What's a second brain you ask? Well I guess we all have them, some have more primitive versions of them and others, more advanced versions. A second brain starts with all the digital information we collect and save on our hard drives and phones and makes it useful by connecting and organizing that information.
The human mind is good at abstract association, it struggles with remembering concrete details and at doing linear computation. Simply put, software is good at the stuff brains are bad at, and brains are good for the stuff software is bad at. A second brain has been described as a prosthetic for the mind. It marries the strengths of software and human hardware.
Our phones sort of organize photos and notes based on when we took them and have evolved now to include other search filters using facial recognition, gps data, AI powered search etc. but a second brain goes beyond organizing and allows us to connect information and ideas together.
I'm using an app called Obsidian which is a markdown based note taking app that stores my notes in icloud in plain text, so that no matter what happens in the future, I will always be able to read them.
Features of a Second Brain
How I use my Second Brain
I create a daily note with a template that has fields I want to capture every day. I have a field for data, location, time, some daily lists I make, etc. during the day I make brief notes about what I did at work which makes my checkouts easier.
I also have notebooks to store things I've learned. For example I recently had to fish a broken key out of a lock. I made a note about how I fixed it with two photos and links to two youtube videos that helped me. Should I ever break another key in a lock I will have a head start on fixing it.
I also store recipes, project plans and information. For example K and I recently installed a french drain in our backyard. I created a note that included a photo, the date we installed it, the problems with the old drain installed by a previous owner, the plan we had to fix those problems, and the methods we used to build it. I also added video of it working during our first test of the system during a summer storm. I also included information about potential problems and improvements should I need to repair or replace this drain or build another one in the future.
Internal links allow me to create "Maps of Content" which is an index of notes that all relate to each other in some way. So for example, let's say I want to build a deck and create notes on wood types, construction methods, information on stain colors and bases, links to building plans and tutorials, a video about shou sugi ban, spec sheets on different types of deck screws, etc. when the time comes to plan the project, I can create a map of content that links to all of this relevant information so that I can put my plan into action. "What kind of stain did I decide on again?" With a map of content I don't have to try a bunch search queries hoping Siri can find it in some folder or in some app I may have used for a note I made months ago. With a MOC, I know where it is and how to find it in a few seconds.
The power of a second brain isn't just in storing information, but in being able to recall it, when you need it. Internal links also make it possible to connect ideas at a later time which appeals to that strength the human mind has for abstract thought.
For example, maybe I come up with a brilliant business idea, and I remember that there was a podcast I took notes on 6 months-ish ago and the guy on it had a spectacular failure I want to review that deals with product launches. Let's imagine I can't remember the guy's name, or the podcast name, but I do remember that all my podcast notes are stored in a folder. After a quick scan I recognize the show notes and link them to my note about my business idea.
Internal links allow you to take something you learned months or years ago that you thought may be useful but would have forgotten about long ago.
Most things that we take in are done out of boredom. We scan news headlines that an algorithm thought we'd click on because it was salacious or scary, not because it thought it would be useful.
After disconnecting from social media and from algorithm constructed news feeds, I look for information intentionally that I want to learn from.
I use an app called Raindrop.io to bookmark studies, articles, and tutorials and then highlight the important bits I want to remember later. With a single tap in obsidian using a community built plugin, my highlights from the article are imported into my second brain with a link to the source material. All of this information sits in folder called "Resources". These are things that I think might be useful but I'm not sure when. The act of taking the note hopefully makes an impression on my mind, but if not there are other ways to stumble across it again using search, hashtags, internal links, or the the old fashioned way of scanning my directories.
Recently I read a paper on oxytocin and another on the safety and efficacy of common OTC analgesics like Aspirin and Ibuprofen. When you're not constantly fed information from algorithms, you give your mind time to be curious, and to search for information intentionally. I think this is an incredibly important practice.
I try to find one good article a day to read with intention with the purpose of archiving the notes to my second brain for use at a later time. I no longer scroll through news sites looking for my next hit of dopamine. Instead I look for things that will be useful or educational.
If you want to learn more about building a second brain
There's a book called Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte. He has a lot of free resources at buildingasecondbrain.com, a google talk on youtube and quite a few other videos on his own youtube channel.