A Simple Yet Profound Tool
Tiago Forte, the author of Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life, is a first-generation Californian born to Brazilian and Filipino parents. Inspired by his personal journey, as a young man he suffered an unknown illness. He was functionally incapacitated, had a terrible memory, and could not engage in everyday life like many of his companions. In a moment of despair, he realized that he needed to take charge of his destiny and sought to find ways to accommodate his difficulties. Eventually, this path of longsuffering led him to find a system that helped him overcome his challenges and succeed. This system is what he refers to as a “Second Brain.” Overcoming remarkable odds, Forte is a leading expert on productivity, has consulted many large corporations, and has been published in various news sources such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and the Harvard Business Review. As the founder of Forte Labs, his vision is to utilize technology to help people realize their full potential.
Building a Second Brain is written as a three-part book: Part 1 – The Foundation: Understanding What’s Possible, Part 2 – The Method: The Four Steps of CODE, and Part 3 – The Shift: Making Things Happen. The intent of the book is to help people:
- Find anything they’ve learned within seconds,
- Consistently organize knowledge in a helpful way,
- Save your best thinking,
- Learn to connect various ideas and patterns (i.e., mapping),
- Adopt reliable systems that work for you,
- Enjoy the ability to relax, knowing that you have an information system that works for you, and
- Spend less time looking for information and be more productive.
The author observes that there was a consistent (and somewhat limited) amount of content used to teach basic principles, facts, and theories in generations past. He refers to these as “commonplace books.” Given our advancement in the digital age, the vast amount of information available daily has made the old system of commonplace books obsolete. Forte observes,
According to the New York Times, the average person’s daily consumption of information now adds up to a remarkable 34 gigabytes. A separate study cited by the Times estimates that we consume the equivalent of 174 full newspapers’ worth of content each and every day, five times higher than in 1986.
As a result, the new commonplace (i.e., the Second Brain), is digital. Forte describes this new digital realm as such,
Your Second Brain isn’t just a tool it’s an environment. It is a garden of knowledge full of familiar, winding pathways, but also secret and secluded corners. Every pathway is jumping-off point to new ideas and perspectives. Gardens are natural, but they don’t happen by accident. They require a caretaker to seed the plants, trim the weeds, and shape the paths winding through them. It’s time for us to put more intention into the digital environments where we now spend so many of our waking hours.
In light of a restrictive word count, I will highlight some fundamental principles from the book:
- The CODE Method is a vitally important concept for the Second Brain.
- Capture what resonates. The goal is to “capture only the ideas and insights we think are truly noteworthy.” Consume what is beneficial and discard the rest.
- Organize and save in a way that can be actionable.
- Distill to identify the essence of what is being communicated. It is vital to use your own words to maximize understanding and more readily identify patterns and associations.
- Express by sharing your work with others! Knowledge only becomes codified when we put it to use, and we do that by sharing. That could be writing, blogging, podcasting, teaching, etc. The important thing? Share!
- PARA is a creative system for organizing information.
Projects – short-term efforts in your work or life that you’re working on now; Areas – Long-term responsibilities you want to manage over time; Resources – Topics or interests that may be useful in the future; and finally, Archives – inactive items from the other three categories.
- A mindset of abundance as opposed to a mindset of scarcity.
The opposite of a Scarcity Mindset is an Abundance Mindset. This is a way of looking at the world as full of valuable and helpful things – ideas, insights, tools, collaborations, opportunities. An Abundance Mindset tells us that there is an endless amount of incredibly powerful knowledge everywhere we look – in the content we consume, in our social network, in our bodies and institutions, and in our own minds. It also tells us that we don’t need to consume or understand all of it, or even much of it. All we need is a few seeds of wisdom, and the seeds we most need tend to continually find us again and again.
I found this book to be incredibly practical on many levels and will be a resource I will review at a later time. I am thankful Dr. Clark shared about Zotero, Obsidian, and how to take notes early in the program. This book served as a reminder of how to improve upon the systems I currently have in place. For example, I could do a better job of syntopically associating books by utilizing the “tag” or “related to” feature in Zotero. Without an adequate notetaking system, the information is rattling around in my mind, but without my Second Brain, I can’t quickly recall other books and resources communicating a similar concept. Another way I anticipate using ideas gleaned from this book is to improve on my “filing system,” project management, as well as taking notes throughout the day and prioritizing organizing them in Obsidian.
 Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential, First Atria Books hardcover edition. (New York: Atria Books, 2022), 3.
 Ibid., 17.
 Ibid., 85.
 Ibid., 44.
 Ibid., 90.
 Ibid., 230.
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Eric, you distilled many key thoughts and helps from this book. Great job on that. You reference Zotero in your post. Do you envision using that in the long-term? I’m thinking we cannot commit to multiple note-taking platforms effectively. Perhaps it’s my analogue self that struggles with too much digital inputs talking, but it seems as though we need to commit to a single platform and utilizing it to its fullest. What do you think?