A Note To Remember: How To Build A Second Brain And Reach Your Full Potential

If you ask productivity guru Tiago Forte what makes us who we are, he’ll tell you it’s our memory. “Memory is everything,” he admits almost defeatedly during his talk at Google.

He learned that the hard way.

Tiago Forte’s life changed in the summer of 2007. At the time, Forte was living his best life in San Diego, studying for his undergrad and working at an Apple store right when the very first iPhone was introduced to the world.

His cheerful, happy-go-lucky attitude was abruptly replaced with worry when he noticed a strange tickle in his throat that wouldn’t go away. As time went by, the pain grew more and more intense until it became unbearable. None of the doctors he consulted with were able to diagnose the problem and identify the cause. However, one of them prescribed an extremely strong pill to ease the pain. Desperate for some relief, Forte took it.

One of the side effects of the medication, as it later turned out, was severe short-term memory loss.

Forte’s recent memories were gone. Books he had read, trips he had taken — everything was wiped out. His illness was eventually labeled as a chronic condition rather than a temporary disease, so he began taking notes obsessively to manage his medical record and daily routine, which came in handy as he was learning to live alongside this mysterious illness.

That was when he realized the potential of digital note-taking for improving one’s well-being and productivity.

In the decade that followed, Tiago Forte became enamored with the power of notes and personal knowledge management (or PKM). His records grew into a giant database of personal thoughts, memories, ideas, and sources he could retrieve at the drop of a hat, which altered his life completely. .

It was more than just a list of references. Forte used it as a second brain.

Much has been said about the age of Big Data and information overload. By now, we’ve all come to realize that the human brain isn’t capable of storing the amount of information needed to function amid the massive volume of content we encounter on a daily basis.

Enter Tiago Forte’s theory.

“It’s time to stop competing with intelligent machines and harness their power instead,” he said in a recent interview.

Published in June 2022, his book Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life And Unlock Your Creative Potential offers a step-by-step manual to building your own personal archive. And though it may sound counterintuitive, Forte doesn’t want you to become a superhuman with perfect memory. He doesn’t want you to remember everything. He wants you to forget.

Or at least, he knows you will, at some point. It’s bound to happen. So he encourages readers to examine their habits, learn how to take and store notes effectively, and free up much needed space in their brain.

Forte defines a second brain as a trusted place outside your mind where you save the information that means the most to you. A long-lasting archive you revisit and keep adding to.

In his book, he uses the acronym CODE to list out several principles to change the way you manage your knowledge. A second brain DIY guide, if you wish. Here’s a brief summary:

  1. Capture: Forte wants you to think like a curator and appraise every piece of information you stumble upon with the appropriate gravity. Shifting from a passive approach to an active role means sifting through the information you’re faced with and selecting the parts that resonate with you the most. Be it a quote, an image, or a shower thought — anything that is worth remembering to you.
  2. Organize: Forte parallels the second brain to a garden, where you’re the caretaker planting the seeds and trimming the weeds. Your system should be action-oriented, namely, organized by projects, broader areas of interest, resources on topics that matter to you, and an archive where you store information you don’t need at hand.
  3. Distill: Whether or not a specific note will serve you in the future depends to a great extent on its discoverability. If you want to do it right, you’ll have to boil every reference you jot down to a simple sentence or two, capturing its true essence. Forte uses progressive summarization — a technique where you “peel off” layers from a text several times until you reach the most important idea at its core.
  4. Express: Everything you create throughout your day — whether it made the final cut into one of your works or not — can be used in the future. Forte calls these pieces intermediate packets, that can be stored away as small units that you can pull out and use (or reuse) as needed. Everything you’ve ever created is yours forever.

Creativity hardly ever comes from a random strike of inspiration anymore. It’s more about connecting the dots and linking thoughts that seemed unrelated before that brings about a new idea. But the sheer volume of data we are faced with does not allow us to do it very well.

With Tiago Forte’s method, we can reclaim our power as intelligent creatures whose biggest advantage lies in their ability to think rather than remember.

So, what’s your takeaway from this article? Write it down somewhere. It might come in handy in the future.