Zain K.

Why I Built a Second Brain (And why you should too!)

June 28, 2021

An average person now consumes more information in a day than someone did in a lifetime in the 1400s. YES IN A LIFETIME. [source: Limitless by Jim Kwik]

We are in an era of digital deluge. We are exposed to so much information, so much good information which we wish to remember but often can’t. We read articles that resonate with us, facts that we might want to use in a presentation during the next weeks’ meeting, and even life-changing books with great advice that we intend to follow. But within the span of a few hours, we forget. It isn’t your fault. Humans forget nearly 40% of the information within the first 24 hours and another 20% within the next day, as per the well-established forgetting curve.

I found this personally to be the waste of my most valuable resource, time. I was spending so much time reading good stuff and yet forgetting it. I always thought I could ‘look it up’ on google whenever the time comes but using a search engine isn’t as efficient as we like to believe. Each search gathers thousands and millions of results and if you are searching for a particular article that you read somewhere weeks or months ago and don’t remember its’ heading, searching it up may become time-consuming. Even when you find it, you might have to re-read it to remember what exactly was it that you wanted to find. In the case of books, the situation was even worse due to the personal element of what we think is worthwhile remembering.

In order to combat this problem, I started to search for a more efficient way. I came across memory enhancing techniques, which although are good but since we have a limit on how much we can store in our brain, I was only partially successful.

The solution to this is simple, to have a second brain outside your body. This brain should be simple to access and should be able to process (at least to some extent) the information you throw at it. This is known as your ‘Second Brain’.

The second brain is more of a concept rather than a specific tool. The concept is simple. You find anything good while browsing the internet, it gets saved inside the second brain. You take notes in class and want to store them long-term, they get stored in your second brain. You find a good youtube video on places to eat in Karachi that you might want to try, save it in your second brain. Basically, anything that you think might come useful later on in your life, it makes its way into your second brain.

Your second brain has to be digital (obviously). It has a few basic requirements:

  1. Should be capable of storing audio, video, pdfs, word files, and basically any other format files you can possibly think of saving.
  2. Should be highly reliable-must not crash when you need it the most
  3. Must have a universal search feature
  4. Must integrate with all your apps seamlessly.

To bring the concept of second brain into a reality, you need a software. For me that is Notion. It is an all-in-one workspace. It allows you to set up your second brain however you like-it can either be simple bulleted saved stuff or highly sophisticated linked relational databases. It all depends on what you want to get out of it.

How I use it is both simple and complex. I have different databases set up- a lot of them in fact each serving a purpose. I have one which collects all the website snips I throw at it (by simply sharing to Notion). One collects all the good quotes I come across. One collects all the good technical articles that I find but don’t have the time to read them. Later on, I go through these and read, highlight, and sort what I like. The rest can be deleted or left in an archive folder.

Over time your second brain becomes really really powerful. You have everything that ever resonated with you searchable just a few clicks away. Want to write an article on ‘Electric vehicles’ but don’t know where to start? Simple. Search your second brain and go through what you have already read in the past for a quick summary. And if you had taken time out when reading to highlight stuff, that is even better. Want to decide which movie to watch? Simple. Search your second brain and if you have ever seen a movie trailer and saved it to your to-watch list, it will pop up in a second. The possibilities and functionality of a second brain is endless.

I know, it is a lot to take in. It might even feel too overwhelming. It did for me too when I started doing this a couple of years ago. I don’t expect you to be convinced of making a second brain just by reading this. However, if you like this idea, do watch a few YouTube videos on it and see if you find it worth trying out.

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