Building a Second Brain
Building a Second Brain

Building a Second Brain


Tiago Forte

Full Title

Building a Second Brain

Last Highlighted
September 5, 2022 11:56 PM (CDT)
Last Synced
June 8, 2023 1:11 PM (CDT)

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By keeping diverse kinds of material in one place, we facilitate this connectivity and increase the likelihood that we’ll notice an unusual association.

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The more diverse and unusual the material you put into it in the first place, the more original the connections that will emerge.

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It is a calmer, more sustainable approach to creativity that relies on the gradual accumulation of ideas, instead of all-out binges of manic hustle. Having a Second Brain where lots of ideas can be permanently saved for the long term turns the passage of time into your friend, instead of your enemy.

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Don’t make it an analytical decision, and don’t worry about why exactly it resonates—just look inside for a feeling of pleasure, curiosity, wonder, or excitement,

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No matter your situation, let’s start at the very beginning—how

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Listening to her albums is like following Swift on a journey of self-discovery, each album chronicling what she was experiencing and who she was becoming in each chapter of her life.

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A lot of people I’ve talked to seemed surprised that I’ve kept all these notes. I don’t understand why they think that. I don’t understand why I’ve kept anything else. What could possibly be of more value?

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Songwriters are known for compiling “hook books” full of lyrics and musical riffs they may want to use in future songs. Software engineers build “code libraries” so useful bits of code are easy to access. Lawyers keep “case files” with details from past cases they might want to refer to in the future. Marketers and advertisers maintain “swipe files” with examples of compelling ads they might want to draw from.

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As you start collecting this material from the outer world, it often sparks new ideas and realizations in your inner world. You can capture those thoughts too! They could include: 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. Musings: Random “shower ideas” that pop into your head. The

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In other words, Feynman’s approach was to maintain a list of a dozen open questions. When a new scientific finding came out, he would test it against each of his questions to see if it shed any new light on the problem.

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Claude Shannon, whose discoveries paved the way for modern technology, had a simple definition for “information”: that which surprises you.

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Tharp calls her approach “the box.” Every time she begins a new project, she takes out a foldable file box and labels it with the name of the project, usually the name of the dance she is choreographing. This

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While there is no goal to reach, there is a standard that you want to uphold in each of these areas.

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Projects are most actionable because you’re working on them right now and with a concrete deadline in mind. Areas have a longer time horizon and are less immediately actionable. Resources may become actionable depending on the situation. Archives remain inactive unless they are needed.

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In which project will this be most useful? If none: In which area will this be most useful? If none: Which resource does this belong to? If none: Place in archives.

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My mentor advised me to “move quickly and touch lightly” instead. To look for the path of least resistance and make progress in short steps.

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When it comes to PARA, that step is generally to create folders for each of your active projects in your notes app and begin to fill them with the content related to those projects. Once you have a home for something, you tend to find more of it. Start by asking yourself, “What projects am I currently committed to moving forward?”

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In a short documentary titled Francis Coppola’s Notebook3 released in 2001, Coppola explained his process. He started with an initial read of the entire novel, noting down anything that stuck out to him: “I think it’s important to put your impressions down

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Your job as a notetaker is to preserve the notes you’re taking on the things you discover in such a way that they can survive the journey into the future. That way your excitement and enthusiasm for your knowledge builds over time instead of fading away.

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The rule of thumb to follow is that every time you “touch” a note, you should make it a little more discoverable for your future selfVII—by adding a highlight, a heading, some bullets, or commentary. This is the “campsite rule” applied to information—leave it better than you found it.

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When you learn the art of distillation, you will gain a lifelong skill that will impact every area of your life.

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The true test of whether a note you’ve created is discoverable is whether you can get the gist of it at a glance.

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Making the shift to working in terms of Intermediate Packets unlocks several very powerful benefits. First, you’ll become interruption-proof because you are focusing only on one small packet at a time, instead of trying to load up the entire project into your mind at once.

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Third, Intermediate Packets increase the quality of your work by allowing you to collect feedback more often.

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Fourth, and best of all, eventually you’ll have so many IPs at your disposal that you can execute entire projects just by assembling previously created IPs.

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By “thinking small,” you can focus on creating just one IP each time you sit down to work, without worrying about how viable it is or whether it will be used in the exact way you envisioned. This lens reframes creativity as an ongoing, continual cycle of delivering value in small bits, rather than a massive all-consuming endeavor that weighs on you for months.

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These are some of the most valuable connections—when an idea crosses the boundaries between subjects.

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It’s time for tags. You could take fifteen minutes and perform a series of searches for terms relevant to the FAQs you’ll be writing. For any useful note you find, apply a tag called “FAQ”

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Kitbashing is a practice used in making small-scale models for action movies like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. To stay within time and budget, model makers buy prefabricated commercial kits and recombine them

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Reframing your productivity in terms of Intermediate Packets is a major step toward this turning point. Instead of thinking of your job in terms of tasks, which always require you to be there, personally, doing everything yourself, you will start to think in terms of assets and building blocks that you can assemble.

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My favorite quote about creativity is from the eighteenth-century philosopher Giambattista Vico: Verum ipsum factum. Translated to English, it means “We only know what we make.”

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“Only start projects that are already 80 percent done.” That might seem like a paradox, but committing to finish projects only when I’ve already done most of the work to capture, organize, and distill

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If you look at the process of creating anything, it follows the same simple pattern, alternating back and forth between divergence and convergence.

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The final two steps, Distill and Express, are about convergence. They help us shut the door to new ideas and begin constructing something new out of the knowledge building blocks we’ve assembled.

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Now each chapter starts life as a kind of archipelago of inspiring quotes, which makes it seem far less daunting. All I have to do is build bridges between the islands.

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Instead of starting with scarcity, start with abundance—the abundance of interesting insights you’ve collected in your Second Brain.

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Instead of burning through every last ounce of energy at the end of a work session, reserve the last few minutes to write down some of the following kinds of things in your digital notes:

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the development team starts “dialing down” features as the release date approaches.

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If you want to deliver a workshop for paying clients, you could dial it down to a free workshop at a local meetup, or dial it down even further and start with a group exercise or book club for a handful of colleagues or friends.

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Set a timer for a fixed period of time, such as fifteen or twenty minutes, and in one sitting see if you can complete a first pass on your project using only the notes you’ve gathered in front of you. No searching online, no browsing social media, and no opening multiple browser tabs that you swear you’re going to get to eventually.

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Answer premortemI 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 fail?

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find that doing an official kickoff is useful even if it’s a solo project!

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Francis Coppola’s Notebook,, 2001,

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