This morning started as usual, waking up, and within a few moments, thoughts started out of the blocks. Family tasks, clubs for the children, work tasks, and additional tasks that need doing from many areas that need urgent attention. In the middle of that, a great idea pops up before we know it’s gone. Without even taking the time to consider it, delve into more detail or consider how this interacts with different areas of our lives. Sometimes these ideas, kept deep in our subconscious, come back to us at the right time, and sometimes they are lost forever.
The fast pace in which we live our lives, cramming the maximum out of days, means that ideas, valuable knowledge, inspirations insights and connections we’ve gained through our experience never get used or maximised. Sometimes these ideas, insights and inspiration are less useful, but at other times they are goldmines of new ideas that could enhance your life in unexpected ways or change your life direction completely.
In order to manage the frenetic pace of life, there are a number of things that we need. Firstly a diary to plan our lives and bring order from chaos, and secondly, some form of a task management system to ensure things are not missed. This is where most people stop. Even with these first two systems, we often deal with ideas on a superficial level, and great ideas and inspirations insights into work, family, health and other topics are simply lost. A great example of this is reading an inspiring book or watching a great piece of content where ideas flow, and as soon as we get back into the fast pace of life, these are lost.
Whilst the concept of building a second brain has been around for centuries by writing and keeping information stored, the digital era has supercharged the ability to unlock your creative potential and has recently been championed by content creators such as Tiago Forte and Ali Abdaal as a way of improving productivity and creativity.
Benefits of a Building a Second Brain (BASB)
We are constantly bombarded with information and to-dos, and it can be difficult to keep everything straight in our heads. This is where a second brain comes in handy. A second brain is a place where you can store all of your ideas, tasks, and notes so that your mind can be free to focus on other things. You can create a second brain by keeping a journal, using a task management app, or even just bookmarking websites you want to remember. By taking the time to build a second brain, you will expand your memory capacity and be better able to cope with information overload. In addition, you will always have a place to Turn to when you need an idea or piece of information. So why not give it a try? You may be surprised at how helpful a second brain can be.
There are clear benefits to building a second brain system in this way
- Capturing interesting insights and ideas so they can be processed later
- Generating store of previous information
- Allows retrieval of previous content for future use
- Allows connections to be built across multiple domains, helping unlock creativity
- Ideas inspirations insights can be shared with others through your second brain.
- It frees up mental space to store information, safe in the knowledge we can retrieve it across all your devices when needed.
From an evolutionary perspective, we are hunter-gathers who needed to live in small tribes of 100–150 people. Whilst our biology is similar, our brains struggle to keep up with the fast pace, frenetic, and information-overloaded environments in which we now live. Building a second brain is something I have been working on in terms of improving my personal knowledge management, and although not a finished article, it was something I would highly recommend.
So how does this work?
The process of building a second brain can come in many guises, and your second brain needs to be useful for you and the things you want to achieve. In my next blog post, I will explain my own second brain system, but for now, I would like to concentrate on the general principles of building a second brain. Your second brain is a proven methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas we have had and comprises three key components.
With the modern tools of technology and networks, we are constantly consuming digital content. Some good and some less good. These are from a variety of sources e-books, social media, web-based information, personal note taking and work information.
The key to our inputs is understanding which inputs we use and capturing them in as frictionless a way as possible. Examples of content inputs and how to capture them include:
- Web browsing — captured by Instapaper
- Conversations or ideas that pop into your head — captured in apple notes, notability, good notes etc.
- Ideas from podcasts — Airr app or personal voice memos into the apple memos app.
- Ideas from Social Media — using book marks to highlight information that may be useful
The key is how you consume and store information will be personal to you, but the key is figuring out a way to capture it.
Resources storage area
The next step is getting all of this information into a place where it can be reviewed, digested and, if necessary, discarded. It could be argued that this step is not necessary, but to achieve frictionless capture at the inputs stage, it is important not to overthink things, but rather capture them and move on. This frees up space to park an idea and then move on with your day. For those of you who have adopted a meditation practice, it is very similar to this. The ideas come, and I’ll let go, but the difference with meditation is that these ideas are captured.
A great app for this is Readwise which allows connection with multiple sources of information in one place from social media, e-books and apps such as Instapaper, which capture ideas that have been sourced through web browsing.
The resource storage area acts in a similar way to your email inbox but for your thoughts and ideas. They can either be organised for a later date or sorted to allow them to be put into your second brain, which is the next step in the process.
Organising area for the second brain
Once the inputs have been reviewed, elected inputs can then be put into the Second brain. Are now a number of great apps which are being used for this, including Evernote, Notion, and Obsidian. They are being developed all of the time and are very different in terms of how they store information and their feel when using them. For example, Evernote is fantastic for its search function, Notion has great database options and ability to link to other information, and obsidian is fantastic in terms of creating different links between information which can be used in future to improve creativity.
This second brain is a digital store for our notes and gives us a method of storing digital projects, expanding our memory and our intellect using the available modern tools. It allows us to be present in our day-to-day lives, safe in the knowledge that information that we need is stored for future projects and research, and available across all of our devices when needed.
Some Real World Examples
So, where do we get started and begin organizing our own systems so we can take action to build a second brain? At the end of this article, there are some action steps, and my next blog post will explain how I arrange my own second brain. But first, let me give you some real-world examples of how valuable this can be.
Planning a Family Trip
As a family, we are planning a short trip to London during the half-term school break. We want the children to see and do as much as possible during these three days. Both my wife and I have been researching on the internet and on our phones for things to do. Previously this would have meant a series of conversations about each individual thing, perhaps agreeing on some ideas and not on others.
Using the second brain system she emails me all of the ideas and combine them with my ideas in the resource storage area. We had one discussion on what should be in and what was less important. I then transferred this across to Notion (the app I use for the second brain) and produced a web page within the app for the itinerary, booking details and plan for days to squeeze in as much as possible.
I have then shared the link in my second brain with my wife and children, so they see exactly what they are going to do and have access to this throughout the trip.
Using a Second brain at Work
As a doctor who works in the Emergency Department, life can be fast-paced, and you often need to consume information quickly for the task at hand. Information is often dumped as soon as it is used. Studying cases you have seen often requires memories of the event and using different information sources than the ones used at the time. If I want to review my practice of a specific condition, I would need to go to work and try and search for past cases, which can be time-consuming and onerous.
Using a second brain allows me to keep an anonymised (for confidentiality) patient list of those I have seen and tag them by demographic and condition. By forwarding the information I am using at speed to my resource storage area, I can then curate it and form a page in my second brain of useful information I have come across.
I then have a store of useful resources I have used and can recall every patient I have seen with this condition. This is really powerful in terms of looking at my own practice and self-reflection, treating specific conditions when doing research or developing a project area.
Of course, there are many other applications and ways to unlock your creative potential by building a second brain, and the exact use will be deeply personal. From organising the house, planning a holiday or dealing with multiple streams of information, building a second brain is a useful way of being able to use your digital life and unlock your creative potential.
- Decide whether a second brain would be useful to add to your calendar and task management system. Can you see the benefits of using your digital life and unlocking your creative potential?
- Buy Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte — either the link below (affiliate link):
- Go watch both Tiago Forte and Ali Abdaal’s Youtube videos on this. The most important thing here is they use different systems and do things in a slightly different way based on their own needs. This helps give a different perspective on this.
- Explore some of the cross-platform apps that can be used as Second Brain platforms (Evernote, Notion, Obsidian etc.) — they are all different, and the best one for you will depend on how you consume information and like to see it stored.
- Watch out for my next blog on my personal knowledge management and the specifics of my second brain.
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