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SPI 607: Building Your Second Brain with Tiago Forte

What would you be able to accomplish if you had a second brain helping you?

No, science hasn’t found a way to clone your brain (yet). What I’m talking about is a digital system that allows you to manage information and deliver high-quality work with less effort and stress.

Today’s guest, Tiago Forte, is a knowledge management expert. He helps thousands of people get more done through his unbelievable productivity course, Building a Second Brain. Today, you’ll hear all about what motivated Tiago to go down this path, and we’ll dive deep into the specific steps you can take to apply his system to your business and personal life.

We talk about everything from finding the right software tools for your needs to Tiago’s CODE and PARA systems for note taking. He’s a big fan of acronyms, but you’ll find out what this all means and how these systems can revolutionize your work-life.

So what are the things that are worth capturing, and what are the traps you should avoid along the way? This is a fascinating chat, and we get into all of that with Tiago. You don’t want to miss this one, so sit back and enjoy!

Today’s Guest

Tiago Forte

Tiago Forte is one of the world’s foremost experts on productivity. He has taught more than 20,000 people worldwide through his programs and writes and speaks on how technology can help knowledge workers revolutionize their personal effectiveness.

Tiago’s online course, Building a Second Brain, has produced more than 5,000 graduates from over 70 countries. The course draws on his experience in academic disciplines such as information science, practical fields such as user experience design, and his work with top organizations and leaders in Silicon Valley. Tiago believes knowledge management is one of the most impactful skills in the world today, and his work is dedicated to making it accessible to individuals for the first time.

In a previous life, he worked in microfinance in Latin America, served in the Peace Corps in Ukraine, and consulted for large companies on product development in San Francisco. He lives in Long Beach, California, with his wife Lauren, son Caio, and dog Ximena.

You’ll Learn


SPI 607: Building Your Second Brain with Tiago Forte

Tiago Forte: Building your second brain is synonymous with using your second brain, right? You’ve probably seen these beautiful Notion dashboards that’ll just look just exquisite. If it looks aesthetically pleasing, it’s probably not that useful.

The way that you build a second brain is by getting one project at a time. And taking it through to these four steps, capturing information, organizing that information, distilling that information and then expressing it. The way that, you know, you have a second brain and the way you know, it’s working is when you can reliably deliver better work more consistently with less effort and less stress. That is the only measure of success.

Pat Flynn: Today we’re speaking with Tiago Forte, somebody whose name that I’ve heard so often during the past couple of years, cuz he gets program called Building a Second Brain. And by second brain, I don’t mean an organic brain that you could hold that is connected to yours. That might come in the future. And I know people like Elon Musk are working on things like Neurolink and whatnot.

That’s not what we’re talking about here. We’re talking about the best way to capture, to organize, to distill and then express yourself. With the things that are happening around you, everything from books that you read, how do we capture the best moments of that book and be able to recall those things later, not just from memory, but by building literally a digital organizational tool.

And this is more than just a fancy record keeping situation. There’s a lot of utility here and we go through a number of different examples. And I personally know a number of people who’ve been helped by Tiago. And people who are at a very high level, who uses for all kinds of different things from surgeons who use it for patient record keeping, to the stay-at-home mom, who’s keeping track of dinner and all the other functions that their kids need to go through.

This could be a huge life changing episode for you. And this is definitely inspirational for me. So I’m happy to introduce Tiago from Hope you enjoy this.

Announcer: Welcome to the Smart Passive Income Podcast, where it’s all about working hard now, so you can sit back and reap the benefits later. And now your host, he and his business partner, Matt, share the same birthday and birth year, Pat Flynn.

Pat Flynn: Tiago welcome to the Smart Passive Income podcast. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Tiago Forte: Yeah, it’s a pleasure. Good to be here, Pat.

Pat Flynn: I’m excited because I’ve heard your name a lot over the past couple of years.

And whenever anybody hears the phrase building a second brain, obviously gets people to wonder what does that exactly mean? And I know that’s the name of your brand and your program. And I’ve heard a lot of my friends and my mastermind groups talk about it as well. What exactly does that mean, building second brain?

Tiago Forte: So a second brain is a knowledge management system that’s the kind of slightly more boring technical term and it’s really, you know, think of the, like, like a journal or a diary, or like a notebook that you might carry around from place to place. That’s usually like the, the closest, you know, thing that people already do.

And people, I think you generally know what you write in there. You write down thoughts and reflections. You, you know, analyze worries and fears. You write down ideas. You have, you maybe write down some quotes that you read in a book or listen to on a podcast, you write down reminders or things you need to buy or books you wanna read or places you wanna visit.

It’s just this kind of like free form canvas that is private. That is very kind of casual where you externalize. You just get things going on up here and you put them into external form. Now get that practice and elevate it, make it digital, and suddenly it gains all these new, incredible capabilities. Once it’s digital, it is searchable.

You can say, Hey, what have I ever thought about, I don’t know, online marketing? Give me my full history of thinking on the subject. You can link, you can link between notes. You can also link externally to the web. You can add tags, you can resort and reorganize. You can add multimedia, not just text, but images, graphics, links, bookmarks.

So you’re basically getting all superpowers of technology and applying them not to like public content, like social media, but to your own private thinking ideas and projects.

Pat Flynn: You know what that reminds me. It’s really interesting. When I started my entrepreneurial journey, it actually started as a result of a test that I took in the architecture world.

It was called the lead exam. And I had actually, before I got laid off, I had built a website to basically be my second brain, but for that particular exam, and it was a website specifically because I knew I could link to things. I could keep track of things and I can go back to that. I could recall that information during lunch, if I wanted to, or if I was at home, it was all there for me little did I know that because I made it public Google and other people found it, which was a huge blessing and started this journey.

But I remember how useful that was. And it’s interesting, I never thought about doing that for just like, my life. Right? Cause this is more than just about keeping track of things for your business or your marketing or your products and such, right? Like what all could be in this. And can you give us some maybe specific use cases for it?

Tiago Forte: Yeah, absolutely. So this is kind of the, this is kind of a challenge also because, you know, what we’re talking about here is a general purpose information system, right? It’s kind of hard to wrap your head around cuz most software that we use is single purpose, right? We’re using Convert Kit to manage our email marketing.

We’re using Air Table for our, you know, CRM. We’re using usually one piece of software for one purpose. I’m talking about something different. I’m talking about this general purpose, almost like knowledge library. That you can use for everything from the most mundane daily things, managing your grocery list, creating a packing list for your travel that you reuse each time, keeping track of your kids’ schedules, which is something that I’m, I’m starting to do. We had our first kid a couple years ago.

All the way to these really, you know, fancy professional uses like publishing content consistently on your blog or your podcast, developing new products and services. Like you mentioned, managing teams. As a manager, you have to keep track of information related to all these people you’re, you know, you’re managing, I’ve had people take the course who are surgeons. They use it to manage their patient notes. I’ve had NASA engineers use it, not so much to design satellites that requires more heavy duty systems, but like their own personal to-do list as a, as an employee, you know, of, of NASA, they’re using their digital notes.

So. It really takes a bit of time to really think, okay, what are the needs in my life that are both a bit challenging that I have some challenges with that require me to manage large volumes of information and that I wanna do it well, and I wanna do effectively. And that is usually where to start.

Pat Flynn: I think the biggest struggle I had when attempting to do something like this was, there was just so many things I could put in there. Everything from traveling and places I want to go, places I’ve been places at those places that I was at that are memories that I wanna keep with me to the business stuff, to my hobbies and fishing and keeping track of, you know, my personal best, large mouth basses that I’ve caught. And there’s a million things I can put in there for those of us who are curious about this, whether they check out your program or not, what is the first step, if you could help us understand that?

Tiago Forte: So the very, very first step is you have to get familiar with a notes app. This is the, the category of software that I, I really think is kind of the only option. Now there’s tons of options. There’s over, I have a YouTube video where I, I quickly kind of review over 60. Over 60 note apps. And that video is part of a, if, if people out there are curious about which notes app should I use, which is the most common question I receive that video is part of a four part series free on my YouTube channel, where I just take you step by step through the, the decision making process.

So I recommend people check that out, but basically you need to just get familiar with it, usually your phone or your tablet or whatever already has one. Right? If you’re on iOS, you have Apple Notes. Android has a, an equivalent, you know, I dunno if it’s called Android Notes, but it depends on your version of Android.

And of course you can download for free. Like spending no money, Evernote, Notion, Obsidian, Simple Notes, One Day there’s countless options, but just like try it just like you would like get a notebook in a store and kind of just like ruffle the pages and turn it upside down and touch it and feel it, do that with the app.

Try writing some stuff, try moving a note around, try adding a title, add a link, just play with it that I would say is the very first step.

Pat Flynn: Gotcha. And picking one and sticking with it is really key. Right? I found that I was continually going back and forth between features that this one had features that this one had.

And then this one was way too complicated. So I tried something more simple, but it didn’t have the features I need. And so I recommend checking out your video series and we’ll pop a link in the description for that. But I would assume that, you know, pick one and just go with it. Right?

Tiago Forte: That is exactly it. That’s exactly it. There’s something with productivity and especially note taking apps where not only is it easy to switch from one to the other, but at that moment that you switch, there’s actually a sense of relief. You know, it’s like you have your messy notes. You’re like, oh, I don’t know how to make sense of this.

Let me just switch to this other thing. Oh, this blank, beautiful clean space.

Pat Flynn: It’s like when I buy a new notebook at target or something, it’s like, ah, the possibility is what I could do with this. But then. It just goes through the same cycle again, sometimes.

Tiago Forte: Exactly, exactly. It can create a cycle. It creates a cycle of constantly moving from one thing to another, which is fine.

You can do whatever you want, but you completely miss out on the compounding benefits of growing this knowledge collection over time. You also never really get to know any particular app. So yeah, sometimes there’s roadblocks and challenges, but often people have figured out solutions and you have to stick with it a bit, you know, like any commitment actually in that series, the fourth video is your, is called the, your first 30 days with your notes app.

And I give you like a set of almost like little experiments and habits that you can try stick with it for 30 days. And at the end of 30 days, if you wanna switch, that’s fine.

Pat Flynn: Love it. Another analogy to use in this building a second brain function is similar to like your own personal Google, right? The ability to put in a few keywords into this notes app to find something and to recall something. And I find technology is just so useful for things like that. And it’s not just when things happen, like with a calendar or a list of to-dos, it’s everything interconnected with each other that is so fascinating with this.

And we’ll talk about how this begins to turn into something even more beautiful. But I do wanna go into your story a little bit. Like why did this, or how did this become your thing? When did building a second brain come about? With’s the origin story?

Tiago Forte: I wish I could say, you know, I’m just such a curious and ambitious individual I just decided to do this for my own benefit. But no, no. I was forced. I was basically forced onto this path because of a medical condition. When I was 22 studying, I was in college at San Diego State University studying business. I was working at the apple store, teaching people how to use computers and one day for no apparent reason. No, like out of the blue, I started having this pain intention in my throat and my neck ignored. It hoped it would go away, but then it didn’t over the months and years, it just got worse and worse and worse to the point that I would wake up almost unable to speak. Cuz the pain intention was so severe. I had trouble speaking, had trouble laughing.

Singing was all but impossible. It was like a dark hole of I eventually, you know, just despaired went into depression, withdrew from the people in my life, from the communities in my life, really the, just the darkest period of my entire life. And eventually I saw a dozen different doctors, no solution, no even clue as to the cause much less or to the cause much less any solution that, that they could offer until they offered me this medication called carbon masine, which is an, a very powerful anti-seizure medication that basically just numbs your entire nervous system, like head to toe. It’s like the nuclear option. Just turn it off. Right? And I took it and it helped a bit, but also caused really terrible side effects, including severe short-term memory loss. I started completely forgetting conversations I had, books I read, I would take trips vacations, and a couple months later have no memory of them, which was really my introduction to this idea, which, which I now believe that memory is everything I gain such a deep appreciation for memory.

You are nothing without your memory. Your memories of your family, your childhood, your past, your experiences, without your memories, you’re a different person. It’s who you are. And that realization just made me so committed to saving, not everything, but the parts that were most important. And so to, to, you know, to finish the story, I reached this point, this realization that no one was gonna come save me.

Right. I kept going from doctor to doctor, like, just give me the pill, just give me the surgery, give me the silver bullet solution that is gonna make this go away. And finally, I just realized my life is not gonna go the way that I want it, unless I take control of this situation. And so I walked over to the receptionist at the doctor’s office, asked for my complete patient record.

She kind of quizzically looked at me. I, she handed me this giant stack. It was like a foot thick of my patient record and that’s where it all started. I started scanning it, digitizing it once it was digital, I could organize it. I could highlight the parts that were most relevant and interesting. I just started connecting the dots and kind of taking ownership and agency of my own treatment.

And what I eventually found after doing that for a while is that this wasn’t like an illness or an infection that could just be cured. It was what’s called a functional condition, which is where a part of your body is just kind of not working. And I developed in collaboration with my doctors, of course, a series of lifestyle changes, changes to my diet, my sleep, basically I started doing self-care, which I had not been a thing for me and found resolution to my condition just through understanding myself and what my body needed.

Pat Flynn: Wow. What year was this, when this all happened?

Tiago Forte: Started in 2007.

Pat Flynn: 2007. And so when did this turn into something that you wanted to share with others? And, and how did that begin?

Tiago Forte: Yeah, it took so long. It took so long. I never thought I never imagined that. It would lead to this methodology, this system that could be taught to others.

So just to kind of recap it briefly for a few years, it was just a way to manage my patient records. Then I thought, well, why don’t I just use the same approach to my studies? My last year at San Diego State I did and actually graduated with honors, which had never. So I was like, oh, worked again. Then I used it to apply for the Peace Corps.

This, you know, overseas volunteer program got in, became an English teacher in Eastern Ukraine for a couple of years where I used it again. To basically plan and, and manage my, my teaching. Then I came back to the US, moved to San Francisco, used it to apply for my first job. Got that job, used it in my job.

So over the period of a decade, really, I just kept using it for one thing after another. It was almost a full decade before I created the course and thought, Hey, this has worked in almost every area of my life. Let me turn it into a, a thing that I teach. And since then, it’s just kind of taken off over the past five years or so.

Pat Flynn: On the surface sounds just like a really cool record keeping system, but I know there’s a system you’d mentioned that word a few times. Can you give us a overview of how this actually works.

Tiago Forte: Yes, absolutely. So I think we need to talk about code code. Let’s do it, which is the, really the, when I say the methodology, this is the four part methodology.

The main, like the core chapters in my book are C O D E, which stands for capture, organized, distill, and express. And the thing I’ll kind of highlight here is building your second brain is synonymous with using your second brain is synonymous with using information. Sometimes people get in this mindset that they, they spend all this time and energy creating architecting, this beautiful system, right? You’ve probably seen like these beautiful, you know, Notion dashboards that’ll just look just exquisite. Or like there’s a YouTube video, you know, my five hour, you know, Obsidian system and it just looks so sophisticated and so impressive. I really advise people to be wary of that. If it looks aesthetically pleasing, it’s probably not that useful is kind of one rule of thumb.

The way that you build a second brain is by getting one project at a time. And my approach is very project centric, projects, and goals, and taking it through to these four steps, capturing information, organizing that information, distilling that information and then expressing it so we can step through those if you’d like, but it’s like, I often say completed projects are the oxygen of your second.

The way that, you know, you have a second brain and the way you know, it’s working is when you can reliably deliver better work more consistently with less effort and less stress. That is the only measure of success, not how nice it looks.

Pat Flynn: So don’t just organize to be organized or to make it look good, or to just be there necessarily in case of an emergency, it’s something that will then impart itself into your life and be useful for you on the daily and be able to, like you said, capture, organize, distill, and then express. And I mean, I’m interested in hearing more detail about each of those things, especially express, like, I don’t know necessarily what that means.

So what, why, why don’t we go kind of step by step here, starting with. Collect. And you had mentioned note taking apps and such, is there a favorite that you have or use and then how do we properly collect this information? Or what, what is it that we’re collecting?

Tiago Forte: Awesome. Let’s do it. Capture is really just a fancy word for writing things down.

This is in some ways the most challenging step information comes at us from different places. It has to be taken in sometimes translated from paper form or external form into digital form. And that’s why I like the word capture it’s almost like you’re, it’s more than just passively allowing it to kind of just hit you.

You have to capture, you have to go like, no, that tidbit I’m gonna, it’s like having a net and capturing a butterfly, you know? I personally use Evernote. I’ve used it for 10 years. In some ways. Evernote is like the OG. I don’t know. I’m sure you remember a decade ago, like the Evernote fervor oh yeah. But the cool thing is now there’s so many options.

And I say the by far, the most common are Notion, Obsidian, and then just the default apple notes, Android notes, along with Evernote, those are probably the four most common by far. And so capture there’s actually a whole bunch of different capture methods, everything from copy and paste. You can really just copy a passage, paste it into your notes to web Clippers, Evernote, and many other apps have like a little extension in your browser that allows you to say, say webpage.

There’s ways of forwarding emails. If you have an important email, you can just forward it directly into your second brain. You can use an app like a read later app, like Insta paper or pocket, where you make a highlight. And then just that highlight gets exported to your second brain. There’s a lot of different ways that mostly just depends on how you consume content.

Pat Flynn: Gotcha. So, capture and the use case of reading a book, seeing a passage you want to collect and pop somewhere. Awesome. What other things in our lives are worth capturing?

Tiago Forte: I think the, the most important thing is, and, and this is sometimes a huge mental shift for people, you don’t wanna be an information hoarder. Capturing has actually become so easy.

To hit save capture, download export import, and actually many people go through a hoarding phase, which might be good, might be useful to like capture all the things. And then eventually you realize, oh shoot, this just creates tons of more work down the line to process and analyze and review. Once they’re passed out sort of binge phase, you realize you only have to capture like 1% of the information in any given source.

Really, I would use 1% as, as a rule of thumb, read a book, don’t say like, don’t save 10, 20, 30% of the book and highlights. Like you’ve just saved the entire book. , you know, what are that small number? Like I always say the value is not evenly distributed. Right in a book there’s like an 80 20, or like a 1 99 there, the, the value is concentrated in certain passages.

Only save those passages. In a podcast the value’s not evenly distributed save only the quotes that are most, truly valuable in a class. You take of vacation, you take a conversation, you have meetings you have, there’s always this 1% of just like the true gems. And that’s what I recommend people save.

Pat Flynn: Is there a question we can ask ourselves like a Marie Kondo style question?

Like, does this spark joy for me that can allow us to filter what we bring into our second brain and, and sort of what we leave out, because similar, like when you have a house, the bigger the house, just you’re going to fill in that space with more stuff, just cuz you have it. And digital space is almost unlimited.

Like, I’m glad we’re talking about this. Cuz hoarding information is a huge problem for sure. But do you have any questions or filters? We can ask ourselves before we move on to the next step?

Tiago Forte: Yeah. Such a, such a perceptive question. It’s true because yeah, you could, in theory, collect infinitely just by more hard drives, upgrade your Google storage, right.

They’ll happily enable that behavior. So the question I use is does it resonate? Does it resonate? and what I mean by resonate is does it stir something in you? Does it stir something you can think of it like an echo in your soul? You can think of it. Like what makes the goosebumps appear in your arm, the hair stand up on the back of your neck.

What makes you surprised? What makes your eyes widen? And what that all has to do with is the decision of what to capture. This is just a piece, this is a recommendation, I really don’t recommend making it logically, making it rationally. Like sometimes people want a checklist, the criteria for what to capture.

And here’s the thing. If you make capturing a highly like mentally taxing rational exercise, you’ll have no time and energy left for the more important steps, which are the following steps. And so a way to capture without using much energy is basically to use your emotions, use your intuition. Your body will actually have these little signs and signals.

When you come across a piece of information that moves you, that is the perfect criteria for when to, to save it, to capture it.

Pat Flynn: Such a good question. Does it resonate? It doesn’t why even capture it. Right? And that’s gonna be a personal thing for every single individual, which I love. Let’s move on. I believe it’s organized.

How do we organize this stuff?

Tiago Forte: So you capture and you’re having fun and it’s a whole new world capturing, capturing, capturing, and then eventually you run into a big problem, which is you’ve amassed a lot of stuff. And at a certain point it needs some kind of order, some kind of structure. And so I have an approach to organizing, which is actually the single most popular part of the second brain universe, which is called Para. Para is a, a way to organize not just your digital notes, but your entire digital life. That really I can say changes people’s lives. It’s another four part framework. I really love four part frameworks and acronyms and acronyms.

Yes. Which stands for projects, areas, resources, and archives. Every single piece of digital content in your life can fit into one of these four categories, which is why you can use it across all the different software programs you use.

Pat Flynn: Projects, areas, resources, and archives. Are we organizing every individual capture as it’s being captured?

Or are you literally capturing a whole bunch of things and then having another moment to then Para them?

Tiago Forte: Great question. You want to keep those steps separate. Okay. This is crucial. This is crucial. And it’s, it’s a trap cuz you’ll be capturing something and be like, oh, well I already know where this goes.

Why don’t I save time and just send it to that place. It’s it’s it’s a trap.

Pat Flynn: It’s a trap. Thank you for the star wars reference by the way.

Tiago Forte: Yes. It’s it’s a trap because maybe you’ll do that once or twice, but in general. You won’t have the time or don’t wanna spend the energy. To it’s like when you write something down, you don’t wanna have to make two decisions what to write down and where it goes.

If you can even make one decision, it’s like a miracle, right? So just capture stuff, leave the organizing to your future self, right?

Pat Flynn: Plus if you’re capturing based on emotion and gut and what resonates with you, that’s a different part of the brain than the more logical organization part of the brain.

Oftentimes when I’m teaching people to create content, you know, get your creative side first, don’t even worry about editing. Don’t worry about punctuation or anything that comes later. So this sounds very similar. And so in organization, projects, areas, resources, archives, every capture can be put into one of those categories.

And then is that like a tag? Is that like a folder or, and we just kind of drop it in there or do we bring any other information along with it?

Tiago Forte: You can use the two main kind of organizing methods, our folders and tags. And you can really use either one. That’s why this is such a universal, it’s an agnostic, a platform agnostic system is the way that you add that structure, you can do it however you want. But it’s sort of like my assertion is that as long as you know, this piece of information is related to this project, this piece of information is related to this area of my life. As long as you can see all the notes related to those things in one place that is actually what matters for taking action.

Pat Flynn: Awesome. And obviously inside of your program, you go into way more detail about this more examples and whatnot, but we only have so much time here, so I definitely want to continue. And let’s talk about, so we’ve talked about capturing and then organization putting them into one of four parts to either a project or an area of life by area of life.

Do you mean like finances or relationships or hobbies and things like that?

Tiago Forte: Exactly.

Pat Flynn: Got it. Resources more of like here is a database or a knowledge base of things I just need to know. And then archives what’s archived specifically, random things?

Tiago Forte: Archives is everything from the previous three categories that is no longer active.

Ah, you don’t wanna delete it. There’s no reason to delete anything, but you’d want it kind of out of sight, out of mind.

Pat Flynn: Okay. So really it’s three and then sort of a fourth is a capture for things that aren’t relevant anymore. Okay, cool. Let’s move on to the D in code, which is distill, distill. Tell me about that.

Tiago Forte: Yeah. This is the step that people most often miss or don’t even know about. Right? Like the other words are kind of more common. Oh, capture. Yeah. Organize, express, it makes sense. But like, what is distill? What is this whiskey here? But it’s, it’s this crucial missing step, which is this. If you only ever capture an organize, if you only ever accumulate no methodology or framework or app can save you, you will eventually be buried like any hoarder in just mountains and mountains of stuff.

You can’t only accumulate. Distill is actually the, it’s kind of the opposite of capture. You’re looking at your note, let’s say your notes on a book and you’re actually choosing, you’re making the decision, which parts of this note are the most important you can think of it, like distilling the note down to its essence or distilling it down to the key points or takeaways or lessons or action steps, which takes some energy and takes some decision making.

You have to actually decide this point. Is less important. This point is more important, but what that ultimately does is make it, and this is the test of success. If you can look at a note and in like five or 10 seconds, you can get the gist of that note and understand what it’s trying to tell you and what the, what the relevant, you know, next step is.

Pat Flynn: I love it. I’m imagining the show hoarders on TLC. And so capturing is the craziness of all the things in our home. Right? And it’s just an absolute mess. Organizing them is still having the same amount of stuff. It’s just now in neat piles and it’s sort of, here are the magazines, here are the electronics, and here are the other distill might be looking at that pack of magazines and going like, well, why do I want this here?

And what does it actually mean? And so I can imagine in the analogy, maybe I just one of them instead of a hundred of them, because it gives me that feeling that I had when I was a kid and picked up Nintendo power. I just need one to kind of bring those feelings back, cuz that’s really what this does. I don’t need all of them.

So now I can get some more space in my life. And also I can now place that one magazine somewhere and know where it is. Is that kind of right on this sort of line of, of what we’re trying to do here?

Tiago Forte: It’s a perfect analogy. Yeah. It’s like, and it’s interesting. Notice that distill depends on organize, because let’s say you have your sneakers, just like, you know, Marie Kondo like the shows that you see it is only when the person sees all the sneakers in one place.

That they have the confidence and the security to say, okay, maybe I don’t need like five pairs of identical green sneakers.

Pat Flynn: Right, right, right. That’s true. What about the sneakerhead though who it’s their passion, it’s their hobby, it’s their obsession. I imagine that when accumulating a lot of this information, it can feel similar.

It’s like, how do you battle that need in, in that pull from not wanting to distill, if that makes sense. Like how do we manage that? I, I imagine that this is a very difficult thing because it’s pretty new for a lot of us.

Tiago Forte: It is. It’s such a challenge. Yeah. It, it goes deep. I think it’s like when you choose what is most important, you’re kind of automatically discarding something, right?

When you, when you decide to keep a slide in your slide presentation, you have to kind of either deemphasize or skip or delete other slides, that’s making decisions and it’s, it’s very scary. Cuz you feel FOMO. You’re like, well, what if I’m making the wrong decision? What if that thing that’s being discarded or archived is actually the most important and I’m making a mistake.

Exactly. Yeah. So you can think of the steps of code as a whole process for assuaging the fear of FOMO for a few reasons. Think about the steps we’ve gone through. First of all, you can always go back to the original source. When you capture something most capture tools allow you to save like the URL. So worse comes to worst, you can just click that usually says source or original click the link go all the way back to the beginning. Second, when you distill you’re actually not deleting anything. So distill like practically is just going through a note and highlighting the main points. You’re not deleting the points that are not highlighted.

You’re leaving them just as they are. And I often find sometimes I’ll go back to a note and I’ll be like, I did this wrong. I highlighted these points and maybe those were useful at the time, but now life has changed and these other points are different and I’ll change the highlights. I’ll unhighlight what was there before and do something different.

So it’s like, you’re actually never throwing anything away at any step of building a second brain. You’re always just emphasizing certain points more than others.

Pat Flynn: That’s huge. That’s a huge differentiator there. So I appreciate that. Cuz FOMO is definitely a huge thing that gets us to do things or keep things that perhaps we don’t need or stops us from actually taking any action at all. And express, that’s the last part of this. Tell me what that means here in this context of building a second brain, having better organization, better ability to recall what’s there. What does express action mean here?

Tiago Forte: This kind of speaks to the question that is at the back of everyone’s minds, as they hear about this, which is like, Like, why am I doing all this?

What is the reason? What is the purpose? Out of all the things I could be spending my time on is, you know, a second brain, really it, and I guess I have an opinion here, you know, you can use a second brain. It, it has a lot of benefits. It makes you more productive. You can understand yourself better. You can, you know, reuse thinking from the past because it’s written down.

But I, I believe like this really came from my, my medical condition, having my voice taken, to a certain extent for a period, you know, it was just this shocking realization. I’m a pretty introverted person. I like to spend time alone. I like to spend a lot of time alone, but having my voice taken away just made me realize that self-expression is a fundamental human need.

Self-expression it’s not like high up on Maslow’s hierarchy. Like, oh, when I solve all the other problems, I’ll get to self-expression. As humans, we must, we have to express ourselves to survive. I believe even on the most mundane level of telling our spouse what happened today at work, you know, talking to our kids about what happened today at school, we are fundamentally social beings.

So for me, the reason of, for doing all this capturing organizing distilling is to express yourself better, more often more compellingly, more effectively, more meaningfully. Like, what is information? It is fodder for communication or collaboration in some way. And we live in such a collaborative social cooperative world now that a second brain is a way for you to do that better.

Pat Flynn: That’s so deep on philosophical level and psychological level. I, for the longest time, I don’t have everything as organized as I want it to be, but I’m getting there and thank, thank you for the inspiration here today, but one clear example of exactly what you just spoke about was that I was taught a while back as I started to do a lot of public speaking.

And I wanna thank Ramit Sethi for this, this idea of creating a story bank. So capturing, to use your term, different moments of my life so that I can recall them later and present them on stage. If there’s a lesson or something interesting, that might happen that. Sort of support a point I’m trying to make in my talk.

I now have this ability to go back into my story bank without having to sort of sit there and kind of go, oh, what was that thing that happened? Or it was on the tip of my tongue, or literally completely forget these little things case in point, there was a moment where when my son was maybe four or five, he wanted to bring an iPad into the car on our little trip that we were doing, uh, going to the store and that little random thing that happened, I actually captured that moment and was able to distill it into something that became a huge story that I’ve told on stage before to talk about knowing who your audience is, because the whole idea was he was trying to sell me on using the iPad.

But every time I asked him, well, why should I let you? It was always about him, but when he made it about me, when he said. I’ll be able to stay quiet and we can drive a little bit more safely. In fact, he was playing Minecraft. So he said, well, if I learn how to build better buildings, I can help you become a better architect.

So I rewarded him that day. He asked me the next day, but I said, no, because he already cashed in that card, but you see that little tiny story I was able to capture that distill it, turned it into something that had like an arch to it. Add some comedic elements to it all, all within Evernote and. Now at dinner parties I tell that story every once in a while. Now when I’m on stage and I’m trying to communicate something and make it really impactful, I can go into that story bank and find stories like that. And there are hundreds of them in there. I don’t remember most of them, but when I want to find something that’s tagged with audience building, boom, I can find those five or six stories and I can just figure out, okay, well, who’s my target audience.

Oh, well, there’s a lot of parents in the audience. Okay. I’m gonna use that story about my son in there and I know that’s gonna hit. So, hopefully this gives you an example, those of you listening of a direct application along the lines of communication and of course the better that you communicate and the more confident you are with that, the more relationships that you might have, the more opportunities open up for you, the more doors seem to open.

So I, I hope that helps.

Tiago Forte: It’s such a clear example and I think it’s like advertisers and online marketers often, they’re just like, this is a swipe file. Like a swipe file has been around since like the forties, you know, they instantly get it, but I can sort of imagine people listening to this, like, oh, I am not an online marketer or I don’t have an online business, but I, I kind of wanna speak to that.

It’s like stories are the most powerful form of human communication. Like we think in stories, not in facts and data so like, think about for whatever job that you might have listening to this, like the power of bringing up a story in a meeting with your boss. About a, a customer success that you had the power of bringing up a story with your kids to teach them a lesson, a life lesson, the power of bringing up a story in, you know, a memo you’re writing to your team.

You know, that illustrates, you know, what you’re trying to do. Like stories are not limited to certain people online. Marketers are at the forefront, but imagine if you had not just a story bank, but an example bank, an anecdote bank, an example bank, a slide bank, a statistic bank. Now those don’t have to be separate banks.

They can all be one general bank of everything. And that is really what a second brain is.

Pat Flynn: Yeah. This has been incredible and hugely inspirational for me. And I’m sure everybody else listening. Where can people go to learn more about your program and you, and where would you prefer to direct people today?

Tiago Forte: Yeah, you can find out everything at

Pat Flynn: How did you come up with that name because it’s so just eye-catching and memorable.

Tiago Forte: I was at a cafe with my friend Rafael in LA about six years ago. And I just thought, oh, I can’t think of a name. How about how to create your personal knowledge processing system.

And he was like, no, dude, this, like, from what you’re telling me, this seems like a, like, it’s your second brain. And I was like, oh my gosh.

Pat Flynn: Nailed it. Nailed it. I’m glad you didn’t name it that other thing. Cause I already forgot what it was. So , I appreciate you Tiago Thank you for the help and looking forward to more conversations with you in the future.

Tiago Forte: Thank you pat. I appreciate it.

Pat Flynn: All right. I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Tiago Forte. You can find ’em again at Wasn’t that, an epic conversation? I’m, I’m so thankful that Tiago showed up. And of course we were talking about the power storytelling. He told some great stories, not just about the origin of building a second brain and at the end there, the name of it, which is really funny, but also just what this could literally do for you in your life and the organization of it, especially as more and more information just comes our way. To be able to capture the right things, to be able to organize it, distill it, so we find the right parts that are most useful for us, and then express ourselves from it is absolutely game changing.

So again,, if you wanna get the links and all the resources mentioned, including the video series that he mentioned, we’ll link to that as well in the show notes, which you can find at Again, Thank you so much.

I appreciate you. And whatever note taking app you are using, make sure to just stick with it. You got this start out small. You can build out this web and this sort of database for yourself. And the other thing that we didn’t talk about was just how useful that might be to share. For example, if you create a database and you wanna share it with your kids so that they can sort of understand what’s going on in the future, it’s a great way to organize this for legacy purposes as, as well, or sharing with team members for certain components of it as well for your business. So a lot of applications here even more than we talked about, you can find out more at Thank you so much for looking forward to sharing with you more information in the next episode with another guest and we have some Friday follow up episodes coming up.

We’ve got a lot of great stuff coming here. We are into six hundreds now. Well into the six hundreds. Thank you for those of you who are listening, and if you’ve listened for a while, appreciate you. And if you’re brand new, hit that subscribe button so you don’t miss out. Thank you so much. Take care, peace out. And, as always, Team Flynn for the win.

Thanks for listening to the Smart Passive Income Podcast at I’m your host Pat Flynn. Our senior producer is Sara Jane Hess. Our series producer is David Grabowski. And our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. The Smart Passive Income Podcast is a production of SPI Media. We’ll catch you in the next session.

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