Arief Rahmansyah

31 Jan 2021

Building a Second Brain: An Overview

This post contains my highlights and notes from Building a Second Brain: An Overview.


Our brain can only store a few thoughts at any one time.

Our brain is for having ideas, not storing them.


  1. Building A Second Brain is a methodology for saving and systematically reminding us of the ideas, inspirations, insights, and connections we’ve gained through our experience. This methodology is not only for preserving those ideas, but turning them into reality.
  2. Second brain is an external, centralized, digital repository for the things you learn and the resources from which they come.

What for?

  1. Consistently move your projects and goals to completion by organizing and accessing your knowledge in a results-oriented way
  2. Transform your personal knowledge into income, taking advantage of a rapidly growing knowledge economy
  3. Uncover unexpected patterns and connections between ideas
  4. Reduce stress and “information overload” by expertly curating and managing your personal information stream
  5. Develop valuable expertise, specialized knowledge, and the skills to deploy it in a new job, career, or business
  6. Cultivate a collection of valuable knowledge and insights over time without having to follow rigid, time-consuming rules
  7. Unlock the full value of the wealth of learning resources all around you, such as online courses, webinars, books, articles, forums, and podcasts


Part 1: Remember

Keep it in a single, centralized place, such as a digital note-taking app like Bear, Notion, or others.

  1. Think like a curator - objective, opinionated, and reflective
  2. Organize your content by project - use PARA method
  3. Keep only what resonates - don’t make it a highly intellectual, analytical decision

Part 2: Connect

By distilling your notes into actionable, bite-sized summaries, it could quickly remind yourself of what it contains and potentially apply it to something you’re working on.

  1. Design notes for your future self - pay it forward strategy
    1. Define key terms
    2. Insert placeholders or todo comments when we leave off summarizing - so we know where to pick back up
    3. Add links to related resources (websites, files, or emails)
  2. Summarize progressively, at different levels of details
    1. Save only the best excerpts from whatever you’re reading,
    2. then create a summary of those excerpts, and
    3. then a summary of that summary, distilling the essence of the content at each stage
    4. These “layers” are like a digital map that can be zoomed in or out to any level of detail you need
  3. Organize opportunistically, a little bit at a time
    1. Don’t spend your time and effort upfront in creating highly structured and perfectionistic notes
    2. Add value to a note every time you touch it
    3. Ensure that the most frequently used (and thus most valuable) notes surface organically

Part 3: Create

Create tangible results in the real world, as the true purpose of learning is to turn our knowledge into effective action.

  1. Don’t just consume information passively - put it to use
    1. Don’t wait for the “right” bit of knowledge to come
  2. Create smaller, reusable units of work
    1. Think of projects as made up of discrete parts - intermediate packets
    2. Work in smaller increments, making use of any available span of time
    3. These packets can be saved to your second brain and re-used next time
  3. Share your work with the world
    1. There’s no such thing as finished product
      1. You should continually curate and save pieces of content, review and summarize them, create a series of intermediate packets, and then recycle them back into your second brain
      2. Everything is in flux, everything is a work in progress, and everything you put out there has an implicit “version 1.0” attached to it
    2. Accomplishing anything meaningful or important requires working with others


Building a Second Brain is an integrated set of behaviors for turning incoming information into completed creative projects. Instead of endlessly optimizing yourself, trying to become a productivity machine that never deviates from the plan, it has you optimize an external system that is more reliable than you will ever be. This frees you to imagine, to wonder, to wander toward whatever makes you come alive here and now in the moment.

  1. Each note in your second brain is a record of something you’ve experienced in your life
  2. You will no longer think about things in isolation, but as part of a network of ideas in which everything affects everything else
  3. You will start to think in terms of the systems and principles that you’ve gleaned through your summarizing and reviewing, and see them everywhere
  4. Your second brain becomes like a mirror, reflecting back to you who you think you are, who you want to be, and who you could become
  5. You will know how to capture and make use of anything, every experience you have becomes an opportunity to learn and to grow
    1. You will realize that you already have everything you need to get started as you look around at the notes you’ve collected
    2. You will start combining the ideas together, forming new perspectives, new theories, and new strategies