Episode: 546 |
Tiago Forte:
Author of Building a Second Brain:


Tiago Forte

Author of Building a Second Brain

Show Notes

In this session, Will Bachman and Tiago Forte discuss Tiago’s new book Building a Second Brain. They discuss how the concept provides value and work through each key learning aspect, the importance of using note-taking apps, including CODE and Para. Tiago talks about the background that led to the creation of the book and how it was strongly shaped by his experience in consulting.  Tiago shares his background as a junior project analyst at a boutique consulting firm called FaberNovel, where he learned the business model of consulting. Consultants are rapid learners, learning new things about the market, landscape, competitive arena, and internal aspects of clients. They must learn the client’s culture, power structure, priorities, and communication preferences quickly and use as few billable hours as possible. Tiago emphasizes that consultants must bring their best thinking to the table every day, as they are being paid to think. The results of their efforts are based on the quality of their thinking. He explains that once they learn a subject, they must apply it to as many projects and clients as possible to be profitable as a consulting firm. Absorbing, analyzing, and applying creative thinking to the client’s problem is the overall triangle, but within the bigger picture are many time consuming and expensive research branches, each of which must be understood and analyzed at speed. Gathering, keeping track of and accessing the information needed – quickly – is essential, and this essentially begins with note-taking. 


The Development of the Knowledge Repository

Tiago started taking notes professionally, realizing that his effectiveness as a professional and results for clients, in addition to quality of life depended on his ability to be efficient. He talks about the development of the principles in building a second brain, and how they can be applied to management consulting assignments, such as market landscape studies, focusing on the client’s culture, power structure, priorities, and communication preferences. By doing so, consultants can improve their effectiveness, results, save time, and ensure quality thinking again and again. He discusses the core principles of creativity and how they can be repurposed for various purposes. He shares his model, CODE, which is a simple framework designed to be universal across any profession. He outlines each stage of CODE. The first step involves capturing ideas and knowledge in various formats, such as photographs, sketches, drawings, text, and web bookmarks. Once captured, it is organized into groups based on the project, client, or aspect of the business. The next step is distilling the information into its essence, refinement, and synthesizing it into main takeaways or highlights. This process is essential for finding the signal in the noise of information, which is crucial for effective note-taking. The final stage is express, where the knowledge is shared in various forms such as writing, speaking, presenting, designing, building, launching, publishing, sharing, and selling. Tiago suggests that people should start by capturing their thoughts and ideas, and recommends tools like Evernote, and other note-taking apps. He also mentions the Second Brain Resource Guide, which provides resources and a comprehensive list of links, tools, and apps for capturing information, including saving quotes from podcasts, transcription tools, and includes a few tips on using Kindle and YouTube. In conclusion, the core principles of creativity and note-taking are essential for effective note-taking and knowledge management. By following these principles, individuals can create valuable content and share their knowledge effectively.


Communication Skills at Work

Tiago emphasizes the importance of distilling notes to retain their essence. He explains that humans are sensitive to the presentation of information and explains how even small changes to a website can have significant impacts on people’s behavior. He suggests a method called progressive summarization, which involves highlighting key points or elements that matter to the reader. He explains that when taking notes, it is essential to focus on the highlights that resonate with the reader and make them feel more connected to the content. This approach helps readers remember the important details and make better decisions about how to present information. Tiago also discusses the concept of progressive summarization, which involves highlighting key points or elements that are important for lifelong learning as opposed to a short term project. He shares a tutorial on how to do this on his blog and talks about how to select necessary information and what should be set aside. He talks about how your personal energy levels affect note-taking and how to use the second brain approach on bad days to maximize potential outcomes and save energy for higher level decision-making processes. Tiago also introduces the benefits of using intuition and how to apply it. Tiago explains the generative effect, which refers to the idea that once you start publishing or creating content, you get more ideas and better ideas, and shares his own journey of having a scarcity-driven view of creativity. However, he states that creativity is the opposite; the more you use it, the more you express it, and put it out there, the more it generates. He emphasizes that, by practicing intuition and embracing the generative effect, you can improve your decision-making, creativity, and wisdom in the real world. Tiago runs through how he uses Evernote and how he creates clear separation and distinctions between his first and second brains, making it easier to focus on one task at a time. He talks about organizing and distilling a large amount of material into a final published or significant piece of content. He explains the framework PARA and how he uses it.


Q & A Session on Building a Second Brain

In the Q & A session, Tiago answers questions on the following topics:

  • Dealing with analysis paralysis
  • How to segregate material
  • Identifying the basic building blocks 
  • The value of taking two notes a day
  • Reshaping knowledge
  • The paradox of research
  • Categorization of notes
  • This philosophical mindset question



The Second Brain website: https://www.buildingasecondbrain.com/

Forte Labs blog: https://fortelabs.com/blog/basboverview/

Email: https://fortelabs.com/subscribe/



07:46 Creativity and productivity using the “code” framework

12:55 Capturing information and building a second brain with Evernote and other tools

17:24 Audio rep revolution, video revolution, and distillation techniques

24:46 Designing a note-taking system for productivity

29:27 Creativity, note-taking, and a second brain system

35:14 Capturing and organizing creative ideas using a second brain

40:20 Organizing notes and creating content

45:28 Organizing notes and research without attaching them to specific projects

53:09 Building a second brain through note-taking and organization


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  1. Tiago Forte


Tiago Forte, Will Bachman


Will Bachman  00:00

Yeah. Hello, everyone and welcome to this event. I’m so excited to be talking to Thiago forte about his new book building a second brain. So I was one of the 1000s of people that has taken Thiago is course building a second brain. It’s been so helpful to me and reread and reading his new book on the topic, which I think is coming out in August was a great just reminder of all the material and got me so energized to start, you know, doing more creating. So Thiago, welcome to the session, Eric.


Tiago Forte  00:34

Thank you. Thanks. Well, it’s a it’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invitation.


Will Bachman  00:38

So you know, as we were chatting earlier, most of the audience here is independent management consultants. And you can assume you know, some people may be familiar with your work, some people may have note taking apps, what I thought we could do is have you walk us through a bit of a case study of how to apply the building a second brain principles to a management consulting assignment. And a fairly typical one that most people will do some aspect of is this sort of a market landscape study, right? Where you’re studying industry might be focused on one particular company, but you’re going to be doing primary interviews with some experts, you’re going to be downloading some reports, you’re getting some data, and expected to pull it together in a report and three or four weeks. So, you know, historically, when I’ve done these kinds of works, you’re just saving all sorts of files, you have random notes, handwritten things in notebooks. And it’s a bit of a mess. So walk us through maybe from first principles, walk us through, you know, cod, and Parra. And just give us an intro to the tools and help us understand, you know, how to get started. Yeah,


Tiago Forte  01:48

okay. My pleasure. So let me let me actually start even more. Even before that, I think there’s something very interesting in the intersection. So the background, the experience that led to the creation of this book is strongly shaped by my experience in consulting my first professional job when I served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, and then I returned to California to San Francisco got my kind of my first you know, real job professional job at a a small boutique consulting firm called fulbourn. Novell, which is actually a French company based in Paris, who has an office offices in a few different cities, but one of them was in San Francisco. And it was one of my first professional experiences. So that was kind of my introduction to to work, my introduction to business, my introduction to the professional world professional culture. And I hope, I think, when you when you read this book, if you read this book, you’ll see the the fingerprints of consulting everywhere, right. And specifically, what I learned in that role, first of all, I was the most junior person in the organization, I was like a junior project analyst, there was no one lower on the totem pole. Right. And so I sort of got to witness firsthand the business model of consulting, which I would summarize, so the way I think about it is consultants are really rapid learners. Right, that’s, that’s mostly what we do. As consultants, we are quickly, rapidly learning new things, whether it’s about the market, the landscape, the competitive arena, like external, or whether it’s internal, right, just as important, we have to learn the client, the clients culture, the client’s power structure, the clients priorities, the clients communication preferences. And we have to do both that external and internal learning. So fast, right, using as few billable hours as possible, because the client doesn’t really want to pay you for a lot of learning, you know, open ended learning hours, we have to do it fast, we have to do it rapidly, we have to do it, showing evidence that we’re doing it well. And we have to do it again. And again, and again. And again, like that’s the thing that always amazing about consulting, we have to bring our very best thinking, because that’s essentially what we’re being paid to do, we have to bring our best thinking to the table every single day. Right? As a consultant, you never get to coast. You never get to just phone it in, you’re being paid to think. And so the results of your efforts are based on on the quality of your thinking. So here’s what I took away from kind of noticing that is, I mean, at the very practical level, how we did business development, I noticed behind the scenes that we would, we would learn a topic, let’s say for example, one of them was self driving cars. Were in San Francisco, all about innovation. So at one point we did a client project. I think it was for one of the automakers where we advise them and consulted with them on the the future potential and competitive landscape of self driving cars, which is such an expensive thing to learn, right? Like you get how expensive learning is. It’s so time consuming, so energy consuming, it’s messy, right? You can’t just learn something by checking boxes. It’s exploratory, it’s divergent, it’s chaotic, you go down wrong paths, you make mistakes, you try things and fail, you go back, it’s so messy. All of which means it’s tremendously expensive. But once you’ve learned something, once we learned, say, self driving cars, we went around and sold that knowledge to as many clients as we could, which is what you have to do as consultants, right? Once you’ve acquired, you’ve mastered one framework, or you’ve learned one industry or learn one, I don’t know, way of improving an organization, you have to get that knowledge and just replicate as many times as you can. It’s almost like our version of manufacturing, or you design a car and you just manufacture as many copies as possible. As consultants, we learn a subject, and then we just apply that subject to as many projects and as many clients as we can. And that’s, as far as I could see, that was the only way to be profitable as a consulting firm, was to replicate the knowledge as many times as possible. Which brings up a question and this is where I started really taking notes professionally, I had done it before, for personal reasons, for health reasons. But I started realizing Wait a minute, my, my effectiveness as a professional, the results I produce for my clients, not to mention my quality of life, my ability to leave the office, while the sun was still shining, all depend on my personal because by the way, the consulting firm doesn’t help you with this so much, right, they don’t have a problem with you staying up all night working on that thing. So you kind of have to take it on yourself, I started just collecting everything in one single centralized place. And every time a request was made of me by the client, by someone more senior in the organization, the very first thing I would do is go into that knowledge repository, and try to find some building block case study template, some precedent, some, at least example that I could build upon, or reuse or use as a model. And really try to avoid at all costs starting from scratch anything. Okay, so that is the context of a second brain for consulting is simply preserving, organizing, and then reusing reapplying the knowledge that you’ve spent so much time and effort to acquire, to just have more leverage, be more efficient, save time? And do you know that quality thinking again, and again, is that helpful? Was that a helpful bridge


Will Bachman  07:46

now that that’s a good intro. And there’s, it’s often the case where something that you learn on one project, you could repurpose it, you could use it to create content to, you know, to post it, put it into a newsletter, put a post on LinkedIn, incorporate some other way, right. So for folks who are, oh, I didn’t say mention one thing. So I mentioned this now. So for the folks that are actually attending, attending this session, go ahead and put your name in the chat. So we have you because we’re gonna give sent out a free copy of the Argos book, everyone who’s attending. And for people that are listening to recording the first 25 folks that get back to us, we’ll send you a copy to when it comes out in August. So juggler, let’s say, for someone who does not yet have Evernote, who’s thought about it, whatever. Walk us through the core principles of capture, organize, distill, express. And maybe we just start with Capture, it’d be great for you just kind of give us an overview of some of the tools that are out there. And some of the principles of you know, of each one of those steps. Sure.


Tiago Forte  08:56

Yeah. So code, cod is my my model. That is, it’s so simple, and still somehow took me, you know, a decade to arrive at, like all simple frameworks. That describes the fundamental nature of the creative process. You know, I’m trying to find a systematic approach to creativity. So that when I go to be creative, I’m not just like, in an empty room, blank slate, blank canvas, creating from nothing, which is actually not that effective. is more like Legos. I was a huge fan of Legos as a kid and what do you do with Legos? First thing you do is get that huge bin and dump it on the floor, and then just start going like this. Right? Just start putting things together, seeing if that fits thing if this fits, you know, trying different things. It’s kind of like Scrabble tiles also, right? What do you do when you’re looking for a word, you just start moving the tiles and seeing what jumps out at you. You need something to touch and interact with. So that’s code and It’s designed to be universal across any profession. So let’s go through it. First one is capture. Before you can do anything else, you have to document you have to get ideas and knowledge and information out of here, right, where it’s vague and kind of mysterious and very intangible into some kind, any kind of external format. That can be a photograph, it could be a sketch or a drawing, it can be text, it can be a web bookmark, it can be so many different things, take your pick, write only then when it’s external, can you start to work with it. Once you’ve externalized, it captured it, we move on to Oh, which is organized, or you have to had some kind of structure, some kind of order, you know, prioritize what’s important and what’s not put it in different groups based on whether it’s for this project, or this client, or this part of your life or this aspect of your business. Right, you can’t really do much when it’s when when the Legos are all in one giant band, you can’t do much, you have to sort of spread them out and then start putting them into groups. Once you’ve done that, so each step enables and sets the stage for the next one, right. So once you organize, you can distill. And this is the missing link for most people. For most people’s note taking, and what we call knowledge management distill is the thing they don’t even know they need. And it just means to get whatever the information is. And boil it down to its essence, boil it down, refine it, synthesize it down into the main takeaways, the main points, the main conclusions, whatever, whatever that looks like for you. And the reason that’s important is you need to be able to find the signal in the noise. Right information is always noisy, there’s just all these random details, you have to find the signal in the noise, which by the way, you’re you’re also good at doing as consultants, right? That’s kind of what you’re paid to do. The client is like, here’s a bunch of noise helped me find the signal. Okay. And once you have those key points, those distills, you know, takeaways or highlights, you can do the final stage, which is Express, express self expression, express, re share that knowledge in some form, whether it’s writing, speaking, presenting, designing, building, launching, publishing, sharing, selling as many synonyms for the the act of expression. And that those steps, they’re not linear one through four, only, they’re more like a loop. You code and then you code and then you code again. And again, each iteration, we’re finding and adding value, until you get to the point that you can communicate so much value so succinctly. Right, as a model, or a framework or a conclusion or theory, or, you know, whatever that looks like for you. So that’s code.


Will Bachman  12:55

Yeah. So I’ve gotten a bit better at capture since I took your course. You know, I use Evernote, I guess you could certainly use other note taking apps. And so I’ve certainly got now in the habit of when I’m reading some article online, I’m like, Oh, I might want to refer to this again. So I’ll save it to Evernote just right from my phone, right. The other thing I do now is if I’m doing an interview with someone, for whatever project, I’ll just normally just type that right into Evernote, I’ll just type my notes right in there. So at least I have it. I’m not as good as I should be about organizing, I know. But at least I’m doing that piece. And I also like the fact that you emphasize that you don’t feel you that you don’t feel guilty if you’re not 100% perfect at all. That’s right, at least start by capturing it. So what are some of the maybe you could walk us through go double click on Capture and walk us through? What are some of for someone who hasn’t started with Evernote or doesn’t have maybe an ebook capture tool or hasn’t done any of these? Go through some of the categories for us? What are some of the tools that you that you recommend, and I know that you have a resource online where you’re constantly updating it right. And I think building a second brain.com/resources For folks, and we can pop that link in the chat.


Tiago Forte  14:17

I have even something better. Oh, fantastic. We just launched literally like days ago, the second brain Resource Guide. This is so throughout the book every time it comes time to recommend a specific app. I didn’t want to do that in the text of the book because things change changing all the time. They’re changing every three months, four months in this industry, the whole landscape changes. So instead we link to this resource guide which we’ve never shared anywhere you guys will be the first ones to see it. There it is in the chat. Maybe I can even share my screen real The The idea is to choose first and foremost, your notetaking app, which is kind of like the neural center of your second brain. And we just published this video that kind of leads you through some of the most popular examples. But to answer your question, here are some of the other recommended tools and apps. Right. So you have lots of options, you have basic notes apps, for example, if you have Apple notes on your phone, that’s not really full featured enough to serve as your second brain. But it can be used as a catch what we call a capture tool, right? It’s so easy to say things in Apple notes, or whatever your default Notes app is, you might want to use that as kind of like an inbox. You can use ebook apps. And there’s various ways such as using Read wise that you can sync up, say the Kindle app with your notes app. So that is kind of hard to believe until you see it. But every time you take a highlight, with no further action required, a service like read wise will automatically import those highlights into a single centralized note in your in your notes app. You have podcasts and audio transcription apps, if you’d like to do voice memos, there’s one called Auto AI that you can just speak into your phone and have that exported to your notes app. There are related apps, which are like Instapaper, or pockets, where you can save links from the web. So you come across a blog post, you don’t want to interrupt your workday to go read, you know, 2030 minutes of random content, you can save it in a distraction free reading environment, such as Instapaper, or pocket. And then there’s web clippers for saving bookmarks are just parts of web pages. And there’s PDF reader. So those are some of the the capture tools. And if you want even more specific recommendations, you can go down here. And we have this table that we’re updating constantly with which category they fall into which operating system each tool is for, and a link to their website. Any of these well that you want to go deeper into. Yeah, so


Will Bachman  17:00

and I love the suggestion that you have of just when you have a thought on the go to capture it. So that’s been helpful to me, I do that now in Evernote. Tell us a little about the podcast and audio transcription. So like let’s say you’re listening to a podcast and there’s a snippet where you want to remember that that quote? How would you go ahead and capture that that quote and save it so that you can refer to it later?


Tiago Forte  17:24

Yeah, absolutely. So this is a one of the exciting frontiers of knowledge management, I would say is the the audio rep revolution and also the video revolution. I can give a few recommendations. So one is okay, so it kind of depends what your sources if you’re just speaking, I definitely recommend otter AI, o t t e r.ai is the website. It’s the most accurate, I think it’s 98.5% accurate, I’ve used it. But you know, when I first started using it, I was living in Mexico City. And I remember standing at a super busy intersection downtown Mexico City, speaking into this app, just holding it in my hand and thinking there’s no way it’s gonna it’s going to understand this. And then seeing as I’m speaking the words, you know, be transcribed with near perfect accuracy, I think we’re really reaching an exciting moment where automatic transcription is very close to human human accuracy. If you’re listening, if you listen to podcasts, there’s one called Air a IRR. There might be three R’s AI ar, ar AR, I’m not sure I think you have to sign up for the waitlist or the beta. But they’re basically making it so whether you’re listening to a podcast, you just hit transcribe and it gets a 15 second clip, the 15 seconds you just listened to and it turns it into a note which you can then export to your notes app. And then one more I’ll say is actually two more things I’ll say, if you if you listen to or read Kindle ebooks Kindle now has a feature where I think for a small extra fee, you can get both the ebook version and the audiobook version of the same book. And what’s cool is because it’s the same platform they sync up, so you can be walking, this is how I use it. You can be walking, listening to an ebook. And if they say something really exciting and interesting, you just pause and there’s a button that says open in ebook. And you tap it and right there. In the moment on the device. It just switches over to the Kindle app and opens the book to that exact place where you can read it in more detail. You can make a highlight what the exact part that you want to save. And then you just switch back over to the to the audible app and keep and keep listening. It’s pretty cool. That is awesome. Yeah, and then finally for video, YouTube has a transcription feature. Some people don’t know this. There’s a little button that’s automatically generated on most videos that just says open transcript you click that and it will kind of file Follow along in the transcripts to match where the video is playing. And so instead of trying to listen and trying to hear what they’re saying, and you know, write it down, and through typing, you can just follow the transcript and cut and paste, copy and paste directly from the transcript into your notes. That’s usually how I take notes on on YouTube videos. Fantastic.


Will Bachman  20:20

Talk to us a bit about the distill step. So once you’ve you’ve gone along, you’re capturing the notes, maybe you save an article that you thought was interesting, or you, you take a bunch of notes in a meeting, and you might save it, or what, and then later on, you recommend going back and distilling that. So you have the essence of it, you can refer to it later. Walk us through that piece and maybe stop, you can stop sharing your screen. So we can we can see you for pleasure.


Tiago Forte  20:52

Yeah, absolutely. So distilling is is at the most basic level, it is simply designing a note. Right? Think about as humans, how exquisitely sensitive we are to the way that information is presented. Right? If you have any experience with web design, you know, I mean, this is really how we’ve discovered this, the smallest changes to how a website is presented can have dramatic impacts on people’s behavior. Right, we know this very well that the shade of Google tested, I think 33 Shades of Blue, for their links on google.com. And they found like not small significant differences based on almost imperceptible differences in the shade of blue for links, right though the margins on a website. That’s the header that’s there, the the hero image, right, the call to action, the colors, the shapes, the photographs, the contrast, the spacing, all these elements, we know, make a major difference, right? And so we have a whole industry built around this web designers and usability specialists and UX designers and graphic designers. But then when it comes to our notes, right, suddenly we throw out throw all that out the window and and we take notes as if the way that that like a single note is designed doesn’t matter. Like what are the headings? What are the sections? How much whitespace? How much separation between bullet points, do you use bullet points or numbers or nothing? Do you use colors to use different kinds of formatting underlining bold? Like these decisions, I think are vastly underestimated. And so I teach a a method for distillation, which is the one there’s various ways to do distillation. There’s not just one, but my favorite is called progressive summarization. If you do a search for progressive summarization, you can find resources tutorials, both on my channels and ones that other people have created is simply it’s basically highlighting. Okay, it’s like the highlighting you did in school. Everyone knows how to highlight. Everyone knows what highlights are. Everyone knows what highlights mean. A highlight just means this matters. This is important. But we’re doing it in a slightly different way, not for a short term outcome, like writing an essay passing a test getting a good grade, but for a lifelong of learning. A life full of learning. Okay, so I don’t know if we want to get into the into the details of progressive summarization. I have a super in depth tutorial on my blog about how to do progressive summarization. But my basic answer is, when you take a note, the next time you come across that note, for any reason, just and as you’re reading it, as you’re already expending the energy to just look over the note, anything that jumps out at you, that resonates. That surprises you, that moves you, you really want to use your intuitive side here, not your analytical side, because the analytical side of your brain takes up too much energy, right, you can’t afford to make all these decisions analytical, you have to use your intuition. But as points resonate with, you just highlight them. It’s like the the campsite rule. I don’t know if this exists everywhere, but the campsite rule which is leave the campsite better than you found it. The same goes for your notes. Every time you touch a note every time you interact with a note just leave a highlight. And that way your future self will come across that highlight see the results of your past effort and and know okay, this was a point that my past self decided was was noteworthy right?


Will Bachman  24:24

You have a nice framework in the book for deciding when to capture something alright to kind of alert you to that walk us through that. And it gets starts with you know what inspires you right? So if you how do you decide you can’t capture everything because that just overwhelms your system don’t want to capture too little. So what are some good clues of something that you should set aside?


Tiago Forte  24:51

Yeah, you know, it’s a it’s a really interesting point because the people who tend to pursue this kind of thing, right I tends to be very smart tends to be kind of nerdy tends to be highly analytical really like to, you know, make decisions and a rational step by step way. I think consultants are like that too. And there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. But here’s the thing is your note taking system, your second brain, you really want to design it for your worst days, not your best days. Okay, think about this for a sec. On your best days, your best days, when you have high energy, you’re rested, you’re balanced, you’re grounded, you have all the motivation in the world, no distractions, you know what your goal is, you don’t need a second brain on those days. In fact, any kind of system is just a, it’s just a hindrance, you are on fire, you’re like an athlete who’s made a string of baskets, or a string of goals, you should just shed all structure and just go for it. When you need a note taking system or any system is on the other days. You know, there’s other days, often like a Thursday or Friday afternoon at well, it’s 1130, usually more like one or two or three, when you are tired, you’re a little burned out, you are overwhelmed, you’ve had a long week, you’re hungry, you didn’t sleep well. I don’t know about you. But as I get older, I tend to have and as I become a father and have kids, I tend to have more of those latter kind of days and fewer of the former kind of days. Those are the days that you need a system. Those are the days you need to structure you need, you need to guide guide rail, so that you don’t have to use your precious mental capacity to figure out what to do next, just such a hard decision, you just have a clear a clear pathway. And so what I conclude from that is what I was saying before, you cannot create a notetaking system that forces you to make constant, highly taxing analytical decisions. You just can’t do it, you’ll is a recipe for disaster, just trust me. You need to save that precious bandwidth for actually making, you know other decisions, higher order decisions to serve your your clients. And the easiest way to do that the most powerful way I’ve found is to get in touch with your intuition. Right, your intuition that side of you, like a shortcut to do this is to get in touch with what I call resonance, which is another way of saying intuition. You have to get in touch with things that resonate with you. Okay, when you come across an idea, there is some sign actually, bodily, that is telling you this idea is interesting, unique, surprising or helpful. Right? What is that? Is it like? Is it like a taste on the back of your tongue? For me, it’s like I noticed, it’s kind of like the room gets a little bit brighter. I think my pupils might be like dilating a little bit, you might get goose bumps on your arm or the back of your neck, you might feel this feeling in the pit of your stomach like whoa, you might feel all sorts of things, right? When you get in touch with those feelings, you can just rely on those feelings, to tell you what to capture. What, how to how to organize something, where to categorize it, how to distill it, right, because that feeling is your bodily intelligence, it’s something within your body responding to that information in a way that uses much less energy than trying to make this kind of abstract intellectual decision. So there’s not exactly a hack for this, right? If I could just flip a switch and have you get in touch with your intuition. I would. But it’s a it’s a practice, it is a habit. It’s something that you explore for yourself. But once you do, I mean, I think it’s worth it. Because I can hardly think of anything better for your life in general, for your career, for your business and getting in touch with your intuition. That’s the source of your decision making the source of your spontaneity, the source of your creativity, the source of your wisdom. And we have a way to practice accessing our intuition in our notes on a sentence by sentence level. Right? It’s like, it’s like your notes can be this little like dojo, where you practice one idea at a time, what it means to detect what resonates with you. And then once you train that skill, you take it out into the real world.


Will Bachman  29:32

Now, you talk in the book about the I think it’s called the generative effect, which I understand and refers to the idea that once you actually have a place to start publishing or putting content creating content, you actually get more ideas and perhaps even just capturing if you’re kind of out there intentionally capturing things you start noticing more. Talk to us a bit about that what you’ve seen some of your students experience when they start capturing and expressing on a consistent basis of just having more ideas and better ideas. Yeah, you


Tiago Forte  30:13

know, this, this was really my own journey. To i years ago, I had such a scarce a scarcity driven view of creativity. I really, I don’t know where I got this from, especially since my my family has a lot of artists and musicians. But even then, right, even surrounded by examples of creativity, I had this idea that creativity was like a finite resource, right? Like, I have this reserve of creativity, every every bit that I use, now I have less, which is just absolutely not how creativity works. Creativity is the opposite. The more you use it, the more you express it, and put it out there, the more you have. And it’s very mysterious, it’s almost metaphysical. I don’t know how this works. But it’s like karma or something, the more you give, the more you share, somehow the source of it within you. Like picks up speed and starts to generate more, I think it has to do with like, when you see the results, like when you see that concrete thing you’ve created, whether it’s a painting, or a song, or a presentation, or a speech or an event, or whatever it is, suddenly your brain goes, Oh, this is this is cool, this is rewarding, this is effective, this works. Let us now dedicate more resources to creating more. And then you put out more and see more reward more results. And then you dedicate more resources. It’s kind of like you create this feedback loop. And so I spent a lot of my time. You know, again, the people who are, you know, attracted to something like a second brain and note taking system tend to be kind of OCD, right? We are kind of neurotic. We’re kind of, we like we like order. We like to structure things. We like step by step processes. And the world doesn’t recognize that that that those kinds of people can be creative as well. Right? Like I hate, I hate how so much of society is like putting people in like the creative box, or your your creative type. You’re an artist, you’re a writer, or you’re an analytical type. You’re an analyst, you’re an engineer, you’re something like that. Like as if human beings are sortable into two categories. I think the truth is that you need both sides, right? You need an efficient structure process, and you need spontaneity and chaos and randomness. And so what I’m trying to do is bring, bring both of those aspects of creativity to people, right? Like, How much easier would it be to spontaneously express yourself? If you could just look at this centralized repository, this treasure trove library of all the most amazing raw material you’ve encountered over months and years would not be way more feasible than just trying to like make something up. And so I forgot your original question.


Will Bachman  33:06

Actually, let me let me ask you, this is a little off the cuff. But are you in a situation right now to help really illustrate it to all of us? Could you share you know, show us your Evernote kind of setup and share your screen there so so people can see a real life, real life, how you’re doing it? And maybe show us some notes and how you how you organize it? Sure.


Tiago Forte  33:26

Yeah, this is my my real second brain. This is Evernote. I’ve been using it for a decade. There’s a lot of other options you can use, but I like Evernote. Over here on the left, I’ll give you kind of a quick tour. We have my notebooks, those different groupings and categories that I was referring to, including all my currently active projects right here. My areas of responsibility, all the different aspects of my personal life, my business, which is all the ones beginning with FL for 40 labs. And then resources which is everything else I’m interested in curious about or learning about, from books and writing to Christmas presents to climate change to generosity, to languages to neuroscience to stock photos to videos. And then finally the archives which is anything from the previous three categories projects, areas and resources that is completed finished on hold postponed. And those four letters by the way P for projects a for areas are for resources a for archives, those forms what I call para, like para system, which is by far by far the most popular framework I’ve ever created. You can find a very in depth guide to it on my blog, just search for para Tiago forte. So that is kind of the structure of my second brain. within any given notebook, like let’s take no, that’s not a good one. Let’s take the launch of my book right So, this is a reverse chronological list from the most recent at the top, to the oldest at the bottom of every single note involved in the launch of my book. Right? And this is one of the largest projects I’ve ever undertaken. And it’s only 77 notes, right? It’s, it’s a significant number. But imagine if what was standing between you and the biggest dream or goal in your life was just 77 notes. It’s quite concrete, it’s quite feasible, isn’t it? You can collect 77 ideas, 77 stories, 77, anecdotes, examples, models, case studies. And what that includes is such a wide variety of things. So everything from I mean, Book Notes on, or links or PDFs on other books, how they were launched, two articles that other people have written about how they launch their books, right, like, here’s one, you can see, it’s bold with the different giveaways that he add to the websites of other authors that I admire, to brainstorm of different sub titles that I was considering using for the book, to marketing plans to calls with, you know, promotional agencies, to random screenshots just as a keepsake. Two quotes, which I was going to use, you know, like at the beginning of chapters as little epigraphs. To research, you know, here’s an article on brains, too. affiliate programs to discount examples of how to frame discounts to the results of Twitter polls. You know, this is a screenshot of a twitter poll that I ran, you can see it’s extremely eclectic, there’s so many different kinds of inputs that we need to do, you know, kind of a novel creative project, like launching a book. And so that that’s some of the stuff that I keep in my second brand.


Will Bachman  36:58

That’s amazing. While we have that up, I want to just open it up and see if you know, attendees, what questions do you have for Thiago? While we while he has his second brain up of how he captures organizes the cells expresses? Anybody, you can just come off mute and ask a question. Yeah,



I have a question here. This is what role to do some sometimes feel that you may tend to do some analysis, paralysis or structure, because this happens to me sometimes. So I’m a creative person, I send the bad guys structure to merge, I lose more time in structuring than in actually using the information. So how do you know that? And if it happens, how do you solve it?


Tiago Forte  37:44

Yeah, I mean, my constant tendency towards analysis paralysis is the entire reason that I need a second brain. My first brain is absolutely neurotic, full of anxiety, always afraid of uncertainty resistant to change, right. It’s like my first brain is full of false assumptions, limiting beliefs, traumas from the past, right? And so it’s funny my approach to all that like, there’s, you know, personal growth and self improvement, which is wonderful. But another approach is to simply kind of go around all of that stuff. Right? Like, instead of trying to change how my first brain works, I kind of like my first brain. I don’t want to change who I am, I don’t want to change how my brain works. My, my brain, the human brain is the most amazing, unique thing in the entire universe. Why would I want to change this, instead of changing this? Primarily, I’m just going to outsource a lot of that to an external system, which is not subject to my limiting beliefs and blind spots. Right? So I absolutely have a tendency toward toward analysis paralysis, one of the ways that I get around that is by simply making a notebook a folder for each of my current projects, just compiling all the stuff that I know, or I think, or I wonder, or I learned into those notebooks. And then I can just decide today, I’m going to focus on this project. Double click on that project, I limit myself to only the notes within that container for one day, or half a day or one hour or however much time I have, right. It’s it’s really difficult to come to sort of compartmentalize like that with your first brain. Right? Your first brain is this messy cloud of ideas, you can’t really create clear separation and distinctions and focus on one thing, my second brain makes that much easier.


Will Bachman  39:39

Fantastic. Let’s go to Mark next Mark has a question.



Yeah. So you have a lot of material organize, but then there’s the final published or the significant distillation of that material. How do you segregate that in your second brain to say, out of the 1000s The notes, here’s the 10 that are ready for the next step, whatever that means.


Tiago Forte  40:08

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. So. So first, I would say, I really think of my second brain as a publishing system. Right? Like you could there’s different metaphors. You could use it as a storage system. Yes. It’s an archival system. Yes. It’s a memory system. Yes. But I found it most helpful to think of myself as like a, like a publishing house. Like the ultimate destination of as many ideas as possible, I want to become some external thing, right. Which is usually writing but can also be a video on our YouTube channel can be a tweet can be a Facebook post, I mean, being present online at all, even if you’re not like a professional content creator, you’re constantly creating content. Right? Every Instagram post has content. Every Facebook post has content, every blog post every tweet, every Slack message you send, every email I love when people tell me I never I’ve never created content, really? How many? How many? How many hours per day? Do you spend writing emails? You don’t think that’s content? You don’t think those emails can be more succinct, more actionable, more direct, better, designed, better structured? Like seriously? But I think this this depends on you. Like what in your work and your business? Is the the most common kind of outcome, like start at the end? And then just work your way backward? And say, what? Taking steps upstream? What are the basic building blocks that are going to make it easiest to produce that kind of outcome? What would you say? I’m curious, that would be for you.



So okay, so in other words, a article that consolidates a lot of research into something concise, and unique, would be the end point. And so then what I’m hearing you saying is to then point backwards to what kind of information is needed to be able to collect this what doable little research to make sure it’s not repeating what has already been done, and then have that my endpoint, but have the other is in a different area that that endpoint points backwards to? And then those can be in. And that’s why I was curious what kind of structure to use to say this is related to this endpoint document. But I don’t want it to clutter my focused tweaking of this endpoint article.


Tiago Forte  42:46

Absolutely, that’s the entire point. So think of that article as a project. writing an article is you got to think small here, you know, don’t put on your to do list, right article, writing an article, especially one, like you described is a freaking project, there’s so many tasks you’re going to have to take so many ideas are gonna have to incorporate. So create a notebook or a tag or folder or whatever it looks like in your note taking app. The very like, one thing I know for sure, the very basic need that you have is to have all the material related to the article in one place. Right? Isn’t that the like the most fundamental need, you have to like, actually make progress on that? Right.


Will Bachman  43:26

One of the one of your sayings that I found helpful is, is don’t start a project until you’re what like 80, or 90%. Done, right. Yeah,


Tiago Forte  43:36

so this is kind of an advanced level, right? Because Because the thing is, okay, you can decide I’m gonna write an article on x, and then go and start capturing, organizing, distilling, and then finally get to expressing, that’s, that’s great. But eventually, you’ll reach a critical mass of notes, like as note taking becomes a part of your practice. And by the way, my my average number of notes that I take is two per day. for like the past decade, only two notes per day. Were there two things today that you learned? Were there two things, two quotes that you found interesting to comments in meetings that might be worth revisiting? Two emails you received, there’s probably 100, just pick two. Right? So in the beginning, you’re sort of collecting just small groups of notes to do one thing to write that one article, give that one presentation. But the nature of knowledge is that it’s not linear. It’s not like one idea can only be used in one way. Ideas can be used many ways, and they get better, the more different kinds of ways you use them. So eventually, after doing you know, two, two nuts a day, after six months, you save you know, 400 notes. At that point, you already have a critical mass, and you can reach this point where you just go in there, instead of asking, What do I want to do? What are the notes that I need to take to do that? You ask? What knowledge Have I already collected? That I can just reshape into something that you didn’t necessarily plan on creating. But you’ve already done like Will said, 80% of the work, which is gathering and stuff. And so if your prioritization, like, like becomes backward, where you start taking on projects and clients just because you’ve already done most of the work, instead of vice versa, I don’t know if that makes any sense.


Will Bachman  45:24

Let’s go to Natalie. Natalie has her hand raised right now.



Oh, okay. Can you hear me? Yes. Okay. So my question is, I get kind of what you’re saying, but what if you, one don’t necessarily have a project, in particular, or you have a whole bunch of projects. And when you’re reading the information, or you’re seeing something, it’s, it’s interesting, but it might not be for like a particular project you’re working on. But you want to capture that. Because in the future, it could be important. Or you’re reading something, and it could apply to like, five things that you’re, you’re you’re working on. And, or it could be something that’s important for you for your, your, your medical stuff, or it’s something like all these, it could have many applications. So it’s one thing, but they can go in like 10 different places. So how do you and I, and this the also addition to that question is, I know that when I take notes, I can get caught up in the like, Okay, what do I label this? Where does for folder does this go into and whatever else. And by the time I’ve decided all of that, I forgotten why I wanted to take the note in the first place. So I want to be able to just take the note, but then I want to be able to find the note. And like, what’s the best way to like do that? If you’re not necessarily attaching it to a project? Does that make sense?


Tiago Forte  47:00

It makes total sense. And it speaks to the there’s this a paradox about research, which sunk a Arens, in his book, How to take smart notes talks about this, like, we’re taught, oh, how does research work, you think of a topic, and then you think of a hypothesis, and then you do all the research, and then you do an experiment, or some sort of test, right? That’s actually not how it works at all. Write, even in science, even in the most formal scientific settings, how it actually works. If someone gets obsessed with something for note for no reason, that makes much sense. obsessed with it, they research it, they read about it, learn about it, immerse themselves in it, they, they become familiar with it, you have to become familiar with something before you even know what an interesting hypothesis is. Right? How can you even know what a good question is? Until you’ve had some exposure? So the research actually comes first. Then later on, you decide an experiment or an hypothesis. Right? So it’s kind of what you were saying you. The paradox is you have to keep things before you have to save things before you know how you’re going to use them.



Yes, yes. But I gotta get to those things now. Yes. How would I like, you know, I wouldn’t be putting them in a project. So I’d be How would I be labeling them? So that I can know? Oh, my gosh, that would be great for this other thing, or these two things? They actually are the same thing. Like, I want to find that connection, that thing? Yeah,


Tiago Forte  48:32

a couple things. So this is primarily where we have the resources, the resources, folders, is until something is part of a project, you want to kind of tucked away. Okay? Right? You can’t be you can’t sit down at your computer and be faced with hundreds or 1000s of different possibilities. That’s a recipe for overwhelm, right? So so you want to you want to make a distinction. There’s a small amount of information, maybe 1% 5% Of all the notes you’ve taken that are directly actionable for your projects, yes. And then everything else down here and resources. But that doesn’t mean you can’t move notes. And you you can and you should all the resources into projects. In fact, anytime you get stuck on a project, right, you’re like, oh, I need I need an answer to a question. I need a data point. I need an example. I need a factor statistic. Don’t go to Google. Right. The second you go to Google and you ask a question, 500 million results that you now have to sort through, right, just go right over to your resources and see what resource that I previously saved, whose application was not immediately clear, has now become clearer because the projects have evolved. And I’m just constantly amazed how I often find maybe not exactly what I was looking for, but something that I can use by just switching my focus over here to the resources. Okay,



so it’s like you bent them, they’re on the bench. Like if you’re like thinking about a team, it’s like, okay, you’re on the bench. You You’re getting ready. And then now, oh, I’m working on this project and I need I need something and now I’m gonna go to the dugout and pick like somebody, oh, you’re perfect. Now I can bring you in. But it’s kind of like they’re in waiting there. It’s just the group that’s like in waiting, so to speak. So things are divided out in projects. But the things that don’t fit into projects, they go, you know, to this other place, as when they’re in the other place. Are they categorized also kind of like, like, I’m looking at multiple sclerosis. So I have stuff that’s from multiple sclerosis. But if I find something that’s, you know, that’s great for, like, working with like, a special needs kids, I can put that in there. And I would do like I would tag it as that but it would just be in there someplace else, not with the project.


Tiago Forte  50:57

Absolutely. Perfect example. Perfect example, you want as much in reserve as possible, right? Imagine if you’re the manager of that baseball team. Imagine if the bench was infinite in size. And there was no other there was no costs, like you can have as many players as you wanted. You didn’t have to pay them or feed them like they’re just there. Like that’s the great thing about information. It just stays right where it is exactly the format. It is basically forever, as long as we have the disk space, right? Yeah, the key thing is to make the distinction between what neat, what is that the, I think of it as the core and the periphery, what needs to be at the core of my attention. The center of my attention needs to be very small, right? But as long as you have your attention in there, all the stuff on the periphery can be extremely voluminous. And it’s



okay, that that makes sense. That makes sense. Thank you. Thank you very much. Yeah,


Tiago Forte  51:51



Will Bachman  51:53

So we have one more question Mateus. And then I have one question that closes out. So Matias,



thank you so much for a great session. I was just wondering, maybe could you show us an example of how each time you revisit a note, you highlight something you make it stronger? Just what that looks like? Or what a really, you know, advanced note looks like?


Tiago Forte  52:14

Sure. I’ll use an example from the same notebook. So it’s interesting. Notice the dates here. Right? It’s mostly from early 2019. Until today, but there is one little exception. There’s a note from July of 2015. Okay. And this is often what happens is, since I, my usual preferred sorting is reverse chronological. It’s kind of like a pile, by the way, you notice this, like the new stuff on the top, the old stuff on the bottom, like, the psychology of piles is very much present here. But often at the very bottom of the pile, it’s kind of like way down at the bottom of the filing box. There is it’s like the origin. It’s like the seed, the first seed that was planted a single note that became that was like the start of everything. And for me, it was my notes. So different quotes and excerpts that I saved from Tim Ferriss, who was an author who influenced me a lot, wrote this extremely extensive post called the Comprehensive Guide to reading book. Okay, and this is a good example, when people write comprehensive guides, you can’t every time you want to reference it, you can’t go back to the original source. Right? It took me hours to read this thing in the first place. I’m not I don’t want to spend any more time going back and rereading what I already read, in fact, instead, when I read it the first time, I just save the parts that I think are important. Okay. And what you can see here is anything I thought was important is in bold, and anything I thought was really important, is in yellow. That’s basically progressive summarization. Right? So think about, you know, these are all like little details. Like, once you submit the manuscript, you’ll have two revision rounds. Okay, that’s kind of interesting. When negotiating, say, with a publisher, he who cares, less wins. These are kind of interesting tidbits, right. But this was a was like a game changing point. Right? This is the signal in the noise. And I tend to want to add these different kinds of formatting at different times. So the first time that I that I kind of reviewed these notes, I just added bolts, and then only on this maybe third pass, did I want once I had some distance, right, I stepped away, kind of forgot about this a little bit, and then came back to it with fresh eyes when I had more objectivity. This idea really stood out to me, which is when you’re thinking about the book you want to write, which is going to consume half a decade of your life. Like really, my book comes out in 40 days, it’ll be a three and a half year project. And only then do I have to start promoting and selling it right. So this was a guiding question. Can is, can this be the defining book in its category that will be just as valuable five years from now? That was such an important philosophical mindset question for me to ask myself, it’s more important, more valuable than some of these other points. Some other ones are things like, you know, only sign with a publisher who believes in your project as much as you do. That was really powerful. Right, so you can, you can kind of tell I’ve made several passes of this, the first pass was reading the original article, and adding text excerpts to this note in the first place. The second pass was bolding certain points. The third pass was adding highlights. That’s an example of how a note gets developed over time. And honestly, this single note was probably the most influential on the entire project because it came so early. Like think about that often the earliest learnings, the earliest realizations that you have are the most important because they shape everything else that comes after, which is another reason to start projects with existing notes rather than trying to start them from scratch.



Does that help me? That’s excellent. Thank you so much.


Will Bachman  56:08

Tiago closing question. Let’s see people are fired up sold on this idea. And they don’t currently have a notetaking app today, they haven’t really been doing this. What would you say someone should do this afternoon. To get started, what are the two or three steps to just to get started saying I want to start my building second brain today.


Tiago Forte  56:31

So first thing I would do is choose your notetaking app using the second brand resource guide that I shared earlier. And most of all the video like just watch the video in 10 minutes, I’ll lead you through the steps to choose a note taking app. Second, we just also published the 12 steps to get started building a second brain? Oh, no, it’s not quite published yet. I think it comes out on Tuesday. So basically sign up for my newsletter. And then check your email inbox Tuesday morning. 6am Pacific 9am. Eastern, and you will see our most recent blog posts, which is actually the last page of the book. It’s word for word, the exact steps, the implementation steps that I outlined on the last page of the book that we’ve now published as a free blog post, which really lead you through what I found to be the the 12 most important ways to get started, you don’t have to take all of them. This isn’t an all or nothing. This is absolutely not an all or nothing thing. It’s an In fact, you’re already doing it. This is the important thing. You’re already taking notes, you’re already managing large volumes of information. You’re already using information to complete tasks and projects. All I’m asking you to do is be a little more strategic, a little more systematic and a little more intentional. Right. So if there’s even if there’s even one of those 12 steps or two that resonate with you just take those and that’s a great start.


Will Bachman  57:52

And where do people go to sign up for your newsletter? Yeah,


Tiago Forte  57:56

so just go to we’ll give you the exact link. Here you go. You can just enter your email read on that form.


Will Bachman  58:13

And for those of you listening, that’s 40 labs.co/subscribe. And send us a note. Those of you listening, we’re going to send out 25 copies the first 25 People that reach out to us. And Thiago, this was fantastic overview. Thank you so much. Congratulations on the launch of this book. I know 1000s of students have taken your course and prospered thanks to it. And now you’ll reach millions, I’m sure.


Tiago Forte  58:40

So thank you so much. I really appreciate the support well, and thank you everyone for taking time out of your day to be here. All



right. Thanks, everyone.

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