I read Building A Second Brain by Tiago Forte on January 2023. I have seen this book around a few times on internet, but the first note I have about it points to http://lazybear.io/notes/til-notebook/
The first part and the last chapter: Description and rationale of second brains
These parts explains what a second brain is and what can be done with them.
The main idea that I got from it is that a good note system is organised towards action. Most of the many layers of work towards the second brain is motivated by the outcome rather than a desire to keep it in a certain order.
The last chapter explains a few shifts that are interesting. The consumer to creator shift is the most important to me as a solution of the problems illustrated in Stand out of our light.
The “obligation to service” shift seems like an interesting idea too, although I haven’t experienced it myself.
Having a good note system and using it doesn’t convert chores into anything else. Perhaps the author experiences a deeper connection with the second brain that I haven’t reached yet.
Quotes and anecdotes
There are some good examples of people that use some form of documentation system to help with their professions.
I liked Richard Feynman 12 question approach in particular.
However some of the quotes and described effects I couldn’t help but feel a bit of excess hype. The second brain removes the user from the biological limitations, it argues.
This is true for any tool though.
The same criticism applies to all the successful people quotes. There are some creative people that use some form of documentation similar to what the second brain describes, with Taylor Swift as one of the examples. I think it is a bit of a jump to say anything other than some successful people use note systems extensively.
The 2nd part: CODE implementation
It is a division in 4 steps of the process of creation, with the capture and organisation for the divergent parts, distil and express for the convergent parts. This is the part where most of the information and proposals of workflows are.
There are great ideas to automate as much as possible. The book embraces audio recorders, browser plugins, bookmarks collections, ebook software to maximise collection.
Compared to what I use, it favours longer notes with emphasis in distillation later.
The PARA method is explained in detail. A quick summary:
- projects: the immediate and actionable
- areas of responsibility: the non immediate, long term areas that we need to keep to a certain standard
- resources: the future stuff that is open ended
- archive: the things that we left in the past
The book focuses a bit on the time and intent side of it, which I found useful. It also explains how to implement it into a note system with folders with some examples. Despite the general tool agnostic approach, this one I couldn’t find use for.
The idea is to review the notes and through boldening and underlining highlight the relevant information for whichever creative task we are doing.
From my own personal experience this layering of work through reviews is necessary to keep a note system in a healthy state.
However I have found the particular implementation presented difficult to use. The notes are quite big in the examples and multiple distillations cannot exist if they are not through different notes.
In my opinion atomic systems like zettelkasten are a better solution by embracing a high number of shorter notes
Express and On creativity (Chapters 7 and 8)
The expression and creativity chapters are mostly about composition. The idea is that to create all is needed is to join some notes (intermediate packets is the name in the book) with some intent.
It offer some techniques to help with the creative part and project execution, but nothing too remarkable.
The habits chapter
In my opinion this is the least comprehensive part of the book. The book mentions and takes inspiration from both atomic habits and getting things done, but can’t go into too much detail given the size of the section.
It outlines important parts of the maintenance of the second brain note system, which is periodic reviews of the PARA elements to move things around and declare things done.
I missed something that integrated the task system with the note system. I suspect this is a consequence of it being tool-agnostic.
Some tools that integrate tasks: obsidian, org-mode or even the old zim.
The book is not for me, as I already have something close to what it advises and I already use the PARA method.
It can be illuminating if you are not familiar with the concept and the overall emphasis on keeping your data together and action oriented is great.
But like learning an instrument the dividends come after a big amount of effort and the only practical way is to find enjoyment in it.
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