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 fortelabs.co ($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 fortelabs.co ($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.