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Building a Second Brain

ISBN13: 9781982167387 2022-07-07


It's more about how to take thorough notes habitually.

It is about optimizing a system outside yourself, a system not subject to your limitations and constraints, leaving you happily unoptimized and free to roam, to wonder, to wander toward whatever makes you feel alive here and now in each moment.

The origin goes back to the commonplace book used by ancient scholars. They always carried a commonplace book, taking notes like a canvas synced with their brain. The so-called second brain is recreating the same concept on a digital device. Then, we can use such notes as cheat sheets for our lives. But in the real world, you can never expect what type of exam you'll face, what topics it will cover, and what answer it will require. This book gives one methodology for such a problem.


A second brain can:

  • Detail ideas.
  • Interrelate ideas.
  • Incubate ideas.
  • Sharpen perspectives.


  • Author suggests CODE procedure.


  • Create my knowledge repository.
  • Each knowledge unit can take multiple formats. Posts, pictures, bookmarks, voice recordings, meeting notes, etc.
  • Make 12 questions that revolve around you.
  • When capturing, find relations with the 12 questions.
    • Ex: What does moving from mindless consumption to mindful creation look like?
  • Do not over-collect.
  • Do not collect what you already know. Beware of the confirmation bias.


  • Do not over-organize.
  • You don't need a sophisticated structure for sophisticated work.
    • For example, tagging takes too much effort.
  • Author suggests PARA. Refer to the note.

Organizing was similar to Data Structures in Computer Science. If you sort too less, it costs too much to search. If you optimize too much for search, sorting takes too long. It would be best if you had a middle ground. I am skeptical on PARA. Area and Resource feel redundant. I simplified it into Projects, Research, and Readings. The author claimed that classifying such things as Readings and Quotes as their own is like organizing food ingredients by their color. However, I think it makes sense to occasionally separate Readings.


  • Keep the essence, remove everything else
  • Remove redundancy and details
  • You can always fall back on the source. Have no regret; remove them brutally.


  • Take advantage of Intermediate Packets. Notes, projects, docs, and plans serves as nutrition for your creative activity

Habits for creation

  • Creative process is ancient and unchanging.
  • Use Intermediate Packets to overcome the fear of blank paper.
  • Convert yesterday's momentum into today's momentum.
  • Make wrap-up rituals.
    • Post-mortem questions. What did you learn? What did it leave? What can you improve?
    • Talk with stakeholders.
    • Numeric your success.
    • Celebrate
  • Regularly review notes.
  • Start today.