I used to hate self-help books. Even when I finally warmed up to non-fiction, I couldn't like self-help books. My main problem was that they were filled with theory and didn't push me to take action.

Building a Second Brain came along and made me realize that I was simply reading the wrong books.

about Building a Second Brain

building a second brain book cover

A revolutionary approach to enhancing productivity, creating flow, and vastly increasing your ability to capture, remember, and benefit from the unprecedented amount of information all around us.

For the first time in history, we have instantaneous access to the world’s knowledge. There has never been a better time to learn, to contribute, and to improve ourselves. Yet, rather than feeling empowered, we are often left feeling overwhelmed by this constant influx of information. The very knowledge that was supposed to set us free has instead led to the paralyzing stress of believing we’ll never know or remember enough.

Now, this eye-opening and accessible guide shows how you can easily create your own personal system for knowledge management, otherwise known as a Second Brain. As a trusted and organized digital repository of your most valued ideas, notes, and creative work synced across all your devices and platforms, a Second Brain gives you the confidence to tackle your most important projects and ambitious goals.

Discover the full potential of your ideas and translate what you know into more powerful, more meaningful improvements in your work and life by Building a Second Brain.

my review

Fresh after reading and loving Show Your Work, I was interested in reading non-fiction books to help my creativity. Building a Second Brain caught my eye when I was browsing in the bookstore because its tagline says "unlock your creative potential." The blurb sounded good so I bought it.

How often have you tried to remember something important and felt it slip through your mental grasp?

The first line hooked me in. It made me sit up and read with more attention. I couldn't help but underline it. The first few pages continued to pique my interest until I was all in, The introduction is FILLED with my annotations.

As with all books, I didn't know if I'd like the book so I only lightly annotated with a pencil. However, in just a few pages, I knew I wanted this book on my shelf. I switched my pencil for pens and enjoyed reading and annotating.

We're flooded with more advice than ever promising to make us smarter, healthier, and happier. We consume more books, podcasts, articles, and videos than we could possibly absorb. What do we really have to show for all the knowledge we've gained? How many of the great ideas we've had or encountered have faded from our minds before we even had a chance to put them into practice?

The book aims to fix the common problem everyone faces in today's world—information overload. We ingest thousands of words every day through texts, news articles, social media, and more. But how much of it do we actually remember?

We are so used to being bombarded with information that we have stopped paying attention. Doomscrolling is a common activity where one spends minutes to hours scrolling on social media. Yet, how much of it is given more than a few seconds of notice?

While our world and technology have exploded in recent years, our brains haven't. We aren't built to deal with so much information. We can't naturally sift through tons of information to cultivate a body of knowledge while also keeping up with everything in our lives. Information Overload has become Information Exhaustion.

I'm notoriously known to forget friends' birthdays. I easily forget what I studied for exams and sometimes don't recall what I had for dinner the previous night. There's a running joke that I have a 1GB memory. But I'm not alone in this.

All of us are attacked with information from the minute we wake until we shut our phones to sleep. There are emails, friends' updates on social media, news, books, and more. If you look up from your phone on public transport and notice your surroundings, you'll see that everyone else is also on their phones.

At work, there are emails, rapidly shifting tasks, random titbits of information that may be crucial later, and more. Half the job of knowledge workers is to manage information and turn it into knowledge. How many times have you gotten sidetracked at work and didn't get to what you wanted to do that day?

The book details a typical office worker's workday and I related to it SO HARD that I had to step away for a minute. My routine sounded absurd when written. Until reading the book, I didn't step back and notice that I was always working in survival mode.

She isn't meeting her own standards for what she knows she's capable of.

Throughout the introduction and the first chapter, the book details the problem statement. It might feel like too many pages for it but it clearly defines the issue. By the end of the first chapter, you know whether this book is for you. You will know exactly what it can help you with and how you will feel after you put the suggestions into practice. You will know the target state that the book will help you get to.

I've read a good number of self-help books until now and no book has clearly defined the problem and target other than Building a Second Brain. It's a good sign of the upcoming chapters as well. If the first chapter itself is written well and communicates the exact idea, you know that the book will be good.

This is what I wrote on a sticky note in the second chapter during my reread in 2023: "Initially, all this might sound like a nice spiel but here I am, a year after starting to consciously put these ideas into practice and it genuinely works. All of this is true. Note-taking has made me a person of knowledge and I'm valuable to my co-workers. I, a person who frequently forgets things, am counted on to remember. I am able to do it because I don't actually remember all of it, most live in my notes."

I love writing my views on the book during rereads because it shows how much I've changed and grown. I have so many sticky notes and sentences in the margins about my thoughts, actions steps, and questions. Annotating makes me happy and is valuable too.

Tiago Forte suggests building a personal second brain to solve some of our problems. I'm not sure if he coined the term but the concept has existed for a while with other names. Commonplace books and the Zettelkasten method are popular examples of the system.

A "second brain" is essentially a place where you can note down new ideas and whatever you come across. Instead of remembering things, you note them down. The idea is to offload the remembering work to your second brain so that your actual brain can work on creating.

The book details how a second brain helps in multiple ways and mentions specific use cases as well. It makes very valid points. It takes many ideas that are floating around on the internet and says how to do them with a second brain.

For example, cross-pollination of ideas is important. Creating a knowledge vault is important. Following a slow-burn approach is easier instead of heavy lifting when you have a new project. The book shows how these things and more are achieved with less effort.

We need to adopt the perspective of a curator, stepping back from the raging river and starting to make intentional decisions about what information we want to fill our minds.

The book is very convincing for good reason. We all want to be wise people with a lot of knowledge and ideas. It feels like becoming that person is a huge effort but it turns out that note-taking gets us there.

In the beginning, it feels funny. Just taking notes can help so much? Really? But now that I've been doing it for over a year, I can confirm that it truly does everything that the book promises.

Note-taking shouldn't be a ground-breaking habit. Unfortunately, the way we were taught note-taking in school doesn't resemble what we can use it for in the real world. Our lives are dynamic and one system doesn't work for everybody. We never learnt to experiment—we all had to follow one method in class!

While note-taking is essentially simple, it can look very different for different people. The book acknowledges that and helps you find your method.

That's what I liked about the book. It doesn't try to be one solution for all. The author admits that each person's life and preferences are different. He gives us resources and steps to figure out the best approach for us. The book includes a list of tools we can, suggests what to take notes on and what to ignore, and helps to make sense of our notes.

I liked how the book gives several examples so that the reader is not confused about what to start with. There are different ways to approach note-taking, screenshots to show examples, and more.

Throughout the book, the author doesn't make you do any guesswork. You don't have to read the book and then figure out where and how to apply the suggestions. I noticed the guesswork problem in Atomic Habits, among other books. It's a popular and well-written book but it doesn't help you get started immediately. It's a lot of theory and tells you to figure out how to use the concepts. That problem isn't there in Building a Second Brain.

This book will guide you to action easily. You don't have to read the entire book to put it into practice either. The first part gives you enough ideas with guides and resources to get started.

In fact, I took a month's break from the book after the first part to try out a note-taking tool and some of the suggestions before I dove into the rest.

We don't need complex, sophisticated systems to be able to produce complex, sophisticated works.

The methods mentioned in the book are easy and quick to implement. We don't need to set aside time every day or every week. A minute here, five minutes there, two minutes a few weeks later—the point is to work on the second brain only when necessary.

The main reason why I stopped bullet journalling after graduating college was because it took too much time. Decorating and writing lists every day took time. It wasn't flexible to allow changing schedules on the fly. I couldn't carry the book around to write whenever I needed to.

The book suggests using technology to make our lives easier. We all have smartphones with us every minute of our waking day. It's easy to type a quick note or record an audio clip on our phones. It is easy to create and edit schedules and notes. It is easy to capture inspiration and ideas on the go.

The author insists on making and organizing notes for action. Instead of mixing the currently relevant and irrelevant notes, he proposes saving notes according to how useful they are to us now.

Once I started seeing notes that way instead of haphazardly dumping everything in one place, my output increased. It immensely helped me at work.

Information becomes knowledge—personal, embodied, verified—only when we put it to use.

Building a Second Brain isn't for everyone. While the concepts could help everyone, not everyone would want such concepts. The book is for beginners at note-taking—people who want to take charge of their information and stop feeling exhausted. It is for people who want simple, easy, and quick strategies.

The book is not for anyone who already has a good system in place or who has/wants complex/advanced systems. Out of all the people I recommended the book to, two read the book with vastly different opinions. One absolutely loved it and asked me for recommendations, The other said, "the concept is essentially maintaining notes? not sure what the author is trying to get at. everything mentioned in this book is obvious, I tend to use something a lot more advanced."

To the people who like it, the book is a gift that keeps giving. I first read the book to improve my creativity. Applying the concepts led me to create a system of organization that runs my life. A year later, I reread the book and used the principles to take charge of information at work. My personal knowledge management system as a software developer is different from my life system but works well.

Recently, I showed my second brain to a colleague and after a few days of watching me use it, he's convinced that he needs to make one too. At times, it helps me look like a genius at work.

Through the years, our lives and requirements will change. The tools we like and use will change. This book proposes methodologies that will work for every part of life and with any tool. I'm keeping it on my shelf for years to come to take help whenever I feel frazzled and exhausted.


I found the book incredibly useful. That means more than just "loving" the book. It has helped me be more organized, be more creative, and create more value.

Being creative has never felt so easy before creating a second brain. Now, I have all my ideas and inspirations in one place. It's like a Pinterest board but with all kinds of media and notes. All I need to do is find connections and create something new from them.

Run after your obsessions with everything you have. Just be sure to take notes along the way.

For more helpful resources, you can follow Tiago Forte's YouTube channel or blog. You will find enough helpful articles to set your second brain without reading the book (but the book is much more detailed).

I read and reviewed the author's book The PARA Method as well, check it out here!

chat with me!

Do you have a habit of taking notes? Have you read this book or is it in your TBR? Have I convinced you to read it?

Is there any habit or process that helps you be creative? Tell me in the comments!

photo of Sumedha

Sumedha spends her days reading books, bingeing Kdramas, drawing illustrations, and blogging while listening to Lo-Fi music. Read more ➔

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  • abookowlscorner says:

    It's so cool that this book made such a big difference in your life! I'm afraid I'm still very much in the skeptical "self-help books only state the obvious" group and actually do already have a pretty advanced note-taking system in place (divided between my phone, OneNote, and actual paper) that works well for me, so I think I'll probably steer clear... But I still found it really interesting to learn more about your process and how it has been changing thanks to what you've been reading!

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    • sumedha @ the wordy habitat says:

      Haha yeah! While this is self-help, I feel like the productivity side of genre has a few good books with action items that are worth it. And I kind of need things to be told multiple times for me to pick it up lol. If you already have an advanced system, this wouldn't help, I agree. Thank you!

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