My notes on the book Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte. Overall, the book is solid. If you already have an organized digital system, you may pick up some tips from the book to help you think through your current setup. If you have no system, then this system is a great place to start, as it is flexible and straightforward.

What is a Second Brain?

Tiago defines the Second Brain as a digital commonplace book, a multipurpose tool that can adapt to your needs and extend your mind. It consists of knowledge-building blocks you can combine to assist you when creating something.

How a Second Brain Works.

There are four things we can expect our Second Brain to do for us:

  1. Establish our ideas.
  2. Connect ideas.
  3. Incubate ideas over time, what Tiago calls the “slow burn.”
  4. Sharpen our perspective.

There are three stages of progress during the development of our Second Brain.

  1. Remembering
  2. Connecting
  3. Creating.

The Second Brain consists of a four-part method called “CODE” - Capture, Organize, Distill, and Express.

Capture - Keep What Resonates

Capture when:

  1. It inspires you.
  2. It is useful.
  3. It is personal.
  4. It is surprising.

Don’t capture when:

  1. It’s sensitive information.
  2. It requires special formats that need a dedicated app.
  3. It is a large file that requires a dedicated app to open.
  4. Content that will require collaboration.

How to capture:

  1. Add highlights to your ebook reader.
  2. Save articles and web pages to a read-later app that allows highlights.
  3. Clip quotes from podcasts.
  4. Capture voice memos from your phone.
  5. Use the transcripts in YouTube videos.
  6. Capture excerpts from email.
  7. Capture from other apps using the Share button or copy-and-paste.

Organize - Save for Actionability


Organize your work into one of these four folders. Your organizing for actionability. Projects; Areas; Resources; Archives.

Any notes and files you use for your “Second Brain” can be organized into these 4 folders (regardless of which application you use). Try to be consistent across applications.


Projects have start and end dates. They are actionable. Everything from a work project to reading a book should be a project.

“By structuring your notes and files around completing your active projects, your knowledge can go to work for you instead of collecting dust like an “idea graveyard.” (Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain)


Areas are long-term responsibilities that may not even have an end date—for instance, Finances, Health, Family, etc.

The content you store in these folders could be more actionable but is needed for reference, for example, Tax papers, family budgets, inspirational photos, automobile information, manuals, warranty information, insurance information, etc.


Resources contain content you want to use as reference material for any topic you are interested in.

If you start a project and find some relevant existing Resources, move them to the project folder. When the project is complete, you may transfer these notes and files back to the Resources folder.


The Archive is where you move completed or canceled projects or even areas you are no longer responsible for. Even Resources that are no longer relevant to you.


Tiago does not recommend using Tags as a primary way to organize content. They can be used to organize by status or type.

“I don’t recommend using tags as your primary organizational system. It takes far too much energy to apply tags to every single note compared to the ease of searching with keywords or browsing your folders.” (Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain)

Distill - Find the Essence

It’s essential to update your notes to make them discoverable. Otherwise, they’ll be missed when you need them. We make them discoverable by going through the Distill process.

We want to capture only some of the article and have to work through it when we want to find a specific piece of information. Instead, we should grasp the essential ideas.

Progressive Summarization

  • When capturing, highlight the main points.
  • At a later time, review your highlights and bold the main points within those highlights.
  • After that, review the highlights again and create an executive summary using bullet points at the top of the note in your own words.

“The bolds and highlights of Progressive Summarization help me quickly determine which parts are most interesting and important at a glance.” (Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain)

Express: Show your work.

“The final stage of the creative process, Express, is about refusing to wait until you have everything perfectly ready before you share what you know.” (Tiago Forte, Building a Second Brain)

Intermediate Packets

Tiago recommends creating “Intermediate Packets.” which are small atomic units that makeup everything you can do. The idea is to reuse the packets in future work.

  • Distilled Notes
  • Outtakes
  • Work in Progress
  • Final Deliverables
  • Documents created by others.

Retrieve the knowledge in your Second Brain.

  1. Search
  2. Browser
  3. Tags
  4. Serendipity