Un-offical Guide on “How to Build a Second Brain?”

Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Some people are blessed. They can remember stuff any day, “ Hey who was that character in that anime?” “GojousSan” Oh ,yes. When was the due date for this ? 10 days back fook! Meanwhile me, “What is your phone number” err, let me check something 8800?

For those who are not blessed but are aware of the flaws. There is a silver lining. People tell me that, it is also a skill knowing where you are weak. So are we looking to build a second brain for storing information. Nah, much more than that.

“ Writing is thinking” — Unknown

Today we are going to look at a system to externalise our thinking and the motivation behind it. Let’s dive in with this interview with Nobel laureate Mr. Feynman

Weiner: (Referring to Feynman’s journals) And so this represents the record of the day-to-day work.
Feynman: I actually did the work on the paper.
Weiner: That s right. It wasn’t a record of what you had done but it is the work.
Feynman: It’s the doing it — it’s the scrap paper.
Weiner: Well, the work was done in your head but the record of it is still here.
Feynman: No, it’s not a record, not really, it’s working. You have to work on paper and this is the paper. OK?


The prolific Naval Ravikant tweets about it too. Learn something, summarise it. When you write about it or explain to others, that is the point you realise the illusion of knowledge.

Is the why greater than the Effort?

So we are basically building a note taking system, kind of. The beauty is you can start anywhere. Excel sheets, notions, paper notes, Obsidian

Notion and Obsidian

a) You can’t remember things for ever you need a system to house your knowledge. You read a great article, the ahaa moment and then lost it. Note it down.

b) You read a great book, underlined with three different colors and even brought the sticky note stuff and, then lost it. Note it down.

c) You saw a great documentary/movie/series. What an intuitive idea or quote or mind expansion or correlation, lost. Note it down.

Memory Loss: What is happening here?

Brain is really good at removing content it feel is not required. And how it knows it is required. Repetition, remember spaced repetition. Following the forgetting curve we can solidify knowledge.

But knowledge is more than that, we are pattern seekers. We build patterns, repeat it until we know the underlying pattern and brain becomes effective in executing the pattern. Compare the day you started learning to drive to post your learning curve. If you play any musical instrument go back to day one and today.

Interleaving: Basically, take any domain, incremental breakthroughs are generally a linear graph. because we are working within the bounds of the system and thinking how to improve the tiny cogs further. But, dramatic breakthroughs or exponential growth happens when we topple the system.

Magical Stories From the Past

Remember old movies had guns with only chamber to fire the bullet, Someone who was working on ships came back and thought merging the steering wheels and guns, And voila Colt revolver.

Cars where made before Ford, but Ford came in and brought assembly line with him.

Phone were made before hand, touch based devices where there but iPhone came in and replace the dial pad with screen.

What came in play in all of these one domains or fields knowledge was taken and applied to other. “Interleaving”.

Back to Past

So how to go about it, wait first homage to the guy who started all the note taking craze.

The Zettlekesten method. Niklas Luhmann kicked it off, you can read this great book.

How to take smart notes — Book revolves around Niklas Luhmann who wrote enormous amount of papers humanely impossible and how he did it.

His method was simple, writing notes or knowledge chunks. Traditionally we structure knowledge in folders -> Biology -> Stomach -> Gut -> Bacteria

But his method was writing a note on just bacteria a very small note.


Then add links to it to other parts of note. So tomorrow we found another bacteria, a chain will be formed note a-> note b

Now we discover dynamite explosion, accelerates bacteria decay, totally fictional. Connect the dots. Note dynamite explosion connected to bacteria note a. Slowly a knowledge graph will emerge. So tomorrow let’s say you are writing article.


Two things have happened here. First storage of knowledge in chunks. Breaking down of a big concept in smallest concept form.

Second is building an interconnected graphs and exposure of the concept in multiple fields. When you sit back and go through the notes.

Stages of a Note:

  • Fleeting notes : Quick jot of the content
  • Literature notes : Detailed, from where we picked and why and what are the thoughts.
  • Permanent notes — Moving here and making the required trails, what are your thoughts

Call to Arms
Personally, I use sheets, slack, notion and Obsidian. One tool I am zeroing on these days is Obsidian, it is free and open source. Lots of helpful plugins. You can pay for the sync feature if you want.

If you want to explore more on writing, check my old post or just get started.
Go right now..



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