How I Built a Second Brain in Twos

John Taylor
11 min readMay 26, 2023
The number 2 in black large type and smaller red type on a grey textured background.
Photo by Etienne Girardet on UnsplashF

First, Some Background

I didn’t plan on building a Second Brain in Twos, but I did. It began when I was looking for something to compliment the powerful tools I use on my laptop, which are excellent, but which don’t work well on mobile. There were often long lag times, no offline access, or syncing issues when I used these apps on mobile.

Cost was also a factor. There are things that I like in the different apps in my toolbox, but none of them seem to have a collective simplicity and power that meets most of my needs, works well on my laptop and mobile, and doesn’t add up to the huge cost that using multiple apps generally entails. I need to begin to cut down on my premium costs.

Usually, I find an app that I like, upgrade to pro to get the features that I really need, only to find that even the pro version falls short on the development side, with new, promised features taking forever to arrive, or the users being ignored while upgrades we don’t need are brought forward, and upgrades promised are deferred or never arrive. Seldom is there a good balance between creator vision and user input.

I was looking to fill these gaps, when I saw Twos mentioned in a Twitter thread. I downloaded it that night. Now, that’s not unusal, because I often download new notetaking apps to review, but Twos ended up being something special.

Twos hit the sweet spot for me. It was free, with pro upgrades featured in an à la carte style, which allowed me to select the features I need, while ignoring those I didn’t need. I ended up selecting them all, while my wife selected only those she would use, ignoring features like tagging, which isn’t her thing.

As a daily Roam user, with an Evernote subscription that is now barely used, a Notion account that was heavily used for several years then set aside, an Obsidian vault (seldom used), a Tana account, and attempts to use various other notetaking and tools-for-thought applications, I have had high a level of disappointment with some of these apps (I’m talking about you, Evernote).

After this year, I will be canceling subscriptions to almost all of these apps, wonderful as they are, because I like to be able to interconnect my applications with one place serving as a hub, easily access it via my laptop, web or mobile, and trust that it will sync everything when I need it. I also have grown weary of working in complex systems, that take continual tweaking, instead of building and accessing my notes as I need them.

The Twos app logo. Two fingers raised with a red thread tied around them.

Why Twos? Other Apps Meet the Need

When I talk about Twos, whether in person, or online, people often question why I’m not making extensive use of the other good apps that do many of the same things. Let me explain by sharing my thoughts on some of the other apps I have used or still keep in my toolbox:

Roam

Roam is a great app, that I still use, but since I’ve started using Twos, I find that I don’t use it daily anymore. I still add to the graph I’ve already built, creating additional notes on the ideas I’ve already put into Roam, but the development of the app has floundered. After years of steady use, I don’t find the joy I once did in opening Roam’s Daily Page.

While I believe in the founder’s vision, other apps are surpassing its development, and I’m not confident housing all my information in Roam anymore. But I am hopeful. Cofounder and creator Conor White-Sullivan has pulled rabbits out of the hat before. Cost is prohibitive as well. I scraped together the money to purchase a True Believer account during a short period of unemployment, but now looking toward retirement in a few years, I’m not sure that I can do that again.

Evernote

Evernote has been my great disappointment. I’ve maintained my current Evernote account since March, 2008 (and had an earlier account that I later deleted). For years, I was pretty confident in Evernote’s plan to become a “100 year company,” but sadly leadership and development missteps, lack of communication, age old issues that were once tolerable (because there were promises they would be fixed, yet they still linger), and an out-of-touch increase in pricing when benefits aren’t being delivered as promised. This causes me to lack confidence in the long-term storage of my notes in Evernote. And, there are plenty of other apps now, with lower or similar pricing whose features exceed Evernotes.

WorkFlowy

I used WorkFlowy for years, both professionally and personally. I used to maintain communication with my team of eleven social workers via WorkFlowy. They each had a shared page with me, and could write things throughout the week that they needed me to know. It was a wonderful way for me to keep everyone on track.

WorkFlowy is a great outliner! It’s still one of the best. Jesse Patel and his team have done a great job keeping WorkFlowy viable, and I continue to maintain a WorkFlowy account. But I’ve hardly used it since I began using Roam. WorkFlowy also took some set up for me to use it effectively, and for me, I didn’t see an organic growth of knowledge using WorkFlowy. Still, this is a product I’d recommend.

Obsidian

Obsidian has had its detractors, but I find that most people that use Obsidian have found that it meets their needs. It’s a wonderful app to have in your toolbox, is for those who find cost a factor, and allows one to purchase additional features (sync, publishing, etc.). I purchase Obsidian Sync for my account, had a few issues with it, was able to resolve those, and continue to be impressed by its development. However, for some reason, Obsidian just hasn’t clicked for me. Nick Milo has done a wonderful job demonstrating the power of Obsidian and helping other users. It’s a great app, but Twos does a better job of meeting my needs as a listmaker.

Tana

Tana is the new kid on the block, is still in beta, is a wonderful app, has a great community, speedy development, and many power users willing to share their expertise. I have an account, have played with it a bit, and now have downloaded their iOS app. For me, Tana is just too much. I don’t need to do a lot of queries to find what I need in my notes. I like to keep things simple, but I continue to be impressed by Tana. Who knows, someday, I may add it into my toolbox.

Notion

In Notion, I found myself always building but never creating. Notion also doesn’t work as well as I would like on mobile, and it sometimes lags. I used Notion for two to three years, when it first came onto the scene. While I love what can be built within Notion, I found that I didn’t need the complexity required to build a successful system within Notion.

Why Twos?

I could name many more apps I’ve used, some with much more powerful features than Twos (features most people don’t need). Some challenges were that these apps worked on only one operating system (iOS, Android, Windows, Mac), while I work across multiple systems. And mobile is always a big issue for me, because I often think of things on the go and always have my phone. So I can jot things down quickly, access it later on my laptop and develop the ideas further.

Twos works cross-platform, on the web, always syncs well, has powerful search features, is easy to use, links well with other applications I use, starts with a Daily Page, and allows me to build my system organically.

It has hit the perfect spot between simplicity and power, and I am amazed at the pace of development. An additional benefit is that Twos is the only app that I have ever been able to convince other family members to use. It’s simple enough for them, and easy to share lists with one another. Other “power apps” often frustrate general users, and limit sharing capabilities because their complexity reduces use.

Dealing with Frustration

Yet, for many individuals I’ve talked with, as well as feedback that cofounders Parker Klein and Joe Steilberg have received, Twos is frustrating for them. Many people say that Twos is:

  • Overwhelming
  • Feature-Rich
  • Confusing

Twos can be overwhelming, because you’re starting with a blank page, and you may have seen some of us using more complex-looking systems within Twos (although this apparent complexity is really deceiving).

Features confuse some, because they don’t quite understand the reason for the à la carte features. It’s simple. You can upgrade to only those features you want to use.

The key element of Twos is that it is meant to be your place to write. You build your system using three primary components: days, lists and things.

In my opinion, the frustration and confusion some individuals experience when they use Twos is simply that the Twos team has moved against the tide that most current note and thought apps follow.

They’ve moved away from too much complexity, while standing apart from apps that are far too simple. They’ve moved into the space that brings maximum user benefit with little user friction.

We have so many complicated tools available, that I think it’s hard for people to wrap their heads around the simplicity and features of. Twos.

So if you’re confused and frustrated, this is what you need to do — just write. The rest will develop organically as you build in Twos!

Twos isn’t overwhelming and confusing — the human mind is. So you just need to dump some of the stuff in there out into TwosApp.

Maybe start with a question. “Why does this app seem overwhelming and confusing to me?” Write your thought in Twos, and have a dialogue with yourself. Trust me, you’ll thank me for the advice.

But How Did You Build a Second Brain in Twos?

I wrote. This is my first entry.

A screenshot of my Twos mobile app showing a Daily List for Mar 6, 2022.

And I was confused. I wondered what set Twos apart. I wondered about the sustainability of the product. I posted Tweets sharing my concerns. I emailed Joe and asked him some questions. I received feedback from individuals who knew Joe and Parker. Who told me that these guys were solid. They had a plan. Their roadmap was available on Trello (which just happens to be another one of my favorite apps).

I didn’t write in Twos again for several days. Here is my second daily entry. A list of a few things I wanted to remember, but keep off of my work task list.

A screenshot of a task list in Twos for Mar 10, 2022.

I wrote one small thing the next day, then didn’t write anything in Twos for several days. Most of my daily writing was in Roam. But I was beginning to learn how Twos worked.

So it went, sporadic entries until June 16, 2022. “Call Parker Klein”. Parker gracefully answered all my questions, which I had written in Twos. I’ve never looked back, I’ve used Twos daily, and as I began writing, I began organizing information into some key lists.

A screenshot for a Twos list entry for June 16, 2022 stating “Call Parker Klein.”

I started with the basic structure I use everywhere. Tiago Forte’s PARA method. Everything in Twos, unless I choose to keep it unlisted in PARA and on a Daily Page, falls under these four lists. You can put lists within lists, and simply knowing where something belongs in PARA makes it easy to find. Although to be honest, the search function is what I use most to find what I need.

This structure also creates a visual connection in my mind, so I can essentially “see” right where the information I want is located.

A Screenshot of my PARA List in Twos.

Areas (MOCs) is probably my most used list. This is where my 10 major life areas are listed. Things I want to track, with no timetable for completion are here. My Next Actions list, which also resides under Projects (easy to do in Twos), is also in Areas in the event that something needs acted upon to move forward.

A screenshot of my Areas list in Twos.

Resources contains everything I need to for projects I’m working on, reference notes and topical notes. If something in here is no longer useful, but I want to maintain the things in one of the lists, then that list is moved to Archives.

As you can see by the image below, I link to other resources I use: to Trello Boards, between other lists in Twos, documents stored in Dropbox, etc. Twos is the central place for all my information, outside digital information is linked to Twos, the location of other information is noted in Twos. Thus, the majority of my Second Brain is located within Twos.

A screenshot of my Resources list in Twos.
A screenshot of my Archives list in Twos.

The simplicity and power of Twos allows my Second Brain to develop as organically as my “Wet Brain.” As it develops, I am constantly discovering more power tips that help Twos expand as needed, keep me on track, and build a network of days, lists and things that are always available when needed.

Plus, Twos continues to develop at a rapid pace! New features are added regularly, and Parker and Joe are easily accessible on Twitter, via Discord, by appointment, etc. If you have serious questions about Twos, they are the guys to talk to!

Perhaps you’ve been frustrated by the complexity or simplicity of some of the tools available when it comes to Building a Second Brain. The methodology is more important that the tool, but a tool that will work well for you is essential. Twos is a great tool that meets you at the intersection of simplicity and power. Give it a try.

I’m John. I write to transform and influence. That makes me a vision-caster, and I do most of my visioning in a little app called ✌️Twos which is where my sparks of inspiration reside. You can find out more here and get a free premium upgrade by following my link.

I’m on Twitter at johnataylor and many other socials as well. Feel free to reach out my DMs are always open. This is the second article I’ve written about Twos. You can find the first article at this link: Twos: A Tool for Everyone.

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John Taylor

Believer in what is "ontological: essential: real." I write to transform and influence. #TwosApp (“Official” Twosvangelist ✌️). Find me on Twitter: @johnataylor