- 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
- when creating new content (especially when writing) don’t start with a blank page
- gather a group of ideas, sources or main points that will form the very first structure of your content (essay, blog post, presentation, deliverable)
- once a critical mass is reached, you switch into convergence mode (from divergence mode) and link your notes in a way that makes sense
- basically building bridges between the islands
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 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:
- make your ideas concrete
- reveal new associations between ideas
- incubate ideas over time
- sharpen unique perspectives
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
- inspired by Richard Feynman
“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.”
- How can we make society fairer and more equitable?
- How can I make it a habit to exercise every day?
- How can I have closer relationships with the people I love?
- How can I spend more of my time doing high-value work?
- How do I live less in the past and more in the present?
- How do I build an investment strategy that is aligned with my mid-term and long-term goals and commitments?
- What does it look like to move from mindless consumption to mindful creation?
- How can I go to bed early instead of watching shows after the kids go to bed?
- How can my industry become more ecologically sustainable while remaining profitable?
- How can I work through the fear I have of taking on more responsibility?
- How can my school provide more resources for students with special needs?
- How do I start reading all the books I already have instead of buying more?
- How can I speed up and relax at the same time?
- How can we make the healthcare system more responsive to people’s needs?
- What can I do to make eating healthily easier?
- How can I make decisions with more confidence?
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:
- distilled notes
- distilled content (from books, articles) you can easily understand and use (after using Progressive Summarization)
- material you didn’t use in one project but that might be useful in another
- documents, presentations, graphics, diagrams, plans produced during past projects
- finale deliverables
- concrete pieces of work delivered within past projects which could become part of something new
- documents created by others
- content/assets created by others (people on your team, clients, contractors, consultants) that can be referenced and used in your projects
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:
Just like a paper notebook might contain drawings and sketches, quotes and ideas, and even a pasted photo or Post-it, a notes app can store a wide variety of different kinds of content in one place, so you never need to wonder where to put something.
Notes are inherently messy, so there’s no need for perfect spelling or polished presentation. This makes it as easy and frictionless as possible to jot things down as soon as they occur to you, which is essential to allow nascent ideas to grow.
Taking notes is a continuous process that never really ends, and you don’t always know where it might lead. Unlike more specialized kinds of software that are designed to produce a specific kind of output (such as slide decks, spreadsheets, graphics, or videos), notes are ideal for free-form exploration before you have a goal in mind.
Unlike a library or research database, personal notes don’t need to be comprehensive or precise. They are designed to help you quickly capture stray thoughts so you can remain focused on the task at hand.
Notes should be organized for action, according to the active projects you’re currently working on. Before putting a new now into your second brain ask yourself how that particular information/note will help you move forward your project(s).
Where to put a note
If you don’t know where to put a note, ask yourself these questions:
- In which project will this be most useful?
- If none: In which area will this be most useful?
- If none: Which resource does this belong to?
- If none: Place in archives.
Types of notes
- from books/articles
- also from podcasts, audiobokos
- Bookmarks and favorites
- links to interesting content
- Voice memos
- Meeting notes
- lessons from courses, conferences, or presentations you’ve attended
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
- The Hemingway Bridge
Use Yesterday’s Momentum Today
as you write leave some cognitive capacity and time to make notes what you’ll write tomorrow
the next day you can start immediately without having to think about where to start and what to write about
How do you create a Hemingway Bridge? Instead of burning through every last ounce of energy at the end of a work session, reserve the last few minutes to write down some of the following kinds of things in your digital notes:
Write down ideas for next steps: At the end of a work session, write down what you think the next steps could be for the next one.
Write down the current status: This could include your current biggest challenge, most important open question, or future roadblocks you expect.
Write down any details you have in mind that are likely to be forgotten once you step away: Such as details about the characters in your story, the pitfalls of the event you’re planning, or the subtle considerations of the product you’re designing.
Write out your intention for the next work session: Set an intention for what you plan on tackling next, the problem you intend to solve, or a certain milestone you want to reach
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
- a study notebook
- personal journal
- sketchbook (for new ideas)
- collection of bookmarks
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:
- current tasks you’re actually working on (short-term efforts)
- Reponsibilities you want to manage over time (long-term efforts)
- Topics/Interests that might be useful in the future
- What topics are you interested in?
- Architecture; Interior design; English literature; Beer brewing.
- What subjects are you researching?
- Habit formation; Notetaking; Project management; Nutrition.
- What useful information do you want to be able to reference?
- Vacation itineraries; Life goals; Stock photos; Product testimonials.
- Inactive items from the categories above
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”.
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
- A culinary philosophy used around the world
- a step-by-step process for producing high-quality food
- chefs have developed efficient habbits in order to
- keep the workspace clean
- and at the same time prepare other/next meals
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