How to Build Yourself a Second Brain

Your brain is a terrible environment to store information. Just imagine what a shit show your life would be if you had to remember:

  • Phone numbers of everyone in your life
  • Every task that you needed to take care of
  • Every password to websites

You would lose your mind.

That's why we store our contacts in phones, use productivity apps, and write things down. Daniel Levitin, the author of The Organized Mind, defines this as externalization. Each item has a designated location.

Phone numbers and to-do lists are a small fraction of the information we're dealing with daily. We read books, listen to podcasts, have conversations, and so much more. Unless you're one of those unicorns with a photographic memory, there's no way to remember everything.

But, what if you could build yourself a second brain? A brain that you could access any time that would enable you to:

Whether you realize it or not, you've already built parts of your second brain. The address-book on your phone is part of your second brain. But in its current form, your second brain is useless. To really make use of your second brain, it's something you have to deliberately design.


Decide on a Structure

In our interview on The Unmistakable Creative, Tiago Forte shared his structure for building a second brain with Evernote:

  • Projects: Things you're currently working on
  • Areas of Interest: Things you're researching
  • Resources: Notes from books, conversations, etc
  • Archives: Projects you're finished with

What's excellent about Tiago's structure is the simplicity. You can create subcategories within the categories and easily find information.

While my setup isn't identical, I use Notion to organize my ideas and manage creative projects:

  • Writing: Blog posts and daily writing sessions
  • Projects: Books, client work, events, etc.
  • Personal knowledge base: Notes from the books I'm reading
  • Admin: Meeting agendas, documentation, etc.

Building your second brain is about organizing information with a specific structure. It's about giving information a home, so you can easily access it.


Decide on a Tool

Like I’ve told the students in our writing course, the tool matters less than the system. But there are some criteria to consider when you're choosing a tool:

  • Searchability: You want to make sure it's easy to find what you're looking for.
  • Categories/Tags: If you can't quickly put things into categories and tag them, your second brain will be useless.
  • Digital: I'm a big fan of analog tools. I encourage people to always carry a notebook. But, a second brain is more valuable when it's digital. It's hard to search through pages of a physical notebook.

Notion: It's safe to say that I'm a MASSIVE fan of Notion. I submit feature requests to them daily. I spend more time in it than any other app I have. I love Notion because I can use one tool for:

  • Distraction free-writing
  • Client projects
  • Task management
  • Personal knowledge management

Notion has become my second brain. Not only that, it's collaborative. I can share things with my proofreader and have her edit in Notion.

Evernote: Evernote's mission is to help you remember everything. That makes it another suitable tool for building your second brain.

AverPoint: lets me, with one-click, capture notes from any website or PDF, tag every quote, and organize them in a Pinterest-like UX. This is insanely useful when you're trying call up reference material for a book or article. To request an invite, click here.


Put Things Where They Belong

You'd never buy a mansion and store all your possessions in the living room. Creating a second brain is like The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up for Your Brain. Think about how much time you waste each week looking for files, graphics, etc.

By giving all of your digital information a home, you'll know exactly where to find things. For example, you might:

  • Have a Dropbox folder for contracts that you sign
  • A Notion page for book notes
  • A service like Brand.AI where you can store all of your brand assets.

Your brain is a powerful machine. Stop treating it like a storage closet. Build a second one, and use your first brain for deep work and creativity.

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