The true test of whether a piece of knowledge is valuable is not whether it is perfectly organized and neatly labeled, but whether it can have an impact on someone or something that matters to you. - Tiago Forte - The Second Brain and PARA Guy | Teaching people how to build one for themselves.
My reading goal for this book was to improve workflows in my “Life Toolkit” (quests, plans, projects, and tasks) and my “Content Toolkit” (my notes, reports, templates, and articles).
My results :
- I’ve changed my project workflow in my Life Toolkit, formalizing some parts I was doing “informally,” such as creating an “Archipelago of Ideas” instead of just outlines and mind maps.
- I have a lot of ideas about the “Intermediate packets” concept for my Content Toolkit. The idea is simple and widely used in software development, but I’ve rarely seen it described in PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) content.
- Bonus result: now I also have ideas about marketing in the PKM niche (not sure if it will be helpful for me, but they are definitely exciting).
Overall impression: the book was practical, easy to read, and thought-provoking.
- People who are unsure if they need PKM or not - the book has good explanations and research results, plus clearly stated benefits of note-taking, note-making, and building a “second brain.”
- People who just starting out their PKM journey. They can use Tiago’s system and modify it later to fit their needs.
- People who already have some thinking and note-taking systems in place can benefit from several valuable tips and tricks and close some discrepancies they currently have in their systems (for example, “from collector to creator’s” problem)
Interesting research results about problems with modern knowledge work. Knowledge workers on average, spend 76 hours per year looking for the missing files, notes, and other digital documents, and only 56 % of the time are they able to find the information required to do their jobs (white paper .pdf). Also, Tiago writes about the challenges of young professionals starting the “real work”: “No one tells you when or how your notes will be used,” “The “test” can come at any time and in any form.” and other challenges that look painfully familiar.
Self-improvement vs. external systems improvement. Important point: optimizing and improving “outside” systems is easier and more realistic than optimizing and improving ourselves. Self-improvement sounds “difficult” and “boring” (probably that’s why a lot of people (including me) prefer to optimize their tools, systems, tags, and folders).
The “Second Brain” general concept. The Second Brain consists of notes as "knowledge building blocks ."Its primary function is to "Clarify, Connect, Incubate, and Make outside ideas “personal.” To achieve this goal, Tiago suggests using the CODE system: “C - keep what resonates, O - save for actionability, D - find the essence, E - show your work.”
C - capture What to capture? Keep what resonates: “Does it inspire me?”, “Is it useful?”, “Is it personal?”, "Is it surprising? Here is the additional Tiago’s tweet about knowledge capture: “The reason knowledge capture is so hard is no tech company wants you to do it. The ability to take your content with you means you are independent of their platform. Knowledge capture is the key to digital independence.”
O - organize.
Imagine how absurd it would be to organize a kitchen instead by kind of food: fresh fruit, dried fruit, fruit juice, and frozen fruit would all be stored in the same place, just because they all happen to be made of fruit. Yet this is exactly the way most people organize their files and notes—keeping all their book notes together just because they happen to come from books, or all their saved quotes together just because they happen to be quotes. - Tiago Forte.
Organize with PARA (Projects, Areas, Resources, Archive). Put notes into one of these categories, starting from the Projects (most actionable) to the Archive (least actionable). My question: putting notes to the Archive from the beginning sounds like “digital hoarding .” If I am putting a note to the Archive folder from the start, do I actually need this note?
D - distill. Distill your notes with the Progressive Summarization technique - visually highlight essential points. My opinion: the “Distill” stage probably needs more analytical processing; summarizing and selecting the main issues is not enough for me to make notes useful or interesting in the future. They are still just other people’s thoughts, compacted and highlighted.
E - express. Make “intermediate packets” and show your work in small increments (deliverables like tweets, small notes, mind maps, outlines, etc.). Tiago suggests making intermediate packets and delivering them to your friends, family, or colleagues based on the theory of “instant gratification .” It gives you helpful feedback, motivation, and interest to go ahead and create further.
The word “productivity” has the same origin as the Latin verb producere, which means “to produce.” Which means that at the end of the day, if you can’t point to some kind of output or result you’ve produced, it’s questionable whether you’ve been productive at all - Tiago Forte
The moment we should stop collecting new ideas and information and start creating something new ourselves is right in the center of the picture above.
Waiting until you have everything ready before getting started is like sitting in your car and waiting to leave your driveway until all the traffic lights across town are green at the same time. You can’t wait until everything is perfect. There will always be something missing, or something else you think you need - Tiago Forte
How to start creating? Create an “Archipelago of Ideas” first. Then, make the first draft (outline) based on your collected materials (with links to the already processed sources). First step - select materials; second step - rearrange them in a logical order; look at what you have and what you are missing. It can be all materials in different formats: images, screenshots from messengers, emails, tweets, etc.
How to stop creating. But you should “dial down the scope” and try to ship something small ("intermediate packets) quickly to receive feedback and make the changes (if needed) early in the process. I like the idea of “intermediate packets” as knowledge-building blocks. Thinking about this idea further, I would like to combine it with Maggie Appleton’s “Programmatic Notes” concept in the future.
Tiago explains how he recommends organizing and maintaining projects in the second brain: project kick-off and completion (postmortem) checklists, weekly and monthly reviews, and “noticing” habits - the skill you will develop gradually with the help of the second brain. In addition, Tiago has a detailed explanation of weekly reviews on his site - One touch guide of doing weekly review.
This is where Tiago answers the two most frequently asked questions in the PKM community: “What tool should I use?” and “What is the ROI and benefits of the second brain/Zettlekasten/smart note-taking etc.”?
The answer to the first question is that you should prioritize your mindset over your toolset. Tiago also warns us on his Twitter: "On your gravestone, if you’re not careful: “I wanted to follow my hopes and dreams, but couldn’t find the right app”.
The answer to the second question is sweet but sounds utopian to me. Tiago believes that the “Second Brain” can help you make significant shifts in your mindset and even change your identity: “from scarcity to abundance” and from “obligation to service.”
I’d like to see the research results; maybe it is a good idea to make “scarcity-abundance” and “obligation-service” sociological scales and to conduct regular longitudinal surveys in the PKM community to check these hypotheses.
- The Extended Mind by Annie Murphy Paul.
- Erwin Raphael McManus, The Artisan Soul: Crafting Your Life into a Work of Art
- Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It For Life
- Daniel Pink, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others
- The Detachment Gain: The Advantage of Thinking Out Loud by Daniel Reisberg
Building a second brain for beginners: CODE walkthrough - CODE framework in Obsidian and Logseq.
Every App Tiago Forte Uses - conversation with Francesco D’Alessio.