Stefi Rosca

🧠 Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte - Book Notes

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Goodreads: Building a Second Brain

⛰ What It’s About

A great book I highly recommend to everyone. It discusses how to take notes, organize them, and start using them to clear up headspace and overcome the fear of ideas getting lost.

The idea of sharing learnings rather than just hoarding everything for myself only brought a new perspective for me.

My main takeaways:
  • Digital notes aren’t physical but they are visual.
  • “…make comparatively little effort applying that knowledge and making it our own. So much of the time we are “information hoarders”, stockpiling endless amounts of well-intentioned content that only ends up increasing our anxiety.
  • 💡 “Every time we started a new project, I created a dedicated place on my computer for the information related to it, where I could sort it all and decide on a plan of action”.
  • 🧠 Second brain from primarily memory tool to a thinking tool.

All these actions — evaluate, share, teach, record, post, and lobby — are synonyms for the act of expression.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • “The sooner you begin, the sooner you start on the path of improvement.”
  • “A perfect system you don’t use isn’t perfect.”
  • ”We spend countless hours reading, listening to and watching other people’s opinions about what we should do, how we should think and how we should live, but make comparatively little effort applying that knowledge and making it our own. So much of the time we are “information hoarders”, stockpiling endless amounts of well-intentioned content that only ends up increasing our anxiety.”

🧠 Thoughts

Part I - The Foundation

At the beginning of the book, we find out why the author, Tiago Forte, started taking notes and organizing them in his so called Second Brain. It wasn’t about him wanting to be more productive, it was because he wanted to regain control over his life and understand the pain he was going through and why various treatments doctors were prescribing didn’t working so well.

“How often have you struggled to recall even one useful takeaway from a book or article you read in the past?” → If I am honest with myself, it happened many times especially with books. This is why I started taking notes rather than rushing through reading various books.

My favorite bit or ‘aha’ moment from this book in the first part has been that collecting this information for the sake of collecting it is, in a way, a missed opportunity to create something with it and share it with others who could learn from it too.

“What’s the point of personal knowledge if it doesn’t help anyone or produce anything?”

“personal knowledge management exists to support taking action - anything else is a distraction”

The way Robert Darton explains how intertwined the reading is to writing in The Case of Books I had another aha moment. The thing is that probably not all books would have a writing element, for example literature it sometimes just to be consumed. Still to me there is something about sitting down after reading something and putting my thoughts on paper that makes the story come to life in a different way.

“Reading and writing are inseparable activities…by keeping an account of your readings, you made a book of your own, one stamped with your personality.”

I believe that when you read a book it reads you and everyone has a slightly different experience which is why also book notes are so different from one person to another and it’s worth too share these or participate in book clubs.

When thinking about notes “this could include a passage or quote from a book or article that you were inspired by; a photo or image from the web with your annotations; or a bullet-point list of your meandering thoughts on a topic, among many other examples. A note could include a single quote from a film that really stuck you, all the way to thousands of words you saved from an in-depth book.”

Superpowers of a Second Brain
  1. Making our ideas concrete:
    • offload them from your mind and put them somewhere into a concrete form
    • digital notes aren’t physical but they are visual → for a while I thought everything physical is better, since creating a better system to store notes digitally via currently Notion vs Obsidian in the past I found a lot of value and efficiency in the digital approach.
  2. Revealing new associations between ideas
    • all these formats can be combined in a way that would be impossible in the physical world
  3. Incubating our ideas over time
    • be aware of recency bias
    • having a second brain where lots of ideas can be permanently saved for the long term turns the passage of time into your friend instead of your enemy
  4. Sharpening our unique perspective
    • “writers’ block: It’s not that I’m blocked. It’s that I don’t have enough research to write with power and knowledge about that topic. It always means, not that I can’t find the right words, [but rather] that I don’t have the ammunition.”

Second brain from primarily a memory tool to a thinking tool.

Every time you take a note ask yourself:

  • “How can I make this as useful as possible for my future self?
  • How is this going to help me move forward with one of my current projects?
Distill your notes down to their essence. Summarize the main points of any article, book, or presentation so that the **main point** is easy to identify.

💡Example: If you are highly analytical, you could evaluate the many options for camping gear and create a list of recommended products to share with your friends.

Part II - The Four Steps of Code

Chapter 4: Capture - Keep What Resonates

“You are what you consume, and that applies just as much to information as to nutrition” ⇒ to add to it it also applies to the people you surround yourself with.

Be aware that you can become a “digital hoarder” which I feel I might have become given my long list of articles saved in the Pocked app, a read-later app, as well as my 300+videos in my watch later playlist on YouTube.

Knowledge assets: highlights (from books, articles); quotes; bookmarks and favorites; voice memos (if you record these); meeting notes; images; takeaways (lessons from courses, conferences, or presentations)

Thoughts: stories; insights; reflections’ musings (random ‘shower ideas’)

Ask yourself, “What are the questions I’ve always been interested in?”

❗ Save only what you need when taking notes and link back to the places in case you need more context. Although be careful as some blog articles for example can disappear.

Capture Criteria:
  1. Does it inspire me?
  2. Is it useful?
  3. Is it personal? (your own thoughts, reflection, memories etc. nobody has access to these besides you)
  4. Is it surprising?

“Your second brain shouldn’t be just another way of confirming what you already know.”

My main takeaway is no.4. I realized that I tend to save ideas/quotes, underline paragraph that share ideas I already know or agree with as proof of my knowledge which is also part of a phenomenon known as “confirmation bias”.

Reminder to myself:

If I’m not surprised this information should not go into the second brain. Why would I take a note of it?

Chapter 5: Organize - Save for Actionability

Your second brain is not just a tool but an environment.

PARA system:
  1. Projects: short-term projects in life or work (things with definitive deadlines (most actionable))
  2. Areas: long-term responsabilities you want to manage over time (e.g.: Health, Finances (don’t put sensitive info) (things with a standard to be maintained (very actionable))
  3. Resources: Topics of interest that might be useful in the future (e.g. Salary Negotiation etc.) (things of interest worth referencing (less actionable))
  4. Archives: inactive items from the 3 categories
Projects: from work, personal or side projects

“Knowing which projects you’re currently commited to is crucial to being able to prioritize your week, plan your progress and say no to things that aren’t important.”

  • activities and places you are responsible for: home. cooking, travel, car etc.
  • people you are responsible for or accountable to: partner, family, frients
  • standards of performance you are responsible for: Health, Finance, Personal Growth

At a job or in a business there are other areas like: departments(Accounting, Marketing, Engeneering etc.); people or teams you are responsible for; standards of performance( professional development; relationships & networking etc.)

Resources: like class notebooks (for math, history etc.) that are not actionable right now but useful for a future you.
  • What topics are you interested in?
  • What subjects are you researching?
  • What useful information do you want to be able to reference? life goals, travel itineraries etc.
  • What hobbies or passions do you have? coffee, movies etc.
  • completed or canceled projects
  • area of responsibility that no longer apply you commit to
  • resources that are no longer relevant (things you don’t care about anymore → personal example Social Media or Digital Marketing is not that important anymore now that i work in Tech)

❗The moment you capture an idea is the worst time to try to decide where it relates to → put it in an inbox kind of state to sort later, unless obviously you feel certain about it being part of a project or something specific.

Where should a note go?

  • In which project will this be most useful?
  • If none: In which area?
  • If none: Which resource does this belong to?
  • If none: archives.

Place notes where it will be useful the soonest.

→ Remember you are not trying to get a PhD in notes taking 😂

Action item: The archive is super important to help keep things clean otherwise there is too much clutter. Ideally, create an Archive with the date you start and throw everything there and when you want go through it otherwise you are always stuck in Archive.

For projects ask yourself:

  • What projects am I currently committed to moving forward?
  • What action am I already taking that is part of a bigger project and I’ve not yet identified?
  • What are you keeping around because it’s part of a bigger project? → bookmarks, videos, images etc.

Chapter 6:Distill - Find the Essence

  • Make notes useful: make it easy to access specific points that you’ve saved in a note.

  • Highlight the most important notes → use a marker/highlighter -> found this super useful as I started doing it. I can easily go through a books notes for example and see some of my main takeaways.

  • Highlighting 2.0 the Progressive Summarization Technique: executive summary at the top of the note with a few bullet points summarizing the article in my own words.


  • “The best stuff sticks in your mind for an hour or two” → after you listen to a podcast try to take notes before 2 hours pass.

  • Start progressing with summarization and highlighting in a specific note only when you’re getting ready to create something and you need it.

Chapter 7: Express - Show Your Work

The “express” stage is about making knowledge active and usable, moving beyond mere collection to application and sharing.

  • Convert initial notes and collected information into structured, refined outputs.

  • Effectively share knowledge and ideas with others, enhancing collaboration and impact.

This chapter talks about Intermediate Packets, breaking down your work into a series of smaller items, so you can make consistent progress while building up a reserve of useful knowledge.

“If you break down that mega-project into concrete chunks, suddenly the components that you’ll need become clear.”

Distilled notes: books or articles you’ve read and distilled so it’s easy to get the gist of what they contain. Idea: these distilled notes can be used in the creation of an how-to articles for example.

Express step: retrieve what you need. Retrieval methods: search, browsing (going through folders, tags, serendipity)

“We learn by making concrete things - before we feel ready, before we have it completely out and before we know where it’s going.”

💡 “You have to value your ideas enough to share them. You have to believe that the smallest idea has the potential to change people’s lives.” And it doesn’t have to change the live of many people, it can be one person. I always think of things that I share are things I would have liked to read myself a few months or years before for younger Stefi.

Part III - The Shift

Chapter 8: The Art of Creative Execution

The creation process fluctuates between  divergence(capturing and organizing ideas, notes, etc.) and  convergence(distill, express).

  • divergence mode: you want to open up your horizons and gather information on a topic doing research, aka looking online or checking thins in books, listening to Youtube videos or podcasts etc.
  • convergence mode: you have all the information you need and you’re putting it together to share it. No more browsing and looking around but making from all the resources you’ve gone through one thing that you’d share (article, video, newsletter etc.).
  • Capture and Organize are divergence
  • Distill and Express are convergence

Deciding in which mode you want to work when sitting down can be such a helpful decision as doing both at the same time is really challenging. I tried this and it made such a big difference. I was truly amazed.

“Engineers diverge by researching all the possible solutions, testing the boundaries of the problem, or tinkering with new tools. They converge by deciding on a particular approach, designing the implementation details, and bringing their blueprints to life. “

Divergence and convergence are not a linear path but go in a loop.

Divergence and convergence

Workflow strategies:

Hemingway bridge:

  • write down ideas for next steps
  • write down the current status
  • write down details that you might forget
  • write out your intention for the next session of work on the project

Super helpful, especially when you are tired and want to wrap up this makes it easier for you when picking up again another time knowing where you actually left off.

Archipelago of ideas: fill a document with all our ideas & related resources then find ways to build bridges between them. -> haven’t tried this one yet.

Chapter 9: The Essential Habits of Digital Organizers

  • Project checklist:
    • What do I already know about this project?
    • What don’t I know that I need to find out?
    • What is my goal or intention?
    • Who can I talk to who might provide insights?
    • What can I read or listen to for relevant ideas?

Define success criteria.

Answer pre-mortem questions: What do I want to learn? What is the greatest source of uncertainty? What is most likely to fail?

If a project is becoming inactive describe the last actions you took, details on why it was postponed or canceled.

  • Weekly reviews:

    • write down any new to-dos, review your active projects, and decide on priorities for the upcoming week.
    • select the task I’m committing to for the upcoming week.
  • Monthly reviews:

    • review and update goals
    • review and update the project list (important that the projects remain current, timely and accurate reflection of your real-life goals and priorities)
    • review areas of responsibility (health, finance, relationships, home life etc.)
    • review someday/maybe tasks
    • re-prioritize task
  • Noticing habits: discover connection and interest you might have based on what you prefer to work on for example.

Chapter 10: The Path to Self-Expression

The purpose of knowledge is to be shared. What’s the point of knowing something if it doesn’t positively impact someone, not even yourself?

With mere words you can open doors to unimaginable horizons for the people around you.

What I Liked About It

It felt personal and it was all explained from experience with plenty of examples.

What I Didn’t Like About It

Some bits were too long. I think the book could have been a bit shorter.

How the Book Changed Me

  • It made me realize I’m a hoarder and give me the push to not just save notes for the sake of saving them but to do something with these and to share more.
  • The bit about divergence and convergence was super insightful.
  • I should not save notes about things I already know just as a confirmation.
  • Helped me better organize my notes based on the PARA method.
  • Stared marking things and now I find the main ideas easier.

All in all I feel like I benefited a lot from reading this book and I might get the book about the PARA Method as well.

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