The concept of a Second Brain has found great resonance with me mainly thanks to two methods. The method of knowledge processing (C.O.D.E.) and its management method (P.A.R.A.). I encountered both methods partly at school and partly at university. Later on, I intuitively accessed knowledge management, but I never had a methodological introduction. This is exactly the work Tiago Forte has done in his concept of the Second Brain and the related methods. As far as I know, he is one of the first to develop a consciously humane centred way of dealing with the information overload of our society.
In the last 12 years I have spent a lot of time trying to understand various apps and their operating concepts, with the hope that if I understood them I would be able to use the software as a knowledge management tool. Again and again I failed: either a function was missing or the operation became so complex in itself (for example by using tags) that I lost track of it over time and thus lost the desire to use it. Most of the time I ended up trying a new software or going back to single Word files and folder structures. With the fatal consequence that I produced a fragmentation of my work results. All my work from my school days, my studies, projects and research papers are stored in different apps, different folders and file types, some physically and some digitally on different hard drives. (Perhaps this is one reason why the topic of «not knowing» fascinates me).
However, my involvement with the various apps and their usability has also proved to be a wealth of experience over the past few years. This has given me a broad understanding of the operation and use of software logic, which I can now incorporate into my consulting and training work. What I have always lacked over the years, however, was an intuitively applicable method for my personal knowledge management.
When I attended Building a Second Brain in September 2020, Tiago said in the first session that there is not «the» app for personal knowledge management. Rather, he thinks it’s about using a method that allows you to combine different apps. With this statement, I abruptly realized that it was exactly this change of perspective that I had been missing for the last few years. This was a first key experience for me!
Tiago uses two methods: C.O.D.E., which stands for Capture – Organize – Distill and Express.
And P.A.R.A., which stands for Projects – Areas – Resources and Archives
The last post My experience with «Building a Second Brain» #1 ended with the three basic steps of Collect, Network and Create. C.O.D.E is the evolution of these three basic steps.
Capture, organize, distill and express are four steps that describe a method of knowledge processing. If one uses them consistently, one researches and processes information into a personal and contextualized knowledge. In short, one has learned. CODE is a method that we should actually know from school or from our profession. What is new is that these steps are consistently implemented with digital media (1). A gamechanger in our information society.
Who doesn’t know it, you see a great poster, you take a picture and have it in your photo collection. You discover an exciting article in an online magazine and save it in your browser or pocket. You have an idea or an exciting thought on a topic, but you’re just out with friends, you try to remember it or write it down in some app. You collect and try to organize the information. When you need it, you remember that you once saved it, but you don’t remember where.
Apps with which I capture information
Pocket: In Pocket I save articles to read them later. What I like most about Pocket is that I can save articles from different services and read them later in a reader-friendly presentation while marking interesting parts of the text. I can export my text marks later and use them in a new context.
Evernote: In Evernote I save articles that are important to me. A screenshot of the article is saved in Evernote, which guarantees that the article will still be available to me if it is no longer online. Another advantage with Evernote is that I can save articles that are behind a paywall. And I have the ability to share each individual page, which in turn allows me to link individual articles in a different context.
Hypothesis: I use Hypothesis to tag articles, websites or information I need for my work. Together with Readwise, it forms an important research and workflow in my «Second Brain». I will present this workflow in a later blogpost. This workflow can be read in my guest post (in German): Sammeln – Synchronisieren – Synthetisieren: ein Workflow für Wissensarbeiter:innen
Files, texts, images, graphics, etc.
Files, for example articles, that I download as PDFs, I store in a file folder. I read the PDFs in a normal PDF reader and mark the important text passages with the highlight function. I link the read and edited articles during my work step, distilling. My files are in the cloud, which makes the individual documents available to me at any time and makes them easy to link and/or share. (2)
I’m in the Apple ecosystem privately and on my personal work devices. This is where Apple’s Photos comes in handy for me.
Sketches and handwritten notes
I use Microsoft OneNote in a school context. I have implemented and managed almost all of my teaching documents in OneNote over the last five years. Besides that I also use OneNote in my current work for project documentation. An impression of my work in and with OneNote can be found in my public documentation of my continuing education documents: The ICT-SchoolBox (Info: The documents are no longer updated). I also like to use OneNote for handwritten notes and sketches, for this OneNote is, in my eyes, one of the best electronic notebooks that works across systems (Win., Mac, Android).
Organizing and managing my collected information takes place in my data repository, RoamResearch and Notion. I have completely organized my data organization according to this structure by getting to know PARA. Here to More in an upcoming blog. Meine Erfahrung mit «Building a Second Brain» #3
RoamResearch: I use RoamResearch for loose thoughts and spontaneous notes. The start in the current date and the bidirectional links are very helpful for quick, spontaneous thought sketches.
Notion is the central place where I manage my work and knowledge. Notion’s combination of text and database is my knowledge hub in my daily work.
Another advantage of Notion is that individual databases or pages can be shared publicly. Two examples: The concept for Vernetze dein Gedächtnis and the ict-schulbox.ch, which is the evolution of the OneNotes linked above to my continuing education materials.
My daily concentrated work takes place in Notion: Meeting notes, drafts for projects, trainings, lectures and texts I create in Notion. I manage my work in a database, the content of which I can display differently depending on my needs. This enables me to pick up content from different contexts, to link it in a new way and to aggregate it.
The greatest potential of interlinked knowledge management lies in this work step. Here, information from projects that have already been completed can be linked to new tasks.
A task, a project or a workspace is completed in this step. Most of the results I close directly in Notion, where they go into the archive. By consciously closing and archiving, I organize completed work results in such a way that I can retrieve them at any time and reuse the results gained or make them available to others.
I have been using C.O.D.E. for about nine months now and already after this short time I notice,
- that I structure and complete my work better with the help of the four work steps.
- that I find collected information and results easier and link them in a new way.
- that I find it easier to share created results because they contain more diverse media, are more structured and result-oriented.
It may sound euphoric, but I have never felt so strongly in the last fifteen years that I am actively managing my collected, organized, and condensed information and results.
(1) This also makes it clear why it makes no sense to compare analog media with digital media. Jörn Muuß-Merholz illustrates this wonderfully with his Pinguin-Medienmetapher.
(2) Over the past twelve years, I have used and tested a wide variety of literature management tools (EndNote, Papers, Bookends, Mendeley, and Zotero), but because I read or wrote scientific literature too irregularly, a consistent use never quite took hold for me.