Episode 195 / November 14, 2022

Tiago Forte On How To Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential

39 min

Episode 195 / November 14, 2022

Tiago Forte On How To Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential

39 min
Listen on

With so much happening in our work and personal lives on a daily basis, how do you keep track of things?

Which one of the following do you generally practice?

1. Just try to remember all of it with your brain

2. Save reminders or alerts with a calendar or events management app

3. Maintain a daily diary

4. Some other way!

As argued and mentioned by most founders and VCs on our podcast so far, like Gaurav Munjal, Founder Unacademy, it is futile to put so much pressure on your brain to try and remember everything all the time.

Instead, it’s best to take notes of all the things that matter to you or you think would matter to you down the line, store them somewhere and refer to it when needed, and just use your brain as a processor, rather than a hard drive.

In today’s episode, we have with us, Tiago Forte, Founder, Forte Labs and we’re going to talk in-depth about his book – “Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organise Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential”.

In simple words, taking and processing notes in an effective and efficient way.

During the episode, Tiago talks about our mental blockers which hold us back from taking effective notes, how to get back at reviewing them later, how to get started with step 1, and more.

Notes –

00:36 – Intro

01:24 – Key takeaways from his book for a layman

03:30 – What’s his why behind writing his book and creating this system?

06:01 – Why or how do health issues triggers to write such an unconventional book?

07:04 – Initial system of note-taking and how it has evolved.

08:34 – What’s the App-stack that he relies on?

10:00 – How has this journey transformed him as a person?

11:36 – First set of things anyone can do to get started?

16:13 – How to review or revisit your notes effectively?

18:14 – His daily schedule: Between first brain & second brain

20:20 – Why is it difficult for people to take this 1-extra step?

22:26 – What can help our listeners help overcome procrastination and start note-taking?

25:39 – Zoho Sponsored – Prashant Ganti on Where do founders struggle with Payroll and how can they fix it?

26:55 – How to manage accountability in note-taking?

31:23 – How to make note-taking frictionless?

34:18 – Three personas from his book where note-taking made a significant change to their life

Read the transcript here:

Tiago 0:00

Central organizing principle of your second brain needs to be: what are my currently active projects? What are the projects that I’m trying to move forward right now and everything in your second brain should be organized around what you need to move those forward. Unless there is a specific use case for those notes. You should probably never look at them again. Like why spend your precious time to go back and just re-remember and re-memorize a bunch of notes that have no practical use case.


Siddhartha 0:32

Hi, this is Siddharta Ahluwalia. Welcome to 100X Entrepreneur podcast. Today I have with me Tiago Forte, Tiago is the author of building the second brain. I loved his book. It taught me as an entrepreneur, how I can bring my digital life as a replica of my real life, how I can use my digital documentation to note down the best ideas that I get throughout the day, and to be more productive in my personal life and translate it into professional life. So digital note taking apps you would have encountered, Apple notes, Roam research, but how to use them effectively how to make sure that your brain is only used as a processing device and not a harddrive. I think Tiago and I are going to discuss that in today’s podcast. Tiago Welcome to 100X Entrepreneur.


Tiago 1:22

Thank you Siddhartha, really happy to be here.


Siddhartha 1:25

Tiago, for a layman who has heard about your book, but not read it, what are the five key takeaways, if you have to summarize when we are starting the podcast they could take?


Tiago 1:34

Coming up with five, only five is hard. But what I think about is the core methodology of my book, which is called Code. The four main chapters in the heart of the book are one chapter for each of these four letters. Code is the four step process that I’ve identified that I’ve developed for creating new things, anything. So those are four. And the way I would think of this is just, these are four essential activities. For every creative person, for every knowledge worker, you need to be doing one of them, all of them in some part of your life in some way or another, those are capturing, you need to be writing things down. Okay? If you are only relying on your fragile memory, it’s going to dissolve away, you’re going to lose it, you have to capture things in an external form.


Second, you have to organize them. It doesn’t work to just dump them in a giant pile, there needs to be some kind of minimal organization to group things and categorize them in ways that make sense. Third, you needed to steal them. This is the one that people most often miss. You can’t just keep adding, adding, acquiring, acquiring, acquiring, you need to boil it down, you need to summarize the most important points, most important takeaways. And fourth, you need to express yourself, you need to put it into your own interpretation, your own words, through your own lens. I mean, that’s what we do as knowledge workers all day long. We’re just intaking information, processing it, changing it in some way, and then communicating it or sending it to someone else. That’s what it means to be a knowledge worker.


So those are for us just essential things that I’d invite people to look at. How am I already doing those four things? And how can I do it faster, more effectively, more powerfully. And then if I had data fit, I would say do all these things that I just described, you could do them on paper, paper and pen, paper and pencil, but I really recommend doing them digitally. Digital technology is now one of the most powerful forces. One of the most useful things in our lives might as well be note taking, which has been around forever, using the power of digital software.


Siddhartha 3:29

Tiago, thanks for sharing that. And it’s very Powerful, would love to dive deep into what’s your why, why did you write this book? Why did you create the system for yourself?


Tiago 3:40

For me, it goes back to, as I talked about, in the book, a chronic health condition that I had, starting when I was 22, I was working at the Apple store in San Diego going to college. And out of the blue, I just started having this terrible pain and tension in my throat, in my neck. And that really set my life off on a very different path. I had all these plans of studies I wanted to do and work I wanted to do and places I wanted to go and people I wanted to meet. But eventually it turned into years I just struggled with this debilitating condition. And this is when I started taking digital notes, with chronic condition you have to manage tonnes of information, I had to manage just unbelievable amounts of doctor’s notes and prescriptions and insurance paperwork, not to mention, actually reading about reading different papers and literature about what was happening to me trying to understand it, trying to change things about my health, my nutrition, my exercise, all these things.


And right at the moment that I had all this extra information to manage on top of my normal stuff. On top of all my studies, the side effects of the medication that I was taking actually severely hampered My short term memory. I had trouble remembering what happened yesterday, like even more trouble than usual. And so I was really in this moment of truth, this crisis where I had no choice, but to depend on some external system, because my first brain, my biological brain, was failing me so badly. And as the years passed, I started to notice a lot of people are in a similar situation. For some, it’s a chronic health condition like mine. But for some, it’s just other life situations, you have your first kid, suddenly, you have all these extra responsibilities, or you start a company, which is kind of like having a kid, you have all this extra stuff to manage.


Or maybe you move to a new city, or you move to a new industry, or you get a promotion, it can even be something positive. You get a promotion, you raise funding for your company, whatever it is, suddenly, the amount of information you have to manage and make sense of exponentially increases and with this fleshy biological brain, you can’t fundamentally increase its capabilities. And so I started teaching, and facilitating workshops and eventually wrote a book and now teach a course, teaching other people how to make a system like that for themselves.


Siddhartha 6:01

So between yours and James clear’s journey is very common that it came out of a very personal pain point. Why is that health triggered in both these cases to write such a successful book?


Tiago 6:13

Yeah. And actually, James clear as a friend and a mentor, Atomic habits was a huge inspiration for me. So it’s not a coincidence. But yeah, I mean, I think this is common. It’s quite common that people who take an unconventional life path, which any form of entrepreneurship is kind of weird. It’s kind of unorthodox and unconventional. Usually, in many cases, people don’t choose such an unconventional path just for no reason. It’s often because they had no choice. It’s often because you just were forced to by life circumstances. And so I think that’s probably what we have in common. He, like me, is an introverted nerd. We just like to be left alone and read our books and not be bothered. But we were both forced into this kind of public life of teaching and writing because of what happened to us with our health.


Siddhartha 7:03

And can you share more about what was your initial system of this note taking and how did it evolve? The tool set that you used earlier in how this tool set has also evolved over the course of years?


Tiago 7:15

It has changed so much. I started on paper, I would just take the paper that the doctor’s office gave me and annotate it and try to make sense of it. Then it became digital, and I would just use Microsoft Word, which was the only software for manipulating information that I knew about. So I would just have a series of Word documents stored on my computer. But then I thought, Okay, this isn’t ideal. I moved to Google Docs. For a long time, I had just different Google docs in different folders, and then from Google Docs and moved to Evernote. And Evernote added more capabilities and was even easier to use. And eventually, I think I’ll move on from Evernote is a huge explosion, a new generation of knowledge management software that is on the scene. Now that has developed into a very, very exciting time.


But I think what I take away from all that is your second brain is not dependent on any one piece of software. It is a collection of different tools that use different pieces of software, any individual app can be swapped out, any single one can be changed. But the overarching system, that is your second brain transcends any one particular tool. And that’s what gives you the confidence to invest in it for the long term. Honestly, if I thought it all depended on one piece of software that could go away tomorrow, forget it, I’m not going to spend my time creating something that could just disappear. It’s really about all the different apps that you use to manage information.


Siddhartha 8:34

And what is your app stack today that you use?


Tiago 8:37

There’s a small set of them, Evernote is kind of the central one. Usually, for most people, their digital Notes app is like the heart of their second brain that’s the center of their second brain. But then I also use Things which is a task manager for my to-do list. I also use e- Cal, which is a calendar client for which works on my computer. And on my phone, I use Instapaper, which is a reading app or realtor app for saving all the different links and bookmarks from the web that I want to get to. And of course, I use Google Drive for writing and collaborative documents, we use click up, which is a shared collaboration project management app for the company. We use notions for all of our project management and our, like company wide knowledge stuff. Those are some of the main ones that we use.


Siddhartha 9:23

And what are the tools that you use to write the books and chapters of the books and then collaborate all of them together?


Tiago 9:28

Honestly, it was the exact same tools that I use for anything else. It was Evernote to organize the research. And then I would move it into Google Docs to do the writing. And then once it was pretty close to final I would move it into Word, because Word has more advanced kinds of features and formatting and different footnotes and different things. And believe it or not, when I finished the book and sent it off. It was just a word doc. It was a Word document that I sent in an email that has now been printed 10s of 1000s of times and translated and distributed around the world.


Siddhartha 10:00

On this journey, how has writing a book, seeing it more than 10,000 times today, how it has transformed you as a person today?


Tiago 10:09

It has transformed me profoundly. It’s hard to even say I don’t even know who I would be, or what my life would be like at this point. Because I think mostly because I’ve just externalized. I have offloaded practically every detail in my entire life. My wife Lauren, she jokes that my eye depends so much on my second brain that my first brain has atrophied. If I can’t remember anything anymore using my first brain, and I don’t even try, I don’t even want to. Like, why would I occupy my very scarce first brain bandwidth with mundane details and random stuff to remember, I really just try to focus these days on being present. I think that’s maybe the single biggest impact it’s had. I am more present. I’m more focused. I am more mindful. I’m more thoughtful in all areas of my life because I do not have my bandwidth crammed with random stuff and details that I’m trying to remember.


Nansi 11:06

Hi, everyone. Before we begin, I would like to share that this podcast is brought to you by Prime Venture partners, an early stage VC fund led by Amit Somani, Shripati Acharya and Sanjay Swami. Prime is often the first institutional investor in category defining tech startups in FinTech, SaaS healthcare and education, such as Markit Quizzes, Planet Spark, Bolt and Glip to know more about Prime visit


Siddhartha 11:37

And so let’s talk about this transformation that you have brought in your life. How can anybody who’s listening to this podcast just get a percentage of it? So what is the first set of things that they need to do? People start with a to do list and it becomes really complicated to manage and declare your to do list. And once you are on your to do list, then you evidently open many tabs. And you are on a rabbit hole of Facebook, Google Instagram, Twitter. So the main contention of people who are trying to escape to get to step one has been building digital notes is such a huge distraction, because the plus thing that comes along with it.


Tiago 12:18

yeah, it’s such a good observation. And something I see too, is sometimes people they use to organize, they use note taking and fiddling with the new app as a way to avoid the things that they have to do, to decide to think about moving forward. It’s so tempting.Like I always say, productivity is like the most tempting form of procrastination, because you can tell yourself, Oh, yes, I’m organizing my notes and my files and my workspace and lining up all the pencils. But if that stuff is not moving forward, your priorities, your projects, or your goals, your vision for either your life, the life of your family, your company, your industry, then it’s all just procrastination. It’s a highly sophisticated form of procrastination.


This is one reason why when I advise people how to organize their digital life, I use a method called PARA, and the first letter which is P stands for projects. So in my view, the central organizing principle of your second brain needs to be what are my currently active projects? What are the projects that I’m trying to move forward now, and everything in your second brain should be organized around what you need to move those forward?


Sometimes, in contrast, people want to organize by subject, like psychology, Marketing, Economics, business, that’s like a library. That’s like an encyclopedia that has nothing to do with what you’re actually trying to accomplish. When it comes to personal knowledge management. At the individual level, those very broad subjects make no sense, what really makes sense is your goals. What are you trying to accomplish in the world? What are you trying to create?


Siddhartha 13:57

And let’s dive further deep into it. So somebody who’s trying to manage their project, day to day projects, what do they need to do to make sure that they get confidence to invest more in the second thing?


Tiago 14:09

Yeah, so the way I’d start is just to start with one project. Sometimes people want to sort of, they want to swallow the ocean. They want to organize everything perfectly before taking the actual first step. Now, just pick one project, pick an important project, maybe your most important project. If you were able to move that project forward to completion much faster than you would otherwise using a second brand. Wouldn’t that be like a clear return on investment? Wouldn’t that be like proof and evidence that this is worth doing? Okay, great. Start there.


So what do you need to move forward on a project? Most importantly, you need all of the information related to that project in one place. I mean, isn’t that the very basic step? Think about how rare it is that you have time to actually sit down and focus on your most important project. It’s already difficult to find the time with all the meetings And the phone calls and emails you’re trying to respond to, if you can get one hour a day, you’re like, elite level status. So when you sit down with that one hour to get things done, you don’t want to spend the first 20 minutes going and finding that email and then that one Google Doc, and then that one word doc, and then that one PDF, like, you can spend 20-30 minutes just running around finding little pieces. Instead, store all those little pieces in one single folder, or with one single tag in your notes app.

This is what’s so great about the notes app, by the way, you can save any kind of content, be it an image PDF, a link is a piece of text, a GIF anything.


It’s the only software really, that is so open ended that you can save all the different kinds of material that you need to work on a typical project, just save it in the project. In that one folder, I mean, that is kind of like it. Like we can go into more advanced subtle things. But most people are smart. If you just have all the material needed in one place, you’re going to automatically start to see connections and how things relate to each other and how you can rearrange them and reorganize them. That is how I would say people should get started with their second brain.


Siddhartha 16:13

And what a common pattern has been seen is, people try to build their notes. But there is no system for revision. At what point of time do I revisit a particular note? Let’s say I have today read hundreds of books. And for each book, I created a note. But that is forgotten. And when I look at the pile of 100, where do I begin to revise?


Tiago 16:36

So this is where I sort of differ from a lot of others, thought leaders, many thought leaders will tell you, Okay, put it on a schedule, like once a week, go in and read three notes. Once a month, go in and review, remember, reflect on this many notes. I really don’t see it that way. To me if you take notes on a book, let’s say, and you say those in your second brain, unless there is a specific use case for those notes, you should probably never look at them again. Like why spend your precious time to go back and just re remember and memorize a bunch of notes that have no practical use case.


On the other hand, if you do have a use case, let’s say you read a book on marketing, a year or two later, you’re launching a big campaign for your product. Absolutely go back, do a search for marketing or product or launch at that moment when you are starting a specific project, which is to launch the new marketing campaign. That is the only time to review those notes. So this is the cool thing with modern software. And having everything stored in one place means you can retrieve things on demand, you can do a search and instantaneously search the entire history, everything you’ve ever read or thought about the subject, like in seconds. So since you have that capability, I don’t think you need any other ritual or any other routine to go back and systematically review things. That’s just my opinion. But I think it reflects that the way that I design a second brain is really to accomplish things. It’s an action system, not just an archival system.


Siddhartha 18:13

And if you can describe your day to day schedule, and how much time you invest in, like building the new part of the second brain and revisiting the old parts of it.


Tiago 18:23

Yes, not much time. In fact, I often think if someone were to follow me around, like on a typical day with a camera, just look over my shoulder, I don’t think they would see hardly anything that I do differently versus anyone else. Like I only change 1%. So if I have a meeting, get on a zoom call, just like we all do every day, for 99% of the meeting, I’m just doing what everyone else is doing. I’m sitting there, listening, maybe taking a few notes of action steps. But then I just do one little thing different in the last 1%, which is those notes that I took, instead of just dropping them in my documents folder on my desktop, my downloads folder, I just take like five seconds to save them to just hit Copy, paste or export them to my digital notes out so that at the end of the week at the end of the month, instead of Oh, where did I put that all these different random scattered places, I always know where everything is. It’s always in my notes app.


And then I can do a search and say, Hey, didn’t have a meeting this week, about some operations decision that we’re having to make just do a search for operations or for something related instantly comes up and it’s almost like I can so easily revisit my notes from the past because they’re just all in one place. And I feel like that’s the thing with everything. When I read any book, ? I read the book on Kindle, I make the highlights, using the built in highlighting feature just like everyone else, but then I take one extra step at the very end which is to export those highlights and those passages that I find interesting to my notes. It’s a 1% change, not trying to change the way you do everything.


Siddhartha 19:55

Like if you are investing almost like 30 minutes a day at max two For your second brain.


Tiago 20:01

At most, yeah, it’s just these little, little moments to just save, capture, import, download, and then the job of organizing and retrieving those I postponed to the future, sometimes the far future to the moment, whenever that moment arrives, that I actually have a use case for those notes.


Siddhartha 20:19

And why do you think it’s so difficult for people to do this just one extra step? Because this is common knowledge. This is no, this is like healthy eating. They know they need to eat healthy, but they are not doing it, where so many people who know about the system, not able to take that step consistently


Tiago 20:36

has a fantastic question. And I spend a lot of my time wondering about this. I mean, it’s the reason I have a business. God, so many reasons and different reasons for different people. , for some people, it is limiting beliefs, often it comes down to limiting beliefs, they think they have to do it a certain way. They think it has to look a certain way. They think they have to conform to some idea. Some preconception of what it means to organize knowledge. For other people it has to do with fear, fear of getting a wrong, fear of making a mistake, fear of not doing it the right way. For other people, it is perfectionism. They think it has to unless they figure out the exact perfect way to organize their notes and take notes in the first place. They don’t want to do it at all.


For others, it is indecision, like to organize, you have to make decisions, you have to be decisive. It goes here or it goes there. It’s actionable or it’s not actionable. If you have a lot of trouble making decisions, that’s going to be a challenge. It’s different. But I’d say the common thread is the obstacles and challenges are always psychological. People think sometimes the problems are out there, oh, I need a certain note taking app or or I need a certain feature. It’s not the case, people have been taking notes for 1000 or 2000 years. They’ve been taking notes for long before we had any technology. So how can the limitation be in technology? It’s not, it’s in the mind, it’s in the human mind.


Siddhartha 21:58

But through our stats, we have come to know that listeners to 100x entrepreneur podcasts, the top 1% of the people in India, in their fields. But before recording a podcast video, we did a survey with just 50 of our listeners that how many of you are serious note takers, how much time do you invest? And this was a common bottleneck that I asked you to share. So through your course you take them through in detail, but for our listeners, can you guide them on a few extra steps. How can they overcome this internal belief that, I’m not able to take notes, maybe or I’m not able to do that one extra step maybe? What could help them right here right now?


Tiago 22:39

Yeah, there’s a few things I can say. So first of all, it’s powerful to ask, how are you already taking notes? And where are you already taking notes? You may have a certain conception of what taking notes looks like, sitting at this beautiful oak table in a little cottage in the English countryside, and you have your beautiful notebook and your fountain pen, and you’re just taking these longhand, cursive notes. I think sometimes people have these very romantic notions of what note taking and writing is, but where are you already taking notes, something as simple as saving bookmarks. When you come across websites, do you say bookmarks to me in a way that is digital note taking.


All you’re doing is hitting the little star or the favorite button, but it’s you’re saving a digital record that then becomes something you control and that you can edit that note taking? Are you taking notes in meetings? Do you ever write anything down when you have a phone call or meeting or with a client or anything, those are notes. When do you read books or articles? Do you ever save a quote or a passage or a statistic or a metaphor or anything? Those are notes, I find it very hard to believe that anyone who is even a little bit active in this digital world is not saving some kind of digital artifact. And then just start there. How can you do that thing you are already doing, 10% , 20% faster, easier, more efficient, more effective? Okay, once you’ve done that, how can you share it? How can you reorganize the remix? Let’s say your bookmarks or your meeting notes, or your client notes, or whatever it is, and then share it with someone could be your spouse, it could be your colleague, it could be your boss, it could be a customer, how can you share something that you have curated in some way to produce value for them? That’s the whole thing there. You just navigated the entire creative process. It is really something; it’s a series of small little tweaks, not this big, huge overarching thing. Another thing that I can say is do a 30 day experiment.


So I’ve been taking notes for over a decade. I recently went in and did sort of a little analysis that on average over many years, I take only two notes per day. And these are not like hundreds of words I can note: one image, one photo, one quote, one sentence they’re very short little snippets. Okay, so start with one, half of what I do, okay. And for 30 days, try to write down once per day. Just an interesting idea. Interesting theory, interesting quote that you find, at the end of 30 days looking your notes out at this collection of 30 or more interesting snippets of content. And ask yourself, what could you turn that into? What could that become? Could it become a PowerPoint presentation? Could it become a blog post? Could it become a helpful email that you send to your team? I’m certain there is some way for you to create value in the world, just by saving one little nugget of insight per day.


Siddhartha 25:36

That’s a fantastic idea. Dear listeners, before we dive further into the podcast, I would like to welcome Prashnat Kunti, Head of Product Management at Zoho payroll and Zohobook. Prashant, where do founders usually struggle with payroll? And how can they fix it?


Prashant 25:53

Thanks. Founders want to give their best for their employees. And they realize very early on . Payroll and compensation is a very, very important part of what they are going to handle. However, what we have seen is, where they miss out is usually on finding out the best solution that can grow along with that business. And that’s where, for example, the payroll complexity can grow very quickly. Initially, when you have just a few, four or five employees, that’s okay. But when the employee size counts, the payroll complexity grows by leaps and bounds. So it’s best for founders to invest in payroll, automated solutions, right at the very start, so they have one less thing to worry about.


Siddhartha 26:45

Thank you, Prashant. Dear listeners, you will find more about Zoho payroll in the show notes. Now, let’s further continue with the podcast.


One key question I have here is, I have seen and observed that people who have the most consistent on their health exercise, for example, those who are doing exercise almost like three times a week, those are the ones who have a personal trainer, or somebody who are following , a very specific diet, be it vegan, Paleo or keto. They have somebody accountable. For that, be it a dietician, who can a person be accountable to, because I think accountability is the key missing piece here, when we talk about note taking.


Tiago 27:30

It’s true. I think this is one of maybe one of the other difficulties of this whole practice for other parts of our life. We have accountability, but for knowledge management, no one probably knows or cares that you are building a second brain, no one will even notice or anything. So to me, this is where sharing is so important. Sharing your ideas is not just in my opinion, it is not just for bloggers and YouTubers and podcasters and professional, full time content creators, I think every human being has a need to express their ideas, everyone, think about something as simple as when you come home from work. And your spouse or your partner asks How was work today, and you express what happened, the ups and the downs, that’s self expression, something as simple as an email, have you ever written like a really comprehensive, detailed, , email, like teaching someone or training them how to do something, that’s content creation, I don’t care if you send it to one person.


And when you start to get in the habit of sharing your ideas, that becomes a form of accountability. I remember the day about two or three years ago, I committed to sending my email newsletter every week. And I didn’t know what I was gonna say, I didn’t think, I mean, I didn’t have a new piece of content to share every single week. So some weeks, I would just be like, you know what everyone, I don’t have anything in particular to share. But here are three things that I was thinking about this week. Here were three random ideas that I had this week. And before I knew it, that was the content. You can even talk about how you don’t have anything to talk about. As humans, we always have something to say. We always have something on our mind that we want to express. And if that takes the form of some sort of internet, online content, that’s just like a small extra bonus, I think sharing and self expression is its own form of accountability.


Siddhartha 29:22

But let’s see that content creators on the internet, be it Twitter, LinkedIn, or any other platform, are just like less than 1% of the audience. We want to democratize your process for everybody and not just who are sharing online. How do we do it for those people who are just our viewers in the online ecosystem?


Tiago 29:45

Yeah, I would say don’t think about an audience like Oh 1000s Millions of people. Think about the people close to you, in your personal life and also in your professional life. How you can make life easier for them, in small ways like, I remember early on, before I had any kind of business or anything like that, I ran a book club at my workplace. Every Wednesday at lunchtime, we would come together. I was the organizer. I wasn’t sharing my own content, I was just creating a space for reading and discussion. But then that actually led me to two other things. I gained experience being a leader, being an organizer, being a facilitator, in just something very small, like a book club. And we were reading someone else’s book? We were reading, like a best selling book, things like that, or, I think of something like.


Let’s say you’re working in customer service, quite an entry-level, junior position. If you get the same question from customers more than three or four times, create an FAQ. It might not even be the official company FAQ but could just be for you. You could just have a document open on the side, like definitive answers to the 10 most common questions when those questions come up, you just copy and paste, you just saved upon a bunch of time, you were more efficient than you would otherwise be, you gave the customer a better answer than if you made something else on the spot. And you’re essentially cultivating and creating this body of knowledge, this intellectual property, because that document one day, it could be something you share with all the other customer service representatives, it could be a business asset that actually advances your career, even if it just starts with a few answers to some customer questions.


Siddhartha 31:23

Coming on to the next step here. How do we make it more frictionless, so it just becomes like flipping a page of a book daily, or just marking a tick mark on a daily basis? Building your brain?


Tiago 31:36

Yeah, I think this is so important. It has to become easy. It has to become frictionless. That’s the only way it’s going to be sustainable. There’s nothing in life that is really complex and challenging. That stands the test of time, I think it comes down to all these little habit formation techniques that James clear, it’s about that, other people have written about, make it present. So one thing with these note taking apps that I would recommend is instal them everywhere, , instal the mobile app on your phone, put it on the dock on the front homepage, instal it on your tablet, instal it on your computer, on your Apple Watch, put it in the little menu bar up at the top of your computer installed, or activate the keyboard shortcut. So you can just do a quick keyboard shortcut, you don’t even have to switch over to the app, find what I call capture tools, there’s all these little ways of capturing content, there might be dozens of them that you can find, I probably have a dozen of them that I use.


So one thing is just put your note taking tools everywhere, like make it so you’re never more than two seconds away from a digital capture tool. Another way you can do this is automated. So I give the example of highlights in Kindle, you’re reading an ebook, and you make the highlights. And it just takes a few steps to hit Export and to share those highlights to your notes. But you can even eliminate those steps. Using a service called Read wise, read wise is a fantastic tool. I think it’s paid, you have to pay a monthly subscription. But it basically senses anytime you make a highlight anywhere on a web page in an Blog Post article ebook, and it automatically imports those highlights directly into your note taking app. So you don’t have to think about it. You don’t have to do anything, it happens completely in the background. That is another fantastic way of basically removing all effort so that it just happens.


And then a third way is I would say really ask yourself how you can make it fun. No taking is optional. No one is going to require it, no one is going to demand it of you. No one is going to look over your boss is not going to be like how many notes did you take this week ? It’s purely for your personal process for your personal experience. So if you find that taking notes on books is not very fun, stop it. Maybe you want to take images, maybe you’re a more visual person, you want to save photos instead. Or maybe you want to save snippets, maybe you listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks and you decide you’re going to be an Audio Notetaker and only save segments of audio. Really, there are as many ways of taking digital notes as there are different kinds of digital content, there are now almost endless kinds of digital content. So you can really pick the one or two ways that are most natural and fun for you. And just stick to those you never really need to go beyond , one or two or three versions of this.


Siddhartha 34:18

As we come towards the conclusion of the podcast, I want to ask you a couple of stories or three stories from different personas that have implemented the second brain system and have the need, what change could have made in their life. Three personas can be different: can be an entrepreneur, can be a House Maker, or can be somebody in a job.


Tiago 34:40

Yeah, there’s a few stories from my book that come to mind. One was an oncologist, a cancer doctor, working at one of the best hospitals in the US. I had to not say the name of the hospital or his name for anonymity reasons, but I had a conversation with him. And it’s interesting because the way that he used Study these methods was to organize his patient notes. Think about an oncologist how much information they have to manage. It’s not just all the little details of the patient’s, what their, their diet is, what their medication, what treatments they have had, what treatments they’re considering, and so much information. But then also he has to keep track of researchHe has to read, I forget how many papers and things every week, because sometimes a new experimental treatment comes out. And he asked to use it on one of his patients, like, away. And so he started using his second brain to organize his patient notes.


And the impact of that he told me is that in a 30, or 40 minute appointment, which is all the time he has, 30 To 40 minutes, instead of spending, 20 or 30 of those minutes just hunched over his computer typing, and sort of fiddling with his notes, he could spend five or 10 minutes on the notes, because he was more efficient, he was more productive. And that gave him another 20 or 30 minutes to spend with the patients just actually being with them, listening to them really hearing what their experience was like, which I think as a doctor, I mean, it’s just as important as the, , the more research based things.


So that’s one story. Another one is a pastor, I think, who lives in Colorado, and he started using his digital note-taking to plan funerals . So a funeral, you might think, oh, that’s, that’s a ceremony. That’s a ritual that you do. But there’s a lot of information that you have to keep track of, he would have to basically collect all this information about the person’s life, what they were like, what they cared about, their past, their history. And then you might not typically think of this as a creative job. But you had to weave together all these pieces of information to tell a story, which was the story of this person’s life that he would tell at their funeral. And then one more, let’s see, there’s a graduate of our course, who is a professor at a university in Florida. So she would often go to conferences, go to summits in different places, and give presentations on her research, which had to do with the efficacy of learning. And she found that in the past, she’d have to do what I call a heavy lift, she’d have to spend like two or three days before every presentation, how most people do this, like two or three days, like at the last minute before the deadline, just Oh, forcing herself to, , come up with all these ideas, which is very stressful. Instead, she would spend like the two weeks before one of these conferences, just dropping little notes, she would think of something over dinner, just drop a little note into her notes out, she would see something in a paper she was reading, she would see something from the internet, drop it in there.


So by the time she sat down to write her talk, to design her presentation, she already had all the material 100% of the research was done. She just had to kind of rearrange it and put it in the order, which saves her time and saves her stress. She mentioned more time with her kids, higher quality time with her husband. I mean, really, the benefits of this always come back to just your health, your sense of presence, your peace of mind and your relationships here, the basic relationships with your friends and family that are so important in life.


Siddhartha 38:03

Any funny anecdote or humorous anecdote, a reader would have communicated that would just bring laughter on your face.


Tiago 38:09

Well, I just got a message this morning. Someone messaged me and said Your book is not sauna-proof. He said I was reading inside the Finnish sauna that I was in and the glue melted and came off the pages. He sent me a photo of the pages of the book just completely in pieces. So I thought that it was pretty funny that people are reading this in such different situations, including in the sauna.


Siddhartha 38:38

Thank you so much, Tiago. It has been wonderful learning for me besides reading this book, interacting with you and getting the basic structure right, how to get started, and how to avoid the various problems I faced and anybody else can face while building the second brain system in one of the small nuances that can help build consistency. I think that’s the most important part of building the second brain.


Tiago 39:01

Absolutely. My pleasure. Thank you for having me.


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