My Second Brain, A Case Study
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
In the era we live, we are exposed to much information all the time. The internet is full of valuable and diverse content that can be useful for different areas of life. Every time we open social network sites, we are bombed by a multitude of advertisements of various brands promoting their products. Apart from that, we live with busy schedules and tons of activities to complete every day. Having such occupied minds can be very exhausting and can affect our productivity. It can even stop us from enjoying our time as we are focused on handling information and duties.
Fortunately, we can use a system in which we can store, manage, filter information, and create new content based on what we learned from the sources. The writer and entrepreneur, Tiago Forte, is the creator of this system, and he teaches it through his course Building A Second Brain. I took this course this month as part of the Praxis Program, and it is helping me significantly in the construction of my career, but also my personal growth. Tiago teaches how to use tools, but it is each person’s responsibility to build their second brains. The purpose of having a second brain is not to help us to remember things. It is to help us to transform data, so our main brain can focus on its principal function: to think more.
During the course, Tiago implements Evernote (a note-taking app) as the leading platform for managing information. Because of its different features and the flexibility it has for transferring data from/to other platforms, I prefer Evernote too. However, this system can be used on other similar platforms. The essential thing is that they need to be reliable, universal, and maintain over time.
Some of the basic organization processes I learned in this course are the following:
P.A.R.A.: The P.A.R.A. system consists of categorizing our life into four main sections: (Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives). The purpose of it is to help me to enhance my work and make it easy for me to find every piece of information I need. I include in my Project section all the activities that have specific goals and a deadline. In my Areas of responsibility, I add different fields in my life in which I have responsibilities that I need to maintain in the long term. In Resources, I keep useful information related to themes or activities I am involved in, that nurtures my knowledge or can serve me as inspiration for new ideas. Part of those resources are links to lectures, articles, websites, videos, advertisements, etc. In Archives, I store past projects or resources that I currently do not need. Because they contain valuable pieces of information, I can review them in the future and use them as references for other projects.
In the next video, I explain with more details about how to use Evernote and the P.A.R.A. system:
Progressive Summarization: Another vital structure that I use in my second brain is Progressive Summarization. It consists of compressing content in a way that keeps its context and is easy for me to discover. If I squeeze the notes too much, I can lose the context and meaning. If I include too many details, the document loses discoverability. The main advantage of this structure is that it simplifies for me the process of capturing, analyzing, and transforming information into new thoughts that my mind produces. You can watch me putting progressive summarization into action in this video for having a better understanding of the concept and its implementation.
Maximizing return on Attention: The objective of this system is to structure my work to maximize the value I create and my return-on-attention. I achieve this by packaging my work into small blocks at more frequent intermissions.
When I do not waste high-quality attention struggling with irrelevant aspects of my work session, such as setting up the environment where I am going to work in and preparing myself mentally and emotionally for the work, instead I can put that valuable attention into getting fully involved and focused on the activities I am going to perform. This action helps me to improve the quality of my work and finish my final deliverable meeting the goals I had for it. The key is place-holding tasks such as researching, note-taking, brainstorming, giving examples, outlining, creating prototypes, and drafts. But while I collect feedback frequently in each stage of the project and for every task finished.
Just in Time Project Management: This system consists of using different techniques for implementing digital notes to create project outputs. I perform three action items that every strategy needs. First, I identify the problem that is causing me delays in my project or is stopping me from achieving the goals I have for it. Then I find a general solution and finally, I design an action plan. Depending on the type of problem I face, I choose specific strategies that help me to overcome the areas of troubles and improve my project management. In the next video, I explain how to use three strategies/techniques that have been very helpful for me.
P.K.M. Canvas (Project Knowledge Management): For finishing the construction of my second brain, I completed a canvas booklet with an overview of my own project knowledge management and the main things I learned from the course. I have a physical, pocket-size, transcribed version, I love it because it is accessible for me at any time. It looks like this:
Overall, building a second brain has helped me to improve the way I capture and transform information significantly. Before, it was tough for me to take notes and find valuable pieces that got lost in documents. Now it is straightforward for me to have quick access to essential content that I use for my projects. I am also getting better at summarizing information, analyzing it, and transforming it into new thoughts and concepts. Having a second brain is like having my personal library, where I keep just what is relevant to me. It helps me to stay on track with my life and its different areas and contributes to the enrichment of my knowledge.