By nature, building a Life by Design requires a perpetual sense of intentionality. Getting clear about what you want, where you are, what is standing in your way, and what action you can take. To process these questions, we will often resort to our tools of introspection – pondering, writing, journaling, all that good stuff.

Sometimes these are simple musings, or us jotting down our wildest dreams, the things we hope to achieve but have no real way of engaging with yet. Other times we are busy making concrete plans, lists, and checklists.

As we work out our lives, we piece together our dreams with scraps of information, knowledge, messages, and drafts of content. Each piece adds to the puzzle that is the pursuit of our goals.

Every day we come across a wide range of inputs. We dig into the ideas of others, the lessons from those who have gone the way before us. We dip into the daily rapids of social media, a stream teeming with entertainment, propaganda, tips, tricks, and showcases.

A lot of it is useless, sure. But there is also so much information that we stumble upon that is clearly useful to our lives, our goals, and our routines. If we are lucky, we capture them somewhere, maybe in the bookmarks folder of our favourite platform, or in our watch later tab on YouTube. Where they proceed to be lost to time, never to be seen again.

Eventually, managing all these bits of information grows unwieldy. We have our notes and ideas strewn across notepads, notebooks, sheets of paper, as well as the aforementioned plethora of apps and social media platforms. If we are particularly messy, perhaps even our actual digital desktop is a chaotic mess of files. I’ve been there.

More frustratingly so, when we need to get work done, be creative, and pursue a goal, taking action becomes hampered by the difficulty of remembering and finding that cool idea or resource you came across the other day.

There has to be a way, a framework to approach this problem of personal knowledge management.

What if there was a way to wrangle all these platforms and mediums, all this knowledge, ideas, thoughts, and intellectual property in a way that is streamlined, and effective?

Imagine having a way to handle every stray idea or inspiration that came to mind or that you stumbled across. Imagine being able to archive the information you gather and find it at a whim. Imagine sitting down to work and having all the research and notes you’ve gathered, processed, and available at your fingertips ready to be whipped up into your next magnum opus.

Imagine reading books and retaining more, and being able to quickly dive back into the contents of those books just by quickly browsing your notes.

Consider the mental bandwidth it would free for you, grasp the kind of gains you could make to the quality and quantity of your work and your life.

Enter “Building a Second Brain” a book by Tiago Forte.

I first heard about this book some years ago but never got around to reading it properly. At the time, what little I knew about the concept paired well with Ryan Holiday’s idea of the Commonplace Book. But I definitely appreciated the premise and core idea, the need to have a framework and method to manage the information you collect, consume, and create in a way that deepens your learning and supercharges your effectiveness at getting things done.

I have always used notebooks and A4 sheets of paper to understand myself and plan my life. I have also dabbled with almost every app and platform known to man. And while my process had certainly improved over time, In 2024, there was certainly much room for improvement.

So over the past few months, I finally got around to it and I’ve been reading and re-reading the book, and I highly recommend the book. If you would like to build a proper personal knowledge management system and become a ninja at using and manipulating information, this is a good place to start. Get and read the book.

If you already have some form of personal knowledge management system going on, this book could help you refine and improve that still.

In the meantime, here are some key ideas.

First, what the hell is even a Second Brain?

A Second Brain is a system of note-capturing apps and processing methods that allow you to effectively manage the information you come across, consume, and create.

With it, you can collate all the random ideas, notes to self, research, plans, checklists, dreams, creative projects, goals, all the bits of information that run your life and put them into a framework that allows you to easily capture things that resonate with you, process them and find them when you need to use it.

Essentially, your Second Brain is an external digital repository that handles the collection and storing of facts, ideas, and information, so that your actual brain, your First Brain is free and primed to do what it does best – think, imagine, and create.

This is especially important for the creative. A huge part of the creative process is collecting information, references, ideas, and inspiration. The way we collect these pieces of information and the ease with which we can manipulate, use, and reuse them will have massive impacts on our creative output and experience.

It is important for everyone, even if you don’t consider yourself creative.

Anything you want to accomplish – executing a project at work, getting a new job, learning a new skill, starting a business – requires finding and putting to use the right information.

Tiago Forte (Building a Second Brain)

So, why build and maintain a Second Brain?

  1. It keeps you organised. We consume and create an enormous amount of information daily, we need a system to keep all of it in check, capturing what is truly important in an easily scannable, digestible, and implementable format. I have talked about the power of being organised many times. Bringing this philosophy into your knowledge management system is a superpower. When you are set up like this, you are able to work effectively, and even when you are thrown off course, or take breaks or time off from the project, you are easily able to pick up right where you left off because of how organised you are.
  2. It helps you look deeper at the world around you. Knowing that you have a system on hand, to easily capture and review information that is important to you, you begin to engage with the world more deeply. You deepen the texture of your life. You are no longer overwhelmed, but able to listen properly, take better notes, notice things you never saw before, and make connections you never noticed before. You can freely go down rabbit holes knowing you have a way to capture the things you learn.
  3. It helps you understand and retain more from the content you consume. With the Second Brain, you will have a way to capture the ideas you glean from videos, social media, books, random chats with friends, and so on. More so, you are able to actually engage with the ideas, put them in your own words, and apply them to your life.
  4. Curate your storehouse of ideas and epiphanies. All those crazy and powerful insights you get in your daily life. From that book, video, podcast, conversation. Now you have a place to put them and return to when you need them. Over time, you will build your personal library of wisdom, your own tao.
  5. Makes it easy for you to do the work that matters. In our fast-paced world, we are bombarded with information and requests all day. Having a Second Brain allows us to focus on what is truly important to us and handle the rest appropriately. In today’s age, the quality of work and opportunities we have are a direct function of the information we use and have. Building a Second Brain is a powerful tool in increasing our skills, and advancing our careers.
  6. Frees up the mind to do what it does best, be creative. Like I said earlier, the Second Brain does the work of remembering and organising all the information that you come across, so you can actually do the fun stuff – being innovative and creative, actually putting remarkable things out into the world.

Be regular and orderly in your life so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Gustave Flaubert, French Novelist.

This might all seem overwhelming, but the key idea here is to take this concept and make it your own. Embed these ideas in your way into your daily routine and lifestyle. As you build your Second Brain, it will become second nature to capture the ideas that resonate with you, as well as review and process your notes, so as you work on your practice of work or creativity, as you build your Life by Design, you are able to be incredibly effective and do amazing things.

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