Tiago Forte


Struggling with information

Everyone is in desperate need of a system to manage the ever-increasing volume of information pouring into their brains. I’ve heard the plea from students and executives, entrepreneurs and managers, engineers and writers, and so many others seeking a more productive and empowered relationship with the information they consume

You are what you consume

You are what you consume, and that applies just as much to information as to nutrition

Notetaking and deliberate practice

Notetaking gives you a way to deliberately practice the skill of distilling every day

Archipelago of Ideas

An Archipelago of Ideas separates the two activities your brain has the most difficulty performing at the same time: choosing ideas (known as selection) and arranging them into a logical flow (known as sequencing)

An archipelago is a chain of islands in the ocean, usually formed by volcanic activity over long spans of time. The Hawaiian Islands, for example, are an archipelago of eight major islands

Knowledge Work

Knowledge workers are supposed to work at high standards, fast, continuously. This generates some tention between quality and quantity. Culinary chefs have adopted a particular system for dealing with these high-load working environments: mise en place.

Knowledge is the most valuable asset for “knowledge workers” professionals. They spend a huge amount of time managing huge amount of information, searching for the right piece of information.

On the importance of having a working environment instead of just a storage environment:

When you make your digital notes a working environment, not just a storage environment, you end up spending a lot more time there. When you spend more time there, you’ll inevitably notice many more small opportunities for change than you expect. Over time, this will gradually produce an environment far more suited to your real needs than anything you could have planned up front. Just like professional chefs keep their environment organized with small nudges and adjustments, you can use noticing habits to “organize as you go.”

Organizing knowledge and relying on your Second Brain is essential. It should allow you to:

Knowledge should help you find solution for your own problems (or bigger ones) and produce something meaningful. Personal knowledge management is there to support you taking action - anything else should be considered as a distraction.

That’s why you should produce more than you consume. Creating new things can have a positive impact on your well-being, it can inspire/entertain/educate others.

Twelve Favorite Problems

“You have to keep a dozen of your favorite problems constantly present in your mind,” Feynman told one interviewer. “Every time you hear or read a new trick or a new result, test it against each of your twelve problems to see whether it helps.”


Intermediate Packets

The power of thinking small. These are the intermediate steps that will help you to actually finish your project. These can be reusable so you can use them for different projects. These are basically the next actionable steps in GTD

There are 5 types:

To work “with the end in mind” and always focus on the final results has some flaws. All the work you have done (till reaching the final end) are way underappreciated and undervalued. That’s why it’s important to recycle all the notes, drafts, outlines (in general: intermediate steps) into a system where it might become useful again (for other projects/ideas).

As you start your Second Brain journey there are 3 stages of progress:


Keep what resonates


Characteristics every digital notes app should have:

Where to put a note

If you don’t know where to put a note, ask yourself these questions:

Types of notes

Also be very conservative when you want to save something to your external knowledge:

Don’t save entire chapters of a book—save only select passages. Don’t save complete transcripts of interviews—save a few of the best quotes. Don’t save entire websites—save a few screenshots of the sections that are most interesting. The best curators are picky about what they allow into their collections, and you should be too. With a notes app, you can always save links back to the original content if you need to review your sources or want to dive deeper into the details in the future.


Save for Actionability

It’s always good to separate capture and organize into different steps. Use an inbox where new notes/thoughts are stored first before you get to revisit them and decide where they belong to. For example I use getpocket to organize the web articles I want to read (I wrote about my workflow here).

You can do daily or weekly review and decide where to put your notes. Eventually you might also discard notes since they’re not valuable for you:

You have to always assume that, until proven otherwise, any given note won’t necessarily ever be useful. You have no idea what your future self will need, want, or be working on. This assumption forces you to be conservative in the time you spend summarizing notes, doing so only when it’s virtually guaranteed that it will be worth it


Show your work

Commonplace books

Before we had information overload, the commonplace book was a diary or a journal of personal reflections. It become popular in the Industrial Revolution during the 18th and 19th century. It was used by people (from the educated class) to understand a “rapidly changing world and their place in society”.

This practice continues among creatives today. Songwriters are known for compiling “hook books” full of lyrics and musical riffs they may want to use in future songs. Software engineers build “code libraries” so useful bits of code are easy to access. Lawyers keep “case files” with details from past cases they might want to refer to in the future. Marketers and advertisers maintain “swipe files” with examples of compelling ads they might want to draw from

The digital commonplace book is the Second Brain. It’s a combination of

You can use it in different contexts like work, school, home.

The practice of keeping personal notes also arose in other countries, such as biji in China (roughly translated as “notebook”), which could contain anecdotes, quotations, random musings, literary criticism, short fictional stories, and anything else that a person thought worth recording. In Japan, zuihitsu (known as “pillow books”) were collections of notebooks used to document a person’s life.


Information is organized based on how actionable it is and not on its type or kind. That’s why it’s so universal and applicable for almost every profession or field.

PARA is more like a production system. You won’t be able to always find the right place where a note belongs to. The category you initially put a note to, might change depending on your current projects and however your thoughts change in life.

Every piece of information can be put into one of following categories:





Divergence vs Convergence

When you create content you alternate back and forth between divergence and convergence. As you capture (and organize) your information (the first 2 steps in CODE) you “get off the track” and spread your focus horizontally. You do a lot of research, explore and add new ideas. The last 2 steps in CODE (Distill and Express) are more about convergence. They force you to straighten your focus, go more deep-dive and “shut the door to new ideas and begin constructing something new”.

Campsite rule

Leave a place on a campsite better than you found it. This can be applied to information/notes as well. Everytime you touch a note, you should make it more discoverable by adding more information to, put it in another place, adding a highlight etc.

Mise en place

Everything in a kitchen is designed and organized to support an outcome—preparing a meal as efficiently as possible.

The archives are like the freezer—items are in cold storage until they are needed, which could be far into the future.

Resources are like the pantry—available for use in any meal you make, but neatly tucked away out of sight in the meantime.

Areas are like the fridge—items that you plan on using relatively soon, and that you want to check on more frequently.

Projects are like the pots and pans cooking on the stove—the items you are actively preparing right now. Each kind of food is organized according to how accessible it needs to be for you to make the meals you want to eat