Feb. 2, 2023

How to Build Your Second Brain (BONUS EPISODE)

How to Build Your Second Brain (BONUS EPISODE)

Episode 20: In this special bonus episode of The Crazy Ones, host Alex Lieberman (@businessbarista) is telling you everything you need to know about personal knowledge management. That’s right, Alex is breaking down and summarizing what he’s learned in a recent course he took called Building a Second Brain, all about knowledge management and how to make the most effective use of the information you consume. 


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Watch The Crazy Ones here: https://www.youtube.com/@TheCrazyOnesPod


(00:00) - Intro

(01:18) - Episode rundown

(01:36) - What Personal Knowledge Management is

(03:35) - Why it’s worth considering creating a Personal Knowledge Management system

(05:42) - The essential building block of building a second brain: CODE

(07:28) - How Alex is applying CODE to the launch of his backyard game, The Plunge

(10:35) - Explaining the organizational strategy of PARA

(18:56) - Why it’s worth building a second brain


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Alex Lieberman (@businessbarista)

Jesse Pujji (@jspujji)




Alex Lieberman: What's up, everyone? I'm Alex Lieberman.

Jesse Pujji: Yo, this is Jesse Pujji.

Alex Lieberman: And this is The Crazy Ones. What's up, everyone? Welcome back to another episode of The Crazy Ones. This is a bonus episode. For you OG Founder's Journal listeners, this will feel a lot like the format I used to do three days a week for, I think, 370 episodes. I'm going to basically do a solo episode. My co-host, Jesse P, has the weekend off. He did one of these last week, so definitely go listen to it. He did an episode on off-sites and how to run a great off-site as an entrepreneur or as a leader. Now, I'm going to do my very own version of this. 

In this episode, I am going to be talking about something that I've been taking a course about in the last two weeks. It's called Building a Second Brain. It is probably the best online course I've ever taken, and I think it is going to be an incredible accelerant to my career as an entrepreneur and just to my life as a person in general. So make sure to listen to this episode. I'm going to talk about what personal knowledge management is in general, the biggest lessons I learned from Building a Second Brain, and how exactly I am putting these concepts, these learnings, to work in my entrepreneurial career with my backyard game, The Plunge, which many of you have heard of. Let's do this thing. 

So there is this very small, nerdy corner of the internet that is called "personal knowledge management." I had never heard of it up until I started taking this course, Building a Second Brain. But the gist of it is it was founded by Dr. Jason Frand and Carol Hixson in 1999. They wrote this paper that coined the term "personal knowledge management." All that personal knowledge management is, is it is to the digital age or to the internet age what the filing cabinet was for modern society, right? So we think of the filing cabinet as this mundane object that sits in a super corporate office below your desk, but it literally transformed society. Because for the first time in human history, when it was invented, you could separate knowledge from a single person.

Another way to think about it is, for the first time, knowledge was atomized, stored, and filed in a standard way where it could be retrieved by other people. Before that, you had to go to a guy or girl who knew something about a specific topic, and you would have to go to them to get your answer. And when they died, you were shit out of luck. Today, we have infinitely more information than the pre-internet era. Yet before personal knowledge management, we lacked the tools to make all of this information that we're consuming on a daily basis usable. 

Take today, for an example. I had this call where I learned a lot about launching a product on Kickstarter. I also read a tweet about how to pay our chief operating officers and creators, like YouTube creators. I got an email about the current state of the economy that I wanted to for sure remember, to inform how I invest my money, and I also listened to a Lex Fridman podcast about the Mexican war on drugs. Without having any sort of digital filing system, I will forget 99% of what I learned today in a week from now, and especially a year from now. Not only is that highly inefficient, because I'm now forced to relearn things over and over in life, but also for things that really matter in life, like me trying to remember moments with my dad before he passed away. You never get access to that information again if you haven't stored it. 

That's my pitch to you on why personal knowledge management, despite sounding like a horrible word that gives you a bad taste in your mouth, it is a niche that I think should be way bigger than it is, and that I think is worth your time to focus on. Let's talk about this in practice. I just finished taking this killer course on personal knowledge management. I will stop saying that phrase. It is by Tiago Forte. It's called Building a Second Brain. It basically gives you this step-by-step playbook for building your own digital filing cabinet that acts as the foundation of knowledge for anything that you create in life, from projects at work to fitness goals that you have personally. I'm going to do my best to summarize some of the most important learnings from this course, use specific examples in my life so that you have a starting point for setting up your own personal knowledge management system in your own life. 

If you end up deciding that you're intrigued by this concept, know that I have literally just scratched the surface, because the course, I think it was like 63 videos, it took me a dozen hours to go through. If you want to go deeper, check out Tiago's blog at fortelabs.com or his course at buildingasecondbrain.com. By the way, I have no relationship to the course. I know Tiago, but I'm not getting paid for this. I just think, in general, when people create good products or good content and you benefit from them, it is the right thing to do to call out the amazing products that you've used and you've benefited from. 

Okay, so let's set the stage. There is a core building block that you need to know to start building your second brain, and that building block is this acronym called CODE. CODE is all about the supply chain of information. If you think about your digital filing system, where you're going to put all this information you consume in life, if you think of it as a factory, CODE is basically the steps of the assembly line, starting from raw materials and getting you to finished product. 

The C in CODE stands for "capture." This is the first step, where it's about taking your mind off of autopilot, always having awareness of the information you're consuming in many different ways throughout your day, and then capturing the most valuable information within whatever app you decide to use. For me, I use Evernote. It's free. I think there is a premium version. I'm still using the free version 'cause I'm cheap. But there are a lot of options. There's Apple Notes. There's Roam, and there's a bunch more. 

The O in CODE stands for "organize." This step is breaking down the information that you've moved from your life to your second brain by breaking them down into smaller chunks and doing things like bolding, highlighting, summarizing, and titling your notes so it is easily retrievable and skimmable in the future. 

The D in CODE stands for "distill." This is about extracting the pieces of knowledge that are most relevant to your current goals and current projects, and it'll make more sense when I use examples. 

And E is for "express." This is all about taking the valuable knowledge that you've put into your second brain, and drawing from it and combining it in a way that you can use to create new things in the world, in your work, and in your personal life. 

That's the process. Let me now take you through it using an example of a project in my life. As some of you may or may not know, I am launching a backyard game called The Plunge. It is ridiculous, but it is going to be a massive game, I promise you. It involves throwing plungers at a dartboard like axes, and my immediate goal for The Plunge is to successfully launch the game and sell out of my first production run of inventory that I'm having made in China.

Let's go through each step that I laid out above to show how these different steps in building a second brain are going to help me hit my goal of selling out of my inventory. First step is capture. As I've been working on my new backyard business, I have been capturing information that I believe will increase my probability of a successful launch. I use Evernote. I have a folder called The Plunge. Each time I get new information from the world that's helpful to this game, I create a new note that includes information that I believe will be essential to successfully launching the game. One note I have is a summary of an article that a friend sent me about the pros and cons of launching on Kickstarter. A really important decision I have to make is whether I'm going to launch The Plunge on Kickstarter or I'm going to do it on my own, where I have my own website and I just market it to my audiences on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, et cetera. There were really good nuggets in this article that the friend sent me that are going to help me inform my decision. If I didn't save it as a note in Evernote, I probably would've forgotten the really important lessons that should inform my decision. 

Another note I have is a summary of a phone call that I had with my manufacturing partner for the game. During that call, he shared things like the cost of the game, terms like FOB that are really important jargon to know in the physical product world. He also shared the dimensions of the packaging of the game that are really important to know in terms of cost as well. That's capture. And I have dozens of notes like the two I just described. I have dozens more where I captured valuable information related to Project Plunge. 

By the way, before we move from capture to organize, there's one more super valuable tool that I use in the capture process, and that is a "read later" app. If you think about just like the daily course of life, right? We see articles, videos, social media posts that we think could be helpful to our projects, but we can't consume them now because we're working, we have a call, we have a meeting, whatever. Having an app that becomes basically your cue of potentially really valuable content is key to have and use. I use Instapaper, which I have on my phone, and there are a lot more like it. There's Pocket. There are other ones. And basically what happens is, anything that I find on my phone and my computer that's interesting to me, but I can't read now, I save it to Instapaper, and basically now I have this universal bookmark folder in the app at all times. That's step one. That's capture within CODE. 

The second is organize, and the way that Tiago Forte teaches you to organize your notes within your second brain is using the PARA acronym: P-A-R-A. "Project," very simply, is a series of tasks that are linked to a goal that have a very specific deadline. For me, that is launching The Plunge. For someone else, that could be they have a wedding and they need to plan it. For someone else, it could be that they're looking for a new job and they want to have a finite date by which they want to have accepted an offer. The second step or the second part of PARA is "area of responsibility," the A. Area of responsibility is an activity that doesn't have an end date, and they are things that you want to be focused on over the course of your life, but there isn't this finite time period like a project has. For me, I have areas of responsibility like investing, fitness, diet, mental health, entrepreneurship. Within my Evernote app, I have a folder that says Area of Responsibility. And within that folder, there are subfolders that are investing, fitness, diet, mental health, and entrepreneurship. 

The third in PARA is "resource." A resource is a topic or theme of ongoing interests that you have. For me, my resources or folders that I have for resources are, one, thinking of business ideas, because my career long goal is to launch many businesses. And so I think having an abundance of tools for thinking of business ideas and vetting business ideas is really important. I have a folder for Legos because I'm obsessed with Legos. Unique activities. Neuroscience is something I'm interested in, et cetera. 

And then the final piece is the final A in PARA, which is "archive." And your archive, you can kind of think of it like cold storage. You can think of it like the things that you keep in your freezer in your kitchen because you don't plan to use them for a while. The archive is basically inactive items from the other three categories. An example would be if I had my wedding coming up this year and it was a project. Once the wedding passes, I may want to retrieve certain planning information from the wedding folder, because maybe in the future I have friends that are getting married and this will help them. But it's not information I need readily accessible moving forward, so I'm going to put it in the archive. 

Just to tie PARA together, notes can flow through these buckets fluidly. They can move from project, to area of responsibility, to resource, to archive. You can also think of these buckets in terms of actionability. Information that goes in your project bucket is the most immediately actionable, because it has a finite end date, where things in your archive bucket are least immediately actionable. That's step two in CODE. We have capture. We just spoke about organize. 

And third is distill. Distilling is all about designing your notes in a way that makes them easily discoverable and easily useful to your future self. The first key concept to distilling well is "compression." All that compression means is that what you include in your notes, for me in Evernote, should be the most important essence of the information you consumed. Basically, it means save the best stuff that you're consuming. Don't be a digital hoarder who's leaving all their shit in their garage for the next 20 years. A great analogy for how to compress well is this famous Picasso piece. It's called “The Bull.” Basically it has 11 drawings of a bull that Picasso has done all of. The first drawing is the super detailed picture of a bull that shows every part of the animal, from the texture of its coat to the shape of its nostrils. These 11 drawings, they progressively get less detailed. By the last one, drawing number 11, all you have is a line drawing of the bull that has its most important parts, and it's basically the essence of what makes a bull a bull.

To keep the example of my backyard game, The Plunge, going, for my note where I wanted to remember that article I read about Kickstarter that I mentioned earlier, I only copied in a few paragraphs that I thought were most important for my decision on whether I want to launch the game on Kickstarter or not on Kickstarter. For example, one of the paragraphs that I added to the note included important information about when is the best time to launch the game. Let's say the article was 2,000 words. I only included maybe 250 words in my note. 

The second key concept within distill, the third step of the CODE process, is called "progressive summarization." Basically it's just the process of marking up your notes in a way that indicates what's the most important information that you want to re-remember when you open the note in the future. For Tiago Forte, his process is first creating the note with the most important parts of whatever he is reading, so that was like me taking the paragraph from the Kickstarter article. It could be a few sentences. It depends on what you're consuming. And then he will bold only the best phrases or words or sentences in the note. Then he'll end up highlighting the very best of the best, maybe the few keywords or phrases that he needs to remember. And finally, he'll create a one- to two-line summary at the top of his note that basically restate the key points in his own words, or he writes the biggest lessons he took from the note. 

Let's talk about this with my example of The Plunge. With my note about launching The Plunge on Kickstarter, I went through this process of progressive summarization, where I bolded the most important learnings from the article. For example, one really important thing was it said in the article that 8:00am is the best time to launch on Kickstarter. Tuesday is the best day to launch on Kickstarter, and May, the month, is the best month to launch on Kickstarter. That's what I bolded in the paragraph that I had copied into my note.

And then finally, I wrote a quick summary at the top of the note that basically said, if I do launch my backyard game on Kickstarter, should I wait until May? Since as of recording this podcast right now it is February. By having that question at the top, it creates basically a key decision that I need to make within this project, and I only thought of it because I consumed that content and I saved it in this note where I'll remember this question later on. That's the third step in the CODE process of creating your second brain. 

The final part of building a second brain is expression. Expression is about taking information from your second brain and using it to put new things into the world. There's one concept that Tiago talks about that I want to mention before we wrap up the episode. He talks about this idea of "intermediate packets," which are basically small pieces of work that you create that contribute to your larger projects you're working towards. Let's say you're a sales leader and your goal ultimately, your project, is to train your team on how to sell enterprise clients. Let's just say one step in that process of completing the project is building a training deck to teach your team a certain way to sell these clients. You should have 100% saved that deck in your second brain, because maybe you'll want to draw on it later if you, say, want to start becoming a thought leader on LinkedIn around sales and you want to reference your old work. Or maybe you end up deciding that you want to use the template for the deck for another deck you create for your team in the future. Or in the context of my backyard game, The Plunge, let's say if I create a one-page doc that lays out my strategy for how I'm going to launch on Kickstarter and do it successfully, I should for sure save it as a note, because it now becomes this intermediate packet that is timeless in nature that I can use in the future if I ever launch a physical product again.

Okay, that was a lot. We are going to wrap up this episode, but I want to just finish with a few things. First, in the spirit of Building a Second Brain and compressing a lot of information which I just gave you, if there is one thing that you remember from this episode, it is this: We consume a ton of information in life, and that information can be valuable to us today, but also five years in the future. It can be valuable for a project we're working on now, but also for other projects that may or may not have anything to do with the project we're working on now. But all of that information can only be valuable if we have a system to store, organize, and retrieve our information. That is what building a second brain can do for you. 

If you buy into this idea, I for sure recommend that you listen to this episode a few times, so each time you get a few more nuggets from all this information I provided you. And also make sure to check out Tiago Forte's work. Second, this is a new type of format for The Crazy Ones. I mentioned it at the beginning of the episode, but if you're an OG listener of Founder's Journal, my old podcast, this will feel familiar to you because this is the format we used to do.

Shoot me an email at thecrazyones@morningbrew.com and let me know if you find these solo monologues that cover specific timeless topics or problems or questions as an entrepreneur to be valuable. If you like it, we'll do more of them. If you don't like it, we'll try new shit. Third and finally, if you got through this whole episode, it means you are clearly a dedicated listener to the show. You are a crazy one like Jesse and I. If you're a crazy one, I would love for you to rate and review this show. Please take one minute, head over to Apple Podcasts, leave a rating, and share a short review. It is how new people can discover the pod.

And by the way, only five-star reviews are allowed. Just kidding, but really, only five-star reviews. Thank you so much for listening, everyone, and I'll catch you next episode of The Crazy Ones.