After mastering the process of Smart Note Taking, the next step is to put it into a sustainable system. The best format I found was the Second Brain. Before I read all about it, I had already taken notes for 10+ years and saved them in Microsoft OneNote in several notebooks. Hearing Tiago Forte’s Podcast (short and concise) blew my mind. I took notes almost all my life but never thought of it as my second brain. On top of it, sometimes valuable information I didn’t capture just because I didn’t have that mental model of a second brain and nowhere to save, so I just skipped it.
For example, when I visit my doctor or the dentist today, I will write the condition of my health or my teeth in my second brain. I had COVID recently, and I found it necessary enough for my future self. Therefore added my symptoms and the details so that next time I have a check-up or want to assess my health, I can open my notes from my second brain and connect the dots.
So what is the second brain? In short, it is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. It expands our memory and intellect using the modern tools of technology and networks. It is for preserving those ideas but turning them into reality. It provides a clear, actionable path to creating a “second brain” – an external, centralised, digital repository for the things you learn and the resources from which they come. If you want to know all about it, read Tiagos’s complete article on it.
After reading that, I transformed my folder-organised notes into an entire second brain. I started changing the structure from my nested librarian folder to Folder Structure PARA. PARA stands for Project, Area, Resources, and Archive. And that are the only four folders you have in this system. Regarding Tiago, our brain is not built to handle an infinite amount of nested folders. That’s why PARA tries to keep no more than four levels.
To give you an idea of what the structure of my second brain can look like, below you find folders I created inside the PARA structure:
Obsidian Folder Structure with PARA
If you want to build the same structure yourself, follow the step-by-step explanation by Systematic Mastery from Zowie). There is no right or wrong, it’s your second brain, and you need to find out what works best for your brain.
Choosing the Right Tool
It’s important to find the right tool for what you are doing. I like the differentiation between 1. Librarian (mostly stage one when collecting info), 2. Architect (stage two with organizing knowledge), and 3. Gardener (stage three with digesting knowledge and making connections) and choosing the tool accordingly.
Some benefits you’ll get from the Second Brain:
- it transforms your knowledge into your physical second brain by acknowledging and being able to bring it everywhere you go
- it uncovers unexpected patterns and connections between ideas while writing down and tinkering with your thoughts
- it reduces stress and “information overload” by trusting in your system and growing your knowledge and connections
- it develops valuable expertise, specialised knowledge, and the skills around your notes and thoughts which help your personal life, new job, career, or business
- and it cultivates and captivates valuable knowledge and insights over time without having to follow rigid, time-consuming rules
Only keep what resonates with you
Important again to only keep in your second brain what resonates with you. Don’t copy-paste from the internet. Add a link to the original article and write what it’s all about in your own words.
Generally, when taking notes, remember to make them for your future self. It does not hurt you to add a lot of copied text now, but within a couple of years, it will clutter your second brain and take away most of the joy. Instead, envision that all notes you linked are thoughts of yours. You’ll be instantly reminded of what a particular thing was and can easily connect these thoughts to other ideas when you read. It starts to form a second brain with connections from one note to one or several others. And our (first) brain works the same, and because of it, it feels so natural to store it in such a way.
In the following chapter, we’re going to cover the Zettelkasten method, which in some cases is used interchangeably with a second brain. They are not, and I will explain what it is and how I integrated it as a dedicated folder in mine.
More on How to build a Second Brain.
Origin: Personal Knowledge Management Workflow for a Deeper Life
References: Obsidian Notion