Building a Second Brain

Last week, I came across this podcast featuring Tiago Forte of Forte Labs. In the podcast, Tiago discusses the need to completely outsource your recall memory to computers so that you may spend more time on creating and strategizing.

The key concept to Tiago’s work on the topic is called C.O.D.E which stands for collect, organize, distill, and express. Most of us are great at the collect portion (it’s become fairly natural in a digital world) and might be good at the express portion via social media. We are typically terrible at the middle two.

Personally, I feel like I’m decent at collecting and organizing, but really bad at the latter two. I’m in the midst of trying to express more here and on Twitter – though I’m mostly still just a silent participant the majority of the time. I’ve used my blog as a place to distill key thoughts from books, but reviewing podcast notes and articles is a much more sporadic process.

I’ve also struggled with the focus v. consumption balance – i.e. do I consume more or deeper? When do I get away from Twitter or the web to do deep work?

However, much like David Epstein (author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World) has discussed on his podcast tour, I actually now believe my ability and willingness to go broad on research and consume a lot is a competitive advantage – if I can continually follow a protocol like CODE.

With distributed work becoming more of the norm, I think this is a particularly interesting topic for firms to consider too. Where are teams going to store information, how will they collect and organize across varied functions that are critical to one another’s success, but almost never interact in person? Can and do they distill and express it in an asynchronous way across cultures and timezones?

It’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the potential of WNDYR and their new product Pattyrn.

Much like Tiago, I believe the most of the important work in the future is going to be done at the intersection of several disciplines – he uses crypto as his example but I think energy is a good example as well. Finance, physics, policy, and psychology will all play a large role in the ongoing energy transition.

Thus, second brains will become crucial in disseminating information from individuals of specialized knowledge to teammates who might be less informed and for individuals collecting knowledge from various sources.

Over the weekend, I took some time distilling some of the materials I’ve collected over the years – mainly Kindle and podcast notes as a first step as Tiago recommends. I also slightly adapted the PARA method which I tweeted about a few weeks ago, I find it more simple than GTD and much easier to implement. Here’s what it all looks like when it comes together across Things, Drafts, and Notion.

To Do – Used for Simple ToDo’s

  • Projects (short term projects with due dates approaching)
  • Responsibilities (long-term things I need to consistently check in on)
  • Resources (items I’d like to review or read before submitting them into Notion)
  • Archives (projects or responsibilities that are complete)

Bear – Used for Simple Notetaking

  • Same outline as above, but usually longer, simple notes from meetings, podcasts, or blog ideas.
  • Ex. listening to a podcast and taking notes, meeting notes, blog outlining

Notion – The Second Brain

  • The central repository where everything eventually ends up for searchability and easy recall
  • Outline
    • Daily Journal – modeled after my Best Self notebook, a quick list of gratitudes and what would make the day a win
    • Principles – modeled after Principles by Ray Dalio, what are the high-level things I believe to be true or want to operate from every day
    • Projects (in-depth work on short-term items, ex. due diligence)
    • Responsibilities (more in-depth work on long-term items)
    • Resources (completed reviews of materials with 1-3 takeaways easily accessible)
      • Articles
      • Podcasts
      • Books
      • Essays / Academic Journals
    • Archives

More on PARA can be found here.

Kevin Stevens

Partner @ Intelis Capital investing in the digitization of traditional industries. Previously product lead at KPCB-backed Choose Energy.
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