our current understanding of what it means to be creative. The notes, references and bibliography was interesting. Since I had already read about the principles of building a second brain I went into the book with the expectation that i’ll not find anything new and insightful into it but I was proven wrong. Almost every paragraph is packed with a lot of smart and new insights that will blow your mind away. It was structured, to the point and filled with exciting anecdotes.Shout out to specifically the ‘The Art of creative execution’ section that distilled the ‘creative process’ into a simple diagram and overlayed it with Forte’s own method (CODE) onto it to showcase an elegant way how note-taking can eventually be a creative process if done right.

🔥 How the Book Changed Me

📍 I couldn’t put the book down as it was so fast paced and interesting. I could’t believe that a book on taking notes could be packed with so many ideas and tips, tools and strategies. The CODE framework and the the principles of creativity explained in the book was previously unknown to me.

🛖 Structure of the book

The book is structured in three parts -

Part One provides an overview of the concept of second brain and its implications for a knowledge worker.

Part Two explains in detail the four-step method to create and implement a second brain.

Part Three explores what are the possibilities of a second brain.

📗 Summary + Notes

Part One: The Foundation: Understand what is possible.

What is a second brain?

There is a need to make our ideas concrete and our notes digital so that it can be observed, rearranged, edited, and combined together. When we make notes digital, we combine them with capabilities of technology—searching, sharing, backups, editing, linking, syncing between devices, and many others. Thats what a second brain is. It is a digital archive of all our memories, ideas and knowledge so that we don’t need to remember anything and to keep everything in our head. This concept is also alternatively referred to as Personal knowledge management and is based on the simple habit of writing things down. It’s a collection of reusable personal information collection and can be used in the following ways.

  • A laboratory to develop and refine thinking.

  • A studio to experiment with ideas until they are ready to be put to use externally.

  • A whiteboard to sketch out your ideas and collaborate on them with others.

How Does the Second Brain Works?

The capabilities of a Second Brain -

  • Making our ideas concrete: We need to offload our ideas into paper or in the virtual form where they can be organised, searched, observed, formatted etc. which helps in decluttering our brains.

  • Revealing new associations between ideas to boost creativity by connecting ideas together.

  • Incubating our ideas overtime which means allowing ideas to simmer overtime instead of storing and always having ideas on the top of our minds.

  • Sharpening our unique perspectives by drawing on the existing resources available and having a unique spin on it.

There are three stages of progress in digital note-taking:

Remembering → Connecting →Creating

  1. Remembering - Use note taking to aid memory.

  2. Connecting - The Second Brain becomes a thinking tool. Ideas from notes translates and feeds into other streams. Ideas gravitate towards each other and cross-pollinate.

  3. Creating - Use ideas to create something new and meaningful that can be shared with others.

Part Two: The Four step process to create your own second brain.

  1. CAPTURE Capture whatever resonates and what is useful and store it in a trusted place. It helps you learn more about yourself as we capture information that resonates with us at an intuitive level. What to capture? Twelve favourite problems: Feynman Technique - Ask yourself 12 most important questions and that will guide you about your interests and passions and direct you to find out what to capture as notes. Capture Criteria Most articles will not be useful in its entirety. We should only be looking at capturing the most relevant and interesting (to us) bits. Become a curator of the information stream and curate only the content that most resonates with you and leave the rest. Your future self will only have to look at material in its most condensed and relevant form.

    1. Criteria #1: Does it inspire me?

    2. Criteria #2: Is it useful?

    3. Criteria #3: Is it personal? Like noting down our thoughts and reflections.

    4. Criteria #4: Is it surprising? Anything that surprises us is typically different from what we already know and thus makes a good case to be captured to change the way we think.


Organize notes for action i.e. active projects that you are working on.

The PARA technique for categorization of your notes:

  • Projects - Short term efforts being worked upon now

  • Areas - Long term responsibilities

  • Resources - Topics or subjects might be useful in the future

  • Archives - Inactive items from other three categories


  • Find the true essence of an idea and distill it into 2-3 sentences. Always try to explain complex terms in simple form as you are also taking notes for your future self that will consume that idea.

💡 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
  • Discoverability of the information which is most relevant to you at the time is the most important aspect of keeping notes

  • Highlighting is important.

  • Progressive Summarisation - the 4 layers of distillation of what your have consumed as information to distill only what’s truly essential (see diagram)


  • The last step is shift as much of your time and effort as possible from consuming to creating i.e to express yourself by showing your work. Information becomes knowledge—personal, embodied, verified—only when we put it to use. You can divide your work into smaller packets (individual blocks) and then have a creative outlet in the form of a presentation or a blog post for it to be effective.

  • Ways to retrieve intermediate packets from your second brain so that you can combine them in interesting ways and form a creative output :

    • Search

    • Browse

    • Tags

    • Serendipity

  • It in important to seek feedback early in our creative process instead of working on it in isolation

  • You only know what you make - Engage with ideas, apply them and make an effort to make them concrete for them to be truly useful and transformational.

Part three : The Shift : Making things happen

The Art of Creative Execution - Possibilities of the second brain

The creative process is ancient and unchanging though its application keeps on changing and its output varies. It works through a principle called ‘convergence’ and ‘divergence’

  • Divergence which is the starting point begins with collecting, capturing and organising information from various sources.

  • Convergence which is the end point begins by discarding what’s not relevant and then converging towards a solution.

Overlaying the four steps of CODE onto the model of divergence and convergence, reveals a powerful template for the creative process.

Strategies to practice convergence (which is more difficult) while doing creative work

  • Archipelago of ideas - Instead of starting from scratch build on ideas that you already have. Create a layout, an outline and start filling in your own research findings.

  • The Hemingway bridge -

    • Write down the next steps after the end of each section

    • Write down current status

    • Other details

    • Intention for the next session

  • Dial down the scope of the work and work on the project iteratively

The Creative Process

  • The CODE Method is based on an important aspect of creativity that it is always a remix of existing parts.

  • The creative process is fueled by attention at every step. It is the lens that allows us to make sense of what’s happening, to notice what resources we have at our disposal, and to see the contribution we can make. The ability to intentionally and strategically allocate our attention is a competitive advantage in a distracted world. We have to jealously guard it like a valuable treasure.

Building a second brain is a journey towards self growth and it can achieved by making these three fundamental mindset shifts :

  • Shift to an abundance mindset which means knowing that insights, ideas and information are available to us all the time.

  • Shift from obligation to service fuelled by the desire to give back to society as they become aware of all that they already possess as part of their second brain.

  • Shift from consuming to creating by focussing on all the knowledge we already possess ( called tacit Knowledge) and offloading what resonates with us in our second brain.

💬 Top 3 Quotes

To truly “know” something, it’s not enough to read about it in a book. Ideas are merely thoughts until you put them into action. Thoughts are fleeting, quickly fading as time passes. 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. We learn by making concrete things—before we feel ready, before we have it completely figured out, and before we know where it’s going.
Note-taking is like time travel—you are sending packets of knowledge through time to your future self.
Our time and attention are scarce, and it’s time we treated the things we invest in—reports, deliverables, plans, pieces of writing, graphics, slides—as knowledge assets that can be reused instead of reproducing them from scratch. Reusing Intermediate Packets of work frees up our attention for higher-order, more creative thinking. Thinking small is the best way to elevate your horizons and expand your ambitions.


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