Building a DIY Second Brain

The way you’ve been taught to write is wrong.

Mannon continues the thread with the following suggestion:

“It’s better to write first, then research second.”

But, you ask, how can I write without researching? Don’t I need to gather information before I even know what I can write about?

You’d be right, but that thinking is a mistake of modern-day writers.

David Perell and Tiago Forte have revolutionized my relationship to information. Through them, I’ve learned a system for capturing the best information I find and then turning it into published works (like this blog post).

Forte teaches an online course called Building a Second Brain (BASB) where he teaches students how to create a note-taking system that transforms their productivity. Perell built a follow-up course called Write of Passage that is BASB applied to help students become prolific writers.

These courses sound amazing. In fact, I want to enroll in both. The only problem? They’re beyond my price range for now.

Fortunately, you can build a “DIY” version for very cheap using information freely/cheaply available online.

I created a Twitter thread on how to do that.

For your convenience, I have expanded on those steps below.

Best wishes to you as you build your second brain!

The Seven Steps to a DIY Second Brain

  1. Sign up for Evernote, Instapaper, and LINER.
  2. Watch the Smart Sync Workshop and build out what they talk about
  3. Sign up for ($10)
  4. Read the PARA, Progressive Summarization, and Just-in-Time Project Management Series
  5. (As you read, build out your system)
  6. Extra credit: Read the Theory of Constraints series
  7. Continue to iterate

Sign up for Evernote, Instapaper, and LINER.

Personally, I pay for Evernote‘s yearly subscription (and always will) and Instapaper’s $3/month plan. I use the free version of LINER.

Watch the Smart Sync Workshop and build out what they talk about

Sign up for ($10)

Tiago Forte has spent a TON of time going into insane detail on building a second brain on his blog that can be accessed for the price of the two Starbucks lattes. The first step is to pay $10 to get access for a month. Then, it’s time to start reading.

Read the PARA, Progressive Summarization, and Just-in-Time Project Management Series

Your curiosity may take you to other articles on the site, but these are the ones you NEED to read. Read these in Instapaper and export your highlights into Evernote since you know how to do that now.

(As you read, build out your system)

Not every post will give you something that you can do immediately. Many of them will. Iterate with each piece of relevant information.

Extra credit: Read the Theory of Constraints series

If you like to read, this is a good one. It’s probably worth your time, but not necessary.

Continue to iterate

Your system can only improve if it breaks down.

Tiago Forte (paraphrase)

Your second brain is going to fail you. You’re going to want it to do something that it’s not built to do yet. That’s not a problem, it’s an opportunity to iterate and improve.

It’s not too different from your real brain.

I hope this article proved helpful for you.

If it did, you will love my Tanner Talks email newsletter. It comes out monthly (bi-weekly during the off-season) and is full of the most interesting things I’ve learned. I draw on my second brain to write it, and I hope you’ll consider joining the 119 others who have subscribed.

Goodbye Instagram. Goodbye Twitter.

At the start of 2019, I stopped checking my Instagram account.

A few months later, I deleted my Twitter account, and let the 30 days pass that rendered my account gone forever.

In an age of ever-connectedness and constant communication, I’ve decided to step away.

But why?

I realized that there were algorithms beyond my understanding that were set up to manipulate me and disrupt my life. I didn’t like that. I wanted to regain control.

I realized that a key component to developing skills that matter is long periods of uninterrupted, focused work. Social media was doing its best to claim my attention. I wanted my attention back.

I realized that I wanted to live, not just exist.

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”

Oscar Wilde

I realized that each trip through my feed made grumpier and generally more dissatisfied with life more often than not. I like being happy.

I realized that a better alternative would be to create my own platform, a place I can control and mold into whatever I want it to be.

I realized that “dead time” social media checks were depriving me of the necessary inner solitude to process life and disconnect.

I realized that I could better upgrade my brain by reading books than by scrolling through everyone’s 280-character brain dumps.

I realized that I needed to create margin in my life. I needed breathing room. Social media chokes out every last bit of breathing room.

I realized that I could be more present with my wife on a daily basis if there was no pull to check social media.

I realized my life would be better off without social media.

And that’s why I quit.

Simple as that.

Will you be next?

Endnote: It seems like every blogger I follow has written about their experience with a social media detox or quitting social media altogether. I don’t want to mimic those books and articles, but I do want to highlight a few pieces of writing that had a profound impact on my decision to essentially quit all social media. Check out the books and blog below if you are thinking of doing the same things.

The Difficulty of Working Out as a Former Athlete

In my last article, I wrote about how I held onto throwing after I decided I was moving on. I continued to throw every-so-often until I moved back home. I had been in an Alpha-Male gym culture at Driveline and was making progress towards a 315-pound bench press. As someone who barely scraped 225 lbs during my playing career, I was pumped.

Weightlifting became boring within three weeks of arriving back home. There was no longer the sense of community I once felt around it. The sense of purpose I once had around training was gone. Weightlifting was a means of throwing harder for two years, and after that, it was a way for me to impress my friends and gain new ones.

Suddenly, I was in a gym culture where no one cared about my 5-pound bench PR and I lost out on the drive to stay in there. I was fit enough, so I wasn’t all that worried about getting out of shape. Over time, four weekly workouts turned to three. Three turned to two, and before you know it I had gone a couple weeks without visiting the gym one time.

I know what you’re thinking. “What’s the big deal? It’s just a couple weeks…” You’re right. It really wasn’t a big deal. But as someone who prides myself on habits and discipline, I was annoyed with myself. I struggled to accept that I didn’t care about working out as much as I used to. Training had been my life, and now I had just gone two weeks without getting to the gym one time. I felt like I was betraying myself.

Two Things Research Suggests About Former Athletes

I figured I was not alone in this struggle. Research suggests that integrating exercise into one’s self-identity increases the likelihood that physical activity will remain a part of that person’s life in the future (Springer et al., 2013).

In addition, researchers have found that student-athlete alumni are no more active than non-athlete alumni (Reifsteck, Gill, & Brooks, 2013; Sorenson et al., 2015). Yes, you read that right. Activity in sports is not a viable predictor of future physical activity levels.

This may come as a shock to you. I know it did to me. When I was in college, I was sure that I would continue to train with the same focus and drive that I had during my baseball career and had my sights set on an amateur powerlifting career.

It was easy for me to envision my future self as a powerlifter while I was playing baseball. I was spending well over ten hours in the weight room each week and genuinely enjoyed it. Naturally, I figured my next athletic endeavor after baseball would be maximizing my strength through powerlifting. My identity wouldn’t need that large of a change, and I could pursue something I had already seen success in.

James Clear & Identity-Based Habits

Two days ago, I received a copy of James Clear’s new book, Atomic Habits. Early on in the book, Clear speaks to the role of identity in habit formation. Clear makes the statement that there are three layers to forming new habits and creating new behavior. The layers are outcomes, processes, and identity. It looks something like this:

In his observation, most people try to form habits by focusing on the outcomes, working through processes, and hoping that those things change their identity (Beliefs about oneself). Clear proposes people take the opposite route to habit formation and life change.

In what Clear calls Identity-Based Habits, you and I need to focus on who we wish to become. Then, we develop a system (process) to help us get to an outcome. Our mind stays off of the outcome, and we focus on continually carving out our identity and placing inputs into our process.

To illustrate this, I want to quote Clear from page 32 of Atomic Habits.

Imagine two people resisting a cigarette. When offered a smoke, the first person says, “No thanks. I’m trying to quit.” It sounds like a reasonable response, but this person still believes they are a smoker who is trying to be something else. They are hoping their behavior will change while carrying around the same beliefs.

The second person declines by saying, “No thanks. I’m not a smoker.” It’s a small difference, but this statement signals a shift in identity. Smoking was part of their former life, not their current one. They no longer identify as someone who smokes.

Most people don’t even consider identity change when they set out to improve. They just think, ‘I want to be skinny (outcome) and if I stick to this diet, then I’ll be skinny (process).’ They set goals and determine the actions they should take to achieve those goals without considering the beliefs that drive their actions. They never shift the way they look at themselves, and they don’t realize that their old identity can sabotage their new plans for change.

This quote is extraordinary when viewed in light of a former athlete struggling to maintain an exercise habit.

For me, I’m still dealing with the old identity I took on as a strong baseball player. Even though my primary goal is to get very lean and have visible abs for the first time in my life, I still deal with the internal standards of having a double-bodyweight deadlift, a 405+ lb squat, and great mobility. For a soccer player, they might deal with the internal pressure to have excellent cardiovascular fitness. The requirements of our sport became so intertwined with our identity that we still feel like we must demonstrate competency in these areas after we quit our sport.

For example, instead of staying on a lifting program designed to stimulate muscle hypertrophy, I do low-rep sets in a hope to maintain my identity as someone who is strong.

At the end of the day, my old identity formed over 2.5 years of intense training is sabotaging my plans to change and become the type of person who is lean and has visible abs.

I must stop trying to take on a new identity by taking a bunch of actions (exercise, proper nutrition, sleep, etc.). While this is how we commonly think of behavior change being made (identify a goal and work to achieve it, resulting in identity change), there’s a better way.

I can assume the identity of one who is lean and has visible abs and now make my decisions based off of that identity. When faced with a decision, I can ask myself, “What would the person I want to become do?”. This question can help form my decision-making. Some practical examples include:

Would the person I want to become prepare food ahead of time or get fast food for lunch?

Would the person I want to become stick to his program, or would he program-hop every other week?

Would the person I want to become go to the gym even though he doesn’t feel like it, or would he skip the workout to go home?

I don’t know what your unique situation is. Maybe you’ve transitioned smoothly into working out after athletics. If that’s you, why are you still reading this?

Perhaps you’re going through the same struggle as me and thousands of other former athletes. If that’s you, I want you to take a look at your identity.

Are you still identifying with the athlete you once were? Or have you taken steps to unlearn your old identity and start thinking differently about yourself?

Your habits are shaped by your self-identity. And your self-identity is shaped by what you believe about yourself. As I conclude, I want to ask you a simple question.

What are you believing about yourself?


Maintaining physical activity over time: the importance of basic psychological need satisfaction in developing the physically active self:

The Relationship between Athletic Identity and Physical Activity among Former College Athletes:

Life Span Exercise Among Elite Intercollegiate Student Athletes:

Atomic Habits:

Each week, I send advice on how to live your best life AFTER your sport. Sign up for my email list to get these tips sent straight to your inbox. I can’t wait to connect with you!


The Uncommon Man

An animal has one goal in mind, “Survive.” Satisfaction comes when it accomplishes this goal in any manner. A successful hunt means another day above ground. Predator versus prey. Mere survival.

But we humans are not animals. We have a higher goal. Deep down, we have an innate desire to thrive. Yes, this is what we were born for. The common man shoves this innate desire so far down because he fears it. He fears what would happen if he dared to strive for something greater, so he bites the hook that seeks to reel him into a life called “Average”. How pitiful it is that the common man all too often lowers himself to the existence of an animal.

The uncommon man cannot settle for average. At some point, he realizes that he too has bit the hook and is getting reeled into a system where he will be like every other survivor. The voice of well-meaning people past echo in his mind. He fights these toxic thoughts.

He was unfortunate. He was never given the opportunities. Everyone else got lucky. Of course, he was the unlucky one. If only he could have been born into the uncommon man’s position.


The uncommon man rips the hook out of his mouth. Blood gushes from his lips but the uncommon man does not care. He will walk around with a hole in his mouth for the rest of his life if that means he does not live like the common man. Finally free from people’s folly, blood dripping to the ground, the uncommon man takes the first step of a life well-lived.

Who knows where this journey will take the uncommon man?

I fear that I am the common man.