In today’s world, we’re constantly bombarded with important information that our brains struggle to process and remember. This can lead to feelings of frustration and overwhelm, as we feel like we’re not reaching our full potential. The book Creating a Second Brain by Tiago Forte provides an answer to this issue.
Forte is a productivity and personal knowledge management specialist, and his book describes a process for gathering, arranging, and using useful information. By creating an external storage system of knowledge, or a “Second Brain,” you can easily recall important information, make connections between ideas, and complete projects to the best of your ability. The book also includes insights from other productivity experts, such as Peter Drucker and David Allen.
Your Brain’s Not Equipped to Effectively Manage Today’s Information
According to Forte, having an external storage system (ESS) is crucial for modern humans, as knowledge and the ability to do knowledge work are highly valued in today’s society. Knowledge work entails memorizing pertinent details, drawing connections, and employing these insights to produce new concepts and address issues.
To be effective at knowledge work, one needs to be both creative and productive. Creativity is about connecting ideas and information, while productivity is about making the best use of time and creativity to achieve goals. The more creative connections one can make and the faster they can execute them, the better they will be at knowledge work.
Forte acknowledges that our brain’s capacity to manage information is limited, which hinders our ability to do knowledge work effectively. While technology has provided us with access to an overwhelming amount of information, our brains have not evolved at the same pace to process and recall this information efficiently.
This creates a challenge to remember important information when we need it, which affects our ability to do knowledge work. However, a digital external storage system can address this problem by allowing us to organize and store important information in a way that is easy to recall. This will boost our creativity (ability to connect ideas) and productivity (ability to recall information quickly), which will, in turn, enhance our knowledge and ability to do knowledge work effectively.
How Will an ESS Increase Performance?
Forte identifies three ways in which using an ESS enhances creativity and productivity for productive knowledge work.
- Firstly, an ESS enables recording of ideas and information in a concrete, easily accessible format. This is more effective than relying on abstract information that’s hard to recall, improving productivity.
- Secondly, reviewing all past ideas and information through an ESS can help make unique connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, leading to new levels of creativity.
- Thirdly, the ideas and information saved in an ESS can inspire or be reused in future projects, saving time and increasing creativity and productivity. The next sections will cover how to organize and use your ESS to maximize creativity, productivity, and accomplish knowledge work goals.
How To Organize Your Storage System
According to Forte, organizing your external storage system is crucial in boosting creativity and productivity. By creating folders and sub-folders, it becomes easier to locate and utilize saved information. Forte’s organization system comprises six main areas, with four of them being part of the PARA system.
The Six Main Areas of the ESS
Forte advises creating an inbox as the first section in your storage system for saving information and notes. Sorting the information can be time-consuming, so it’s better to save it in the inbox first and sort it later.
This approach saves time and helps to ensure that the information is put in the right location. Forte emphasizes that it’s best to reflect on the information before sorting it to make the best decision on how it can be used. Sorting techniques will be discussed later in the guide.
Forte suggests organizing your external storage system into several sections to increase productivity and creativity.
The first section is an inbox where you save information and notes before sorting them into specific folders. The management folder includes a to-do list and tracks progress towards active goals and projects. The current goals folder contains sub-folders for each goal or project.
The ongoing engagements folder includes sub-folders for commitments that require continuous maintenance. The topics-of-interest folder contains sub-folders for concepts you’re interested in learning about but haven’t turned into a project or engagement. The hold folder stores old or irrelevant material.
How to Effectively Use Your External Storage System
Forte suggests that organizing your ESS is only half the battle; you must also learn how to use it effectively. He believes that utilizing your ESS is similar to the creative process, which involves two modes: expansion and contraction. You must jot down your thoughts and gather pertinent data, then organize it into the appropriate folders. This is followed by the contraction process of refining notes and creating something new from them. Forte’s CODE system outlines the four steps of recording, condensing, organizing, and expressing to effectively utilize your ESS.
Next, we’ll break down each step of utilizing your ESS and its impact on the creative process.
Expansion Step #1: Record
To begin using your ESS, first choose a platform to store all your information. Make sure to transfer all saved information from other platforms to your ESS inbox folder. Record only important and resonating information that’s actionable or inspires you. Avoid clutter by being selective with what you save. Save only what’s necessary and include brief notes to remind yourself of why it’s important.
Expansion Step #2: Sort
Forte suggests scheduling a regular time to sort your saved information from your inbox into folders and sub-folders. First, check if the information fits into any of your current goals or ongoing engagements sub-folders. If not, consider your areas of interest sub-folders. If no appropriate sub-folder exists, put it in your hold folder.
Contraction Step #1: Refine
Forte suggests refining your notes to their essential information to increase creativity and productivity. This should be done separately from recording and sorting, right before creating something. To refine your notes effectively, use the “Progressive Summarization” process. Start by bolding the main points of the saved information, and then highlight or underline the most important points. For unique or valuable notes, include a brief summary in as few words as possible.
Contraction Step #2: Create
Forte’s final step of using your ESS is to use your organized and refined information to create something new, whether it’s a personal or professional project. To complete a project, Forte recommends three strategies.
Strategy #1: Discard Useless Information and Create Task Bundles
When your current goals subfolder has enough info, sort and outline the tasks you need to complete your project. First, go through the info and move anything you won’t use to your hold folder. Identify each small task and create a subfolder for each task within your project subfolder.
These are called “task bundles.” Order them chronologically and sort relevant info into each task bundle. This will make your work less overwhelming and more manageable. You can also save and reuse task bundles for future projects to save time.
Strategy #2: Plan Your Next Session
To maximize productivity, Forte suggests that at the end of each work session, you should record the status of your project, potential future barriers, and important details. This allows you to pick up where you left off and continue your train of thought.
In addition, Forte advises prioritizing completion over perfection to avoid getting caught up in small details and losing momentum. By scaling down the project’s scope, you can ensure that it gets done and revisit it later to add more components if necessary. Cal Newport takes Forte’s recommendation further by recommending a “workday shutdown ritual” that includes checking email for urgent items, reviewing deadlines, and using a signal phrase to end the day.