Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

What To Do When Your Brain Storage Is Full

Written by: on March 15, 2023

I enjoy the show Jeopardy. A series of questions and answers covers a broad spectrum of topics. I tend to do well in answering questions in some categories, such as Sports, Geography, and the Bible. I do poorly in other areas like Opera, Poets, and Art. The answers to questions need to come to mind quickly as contestants beat their opponents to the punch. Many Jeopardy champions possess great diversity in their areas of knowledge. However, no matter how learned, every human brain contains a limitation beyond which no more information can be retained. What is a person to do in an information-saturated society where the average person consumes the equivalent of one hundred and seventy-four newspapers of content each day?[1]

            Enter Tiago Forte, author of Building a Second Brain. This general management and psychology book offers a strategy to capture, organize and store knowledge, ideas, and thoughts so that they are retrievable for creative purposes in the future. A digital storehouse is what Forte calls a “second brain,” or another repository for valuable information that cannot be retained within the human brain alone. “This book. . .is about optimizing a system outside yourself, a system not subject to your limitations and constraints, leaving you happily unoptimized and free to roam, to wonder, to wander toward whatever makes you feel alive here and now in each moment.”[2] Prior to reading, I assumed this book to be a new way to fill an already crammed schedule with more to-dos. I was wrong. It was a pleasant surprise to understand the techniques serve a grander purpose for meaningful and enjoyable pursuits. This book helps beyond technical help in the digital arena to be better organized. What is your passion? Where does your heart long to pursue? All that and more is served by expanding a base of knowledge.

            The book contains three sections. The first section details what Forte calls “personal knowledge management” or PKM. To utilize a personal management system, one needs to develop a desire for growth, curiosity in learning, and a commitment to personal development. The second section delves into digital tools and various techniques to build one’s Second Brain. One can capture too much or too little information, so learning the value of vital ideas or information plays a significant role. Once knowledge gets retained, it also needs to be connected to other information to produce a system of thinking and creating. The final section applies personal knowledge management to work, education, and non-vocational aspects of one’s life.

            Two acrostics help to distill the major tenets of Forte’s vision. The C.O.D.E acrostic outlines the steps to remember what matters. The author notes that most people are already doing many of his proposed behaviors. The needed addition to ongoing efforts relates to how those behaviors connect knowledge to user access and applications for creativity and more.

            Capture: Keep what resonates

            Organize: Save for actionability

            Distill: Find the essence

            Express: Show your work[3]

            The P.A.R.A. acrostic outlines a “universal system or organization designed to work across your digital world.”[4] Forte recommends PARA across computers, storage drives, and digital apps designed for note-taking.

            Projects: Notes containing ideas for five to fifteen topics

            Areas: Folders covering topics from work to personal life

            Resources: Contains topics of interest

            Archives: Keeps a record of any of the first three categories no longer active[5]

            If one thinks that this opportunity to organize and use information in beneficial ways means minimal changes to certain habits, think again. On a higher level than digital apps and collating techniques, a more extensive change must accompany the development of a Second Brain. “To properly take advantage of the power of the Second Brain, we  need a new relationship to information, to technology, and even to ourselves.”[6] As I read that sentence and pondered the implications, my mind turned to younger members of our staff who seem to embody a different position on information. Perhaps due to their entire life living in a digital age, they engage information in ways portrayed by Forte. In meetings, Gen Z folks find everything on a device. Some of my information is written down manually, and some digitally. They have one source while I have a few.

            I also reflected back on our first weeks in this program and Dr. Clark’s encouragement to explore the Obsidian app. Over the last three years, I have had a love-hate relationship with it. Obsidian appears to perform many of the tasks Forte champions with less work than described in the book. I have renewed hope and commitment to using a digital notetaking platform. My main reason lies in my desire to write after graduation. I believe the early church values and actions can inform the current church about effective engagement toward kingdom purposes. That topic occupies a consistent passion that I want to pursue. However, Forte cautions against underestimating the transition to a new manner of knowledge gathering and deployment. He also promises that the payoff makes the effort worth it. “When you transform your relationship to information, you will begin to see the technology in your life not just as a storage medium but as a tool for thinking.[7] That sounds like a big “win.”

[1] Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organise Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential (New York: Atria Books, 2022), 17.

[2] Ibid., 16.

[3] Ibid., 43.

[4] Ibid., 96.

[5] Ibid., 96-99.

[6] Ibid., 19.

[7] Ibid., 3.

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

3 responses to “What To Do When Your Brain Storage Is Full”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: I thought this book was interesting. After graduation, I’m going to try and put into practice some of his recommendations. I might as well try it for myself and see if it helps. If it does, I might write a sequel: “How to Create a Third Brain.”

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    You say you intend/hope to write. Write what? Blogs? Articles? Or perhaps a book?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Eric, I don’t have a final product in mind, but I have carried a thought for a long time now. I appreciate how Forte talked about the Second Brain facilitating pursuit of passions you hold. Back in the late 1990s, I read “SoulTsunami” by Leonard Sweet (GFU prog in the “Semiotics” track). Paraphrasing him from that book, he said, “The 21st century will be more like the 1st century than the 20th century.” Over time, that thought has led to me to wonder and do some reading as to why the early church was so effective in a time when it was on the fringes of culture in terms of influence. Roman Empire values were opposed to Christian faith in many ways. The church grew rapidly during those early years. As the church once again moves to the fringes of cultural influence and norms, what can we learn from the early church that help the church be effective in this new day? I want to write about that, perhaps just to answer my own question, perhaps more. I often tell people that a burden stands the test of time – it’s not a momentary thing. This thought has intrigued me for over two decades.

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