“Building a Second Brain” by Tiago Forte

Jose M. Ramirez
2 min readAug 28, 2022

I am a fan of notes, I take notes on paper and digital constantly, and I think I have a system that allows me to use them quite efficiently. I use some digital tools, such as Evernote and, more recently, Notion — they do not replace paper notes, but they certainly have enormous advantages, especially in collaborative work.

When I read a review of Tiago Forte’s book, Building a Second Brain, what struck me was that, apparently, unlike the hundreds of books on information management and productivity, the emphasis was more on the Mindset than on the Mindset. Toolset, and not to train the brain to function differently from its design, but to build a second, external brain that would serve as a personal information processing system and memory bank.

The book is very well structured, making it clear from the beginning that Tiago’s system is based on a process identified with the acronym CODE (Capture, Organize, Distill, Express) and an information structure identified with the acronym PARA ( Projects, Areas, Resources, Archives).

The book can be repetitive and sometimes not very specific for someone who handles the concepts of Personal Information Management, note taking, and productivity. Still, the reality is that the structure allows you to speed up or skip reading known sections and stop at new sections. This is a virtue that not many books of this type have.

CODE is a simple, iterative process that guides the permanent flow of information reception, organization, and purification, with several techniques and tips oriented to the digital world and exemplified with some applications, such as Evernote, Notion, or Notes. Interestingly, this process doesn’t stop at the efficient storage of information but extends to its creative use (the E for Express). Examples are generally good.

PARA is a basic structure that can be implemented simply by creating folders with the respective labels (Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives). Using the CODE process, this structure allows us to always focus on the potential use of each piece of information in current or future projects. This “actionable” feature is certainly a plus.

One of the biggest problems in managing information is easy to access to parts when you need them. Tiago offers a chapter dedicated to a labeling system that makes a lot of sense. The book is complemented by a website full of resources, a YouTube channel, and a very active community.

A final comment about the book is its agnostic approach. It does not focus on a specific tool, and the methodology is not rigid, so it can be used, as will be my case, as a complement to existing systems.

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