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Building a Second Brain - Book Review

We live in a world where in a matter of seconds, we can access countless pieces of digital information. Anything from our class notes from our college days, our wedding video, or photos of our childhood are all compact in a little device we carry in our pockets. Building a Second Brain delivers those of us who are drowning in a sea of information and transforms us into skilled fishermen who sail the waters and casting their nets.

So what exactly is a second brain? It's a trusted companion that carries all the heavy loads of information we consume, processes that information, and makes it sharable to the rest of the world. The Second Brain frees the human mind to do what fulfill its greatest purpose: create. While David Allen's Getting Things Done aims at giving readers "a mind like water," Tiago Forte equips readers to have a mind like a canvas. Ideas that would otherwise sit in forgotten digital spaces are combined like colors on a pallet for the user to find right in the moment. Scattered ideas become integrated. Like a living body united by bones, blood, and tissue, our digital tools come together to help us produce something worth sharing.

So how does it work? It's by following a framework Tiago calls, "CODE," which stands for capture, organize, distill, and express.


Because it's so simple to capture something to our devices, we tend to collect a lot of information we may never actually use. Tiago runs potentially-useful information through the following criteria:

  • Does It Inspire Me?

  • Is It Useful?

  • Is It Personal?

  • Is It Surprising?

Once a note has been captured, the next step is organizing.


Many productivity frameworks have been suggested for organizing your digital life. But they often are extremely time-consuming and delicate. Forte says, "The truth is, any system that must be perfect to be reliable is deeply flawed. A perfect system you don’t use because it’s too complicated and error prone isn’t a perfect system—it’s a fragile system that will fall apart as soon as you turn your attention elsewhere."

Forte's approach survives our nature to neglect. He calls it the PARA method, which organizes every digital storage space in the following folders:

  • Projects

  • Areas

  • Resources

  • Archives

What's better is that using his framework doesn't require you to block off an entire day or two to start it up. You can begin using it immediately. I've been using his system for over a year and am amazed at how much time it's saved me in finding information.


After a note has been organized, you'll want to boil it down to its necessary components. This is what Tiago calls distilling your notes, and it's the next step in his BASB system. All the articles, podcast scrips, or meeting notes could be left to age in cold storage. But if you don't take the time to boil the data down to what's most important, you'll likely never use it again. Like the first two steps, distilling a note is something you can begin using right away. Tiago has done a whole YouTube video dedicated to this one topic here.


Now that our note has been captured, organized, and distilled, it's time to share it with the world. This is expressing what you've learned. Tiago believes that sharing knowledge is an important key to personal success and experiencing fulfillment. And I agree. Arguably the most beneficial part to learning BASB is having a system both to organize your life and express your creative perspectives with those around you.

Building a Second Brain is not necessarily an advanced-level approach to productivity. It's so simple that the novice will get a great foundation. Yet it's so insightful that it will upgrade the masters of the art. You can find his book on Amazon here.

Have you gotten a chance to read Tiago's book? Share your thoughts in the comments!


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