In this ever-evolving digital world, we have greater access to information than ever before. At the same time, this information overload can often hinder our ability to stay organised and productive.
That’s where the concept of the ‘second brain’ comes in. Coined by Tiago Forte in his thought-provoking book ‘Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential,’ it’s based on the idea that your first brain is fantastic at ideation and creativity, however, it’s not so great at holding on to and retrieving information. The digital second brain, however, allows you to capture notes and ideas, making them discoverable and most importantly, actionable.
In this blog, we’ll guide you through building and managing your second brain, as well as seamlessly integrating a task management system within it. Get ready to unlock a new level of productivity because this is a game-changer!
What is a second brain?
Before we dive into the practical steps of building your second brain, let’s explore what it entails. A second brain goes beyond mere notetaking, in fact, it’s a comprehensive system that leverages digital tools and techniques to capture and organise your knowledge and ideas. It allows you to retrieve information effortlessly, empowering you to be more creative and analytical.
You can create your second brain on a variety of applications. However, with the numerous options available, it’s essential to understand the pros and cons of each and choose the one that aligns with your needs. Here are just a few of our recommendations:
Second brain applications
This is an OG free application has long been a popular choice for knowledge management and note taking. Evernote has powerful search capabilities, allowing you to find your notes effortlessly, plus a range of formatting options, such as tables and checklists and the ability to attach files to your notes. It’s also suitable for collaborative team projects and syncs your notes automatically to all your devices, so you can access your second brain wherever you are! The downside to Evernote is its interface which could overwhelm you as a beginner if you’re looking for a more straightforward, streamlined experience.
Developed by Microsoft, this free application allows you to create notebooks, sections, pages, and tags to help you organise your knowledge. Its strength, however, lies in its simple and user-friendly interface. With the ability to add text, images, screenshots, videos, links and just about anything else to any space on the page, it’s extremely easy to capture information on a subject all in one space. And as this is a Microsoft product you can integrate this application with the other tools in the MS suite, such as Excel, Word and Outlook and easily share your notebooks with your team members. However, compared to the other options, its collaboration features are somewhat limited, which might make it less suitable for collaborative work.
This is another free application which, unlike the other options in this list, offers far more than just note-taking and storing. With Notion, you can build a comprehensive collaborative workspace in which you can create documents and databases, manage projects and track tasks. You can also integrate with your team Slack, GitHub, Zoom and Calendly – to name but a few! Its versatility makes this option a favourite amongst second brain experts who want an all-in-one platform for their knowledge and task management. But this could also overwhelm a beginner as there’s a steep learning curve thanks to its extensive features.
This is a relatively new paid application which has AI-powered features, such as automatic tags and automated workflows. You can also create templates for your notes, plus you have access to your very own AI writing assistant. The app has very clean and intuitive interface making it a fantastic option for beginners. However, as a new platform, the integration options are limited compared to the more established options above.
Ok, so taking all this information into account, let’s say you’ve selected your app, so now how do you set up your second brain? Well, this is where the PARA method comes in…
What is the PARA method?
Tiago’s PARA method sets out a practical framework for organising your digital information within your second brain.
PARA stands for:
This involves identifying and categorising your active projects. These are specific initiatives that require your attention and action. Organise project-related notes, tasks, and references within your second brain to keep everything centralised and easily accessible.
Define the key areas of your personal and professional life e.g. professional development, fitness, nutrition, and career. Each of these pillars should have a separate section within your second brain, allowing you to save any relevant information, notes, or ideas specific to each area.
Dedicate a section in your second brain to your collection of reference materials e.g. insightful and inspiring articles, videos, infographics, and podcasts. Keeping these resources together means that you can access them anytime.
As projects become inactive or reach their completion move them into your archive section. This declutters your active workspace whilst remaining accessible for potential future use.
Managing your second brain
Structuring your second brain with the above-mentioned PARA method is only the beginning. Effectively managing your second brain once it’s set up is the key to sustainable productivity.
Consider developing a workflow for processing information within each of the 4 categories so that there are defined rules for reviewing, updating, and archiving your information.
For example, schedule a regular time slot each week (top tip: add this as a recurring event in your digital calendar) to review your second brain, ensuring that it remains accurate and up to date.
Recommended task management applications
Whilst the second brain concept is focused primarily on knowledge management, the additional integration of a task management system can further boost your productivity and streamline your processes.
There are now so many task management applications and platforms available (both free and paid) it’s important that you consider your particular requirements e.g. device compatibility, complexity, team collaboration options, and most importantly whether it integrates with your second brain app.
Here are just 3 of the task management applications for you to explore:
This visual task management system allows you to create boards, lists, and ‘cards’ to track tasks and projects. It’s simple and intuitive interface makes it an excellent choice for beginners and those who prefer a visual approach to task management. You can also collaborate with your team members in real-time for transparent and accountable teamwork. However, if you need to manage more complex projects and want access to automation features this perhaps may not be the best option for you.
Asana is a comprehensive task management system designed for both individuals and teams. It allows you to track complex projects, assign tasks to team members, and receive deadline reminders for increased productivity and streamlined communication. However, its vast array of features may put off beginner users.
This minimalistic application has a very user-friendly interface and focuses on enhancing your productivity. It offers the ability to add due dates, labels, and priorities to help you efficiently manage and track your tasks. It’s available on desktop and mobile and integrates with a myriad of other applications. Due to its streamlined design, Todoist is an ideal choice for beginners. However, if you want access to advanced team collaboration features you may find it missing the mark.
Remember that building your second brain is an ongoing process and you need to continually review and optimise it. However, once you have a good grasp on maintaining your second brain, integrating a task management system can further enhance your productivity.
By striking the balance between regularly capturing information and taking action, you will gain greater control over your digital life, increase your creativity, reduce the risk of forgotten information, and achieve your goals.