From Marmite to Method: A Romp Through “Building A Second Brain” by Tiago Forte #NishkandarReads

If you are in Indonesia, buy the printed book here: Periplus.


When one hears rumbles in the grapevine about a novel way to organise one’s thoughts and information, curiosity is naturally piqued. That’s exactly how I found myself diving headfirst into “Building a Second Brain” by Tiago Forte. What’s all the fuss about, I pondered?

My overall impression? It’s a bit like Marmite: you either love it, or you don’t. For me, it sits somewhere in the middle, much like a teetering seesaw.

Reading “Building a Second Brain” was akin to taking a walk on a typical summer’s day. One moment it’s pouring, and you’re drenched, absorbing every droplet of knowledge; the next, you’re left scratching your head, pondering under a cloud of confusion. “Your mind is not a storage device,” Forte quips. A simple statement, yet it left me both nodding in agreement and raising an eyebrow in scepticism.

There were times when Forte’s ideas resonated, hitting the nail right on the head, evoking a heartfelt “spot on!” Yet, at other junctures, it felt as though I was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, wrestling with the content and struggling to see eye-to-eye with the author.

In the throes of my reading, emotions flitted from intrigue to doubt, akin to a roller coaster at the local fairground. The ups were exhilarating, but the downs? A tad nauseating.


At the heart of Tiago Forte’s “Building a Second Brain” lies a concept both fresh and confounding: the idea that our mind, as sprightly as it may be, isn’t the optimal storage device for our expansive digital era. Instead, Forte suggests, we should craft an external, more efficient “Second Brain” to capture, curate, and capitalise on the torrents of information we confront daily. A tall order, isn’t it?

One of the book’s overarching themes is the idea of “offloading” – rather like shedding one’s winter coat at the first hint of spring sunshine. Forte posits that by transferring our cognitive burdens elsewhere, we free up mental space, allowing our innate creativity to flourish. While an enticing proposition, I couldn’t help but think, is this a bridge too far?

Another striking theme was the “PARA method” – an acronym for Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. It’s Forte’s roadmap for organising this “Second Brain” of ours. On the face of it, the methodology appears sound, but delving deeper, I sometimes felt like I was navigating through pea soup fog in the heart of London; while there were clear paths, the journey occasionally seemed muddled.

Reading the book, I experienced a tango of emotions. There were moments I thought Forte was onto a winner, hitting the bullseye with his insights. At other times, I felt as though I was being taken down a garden path, only to find there wasn’t much of a garden at the end. My personal takeaway? While “Building a Second Brain” opened the door to a new perspective on information management, it left me sitting on the fence, pondering its practical application in the hustle and bustle of Blighty’s daily life.

Top 10 Quotes of the Book

  1. “Your mind is not a storage device.”
    • This quote had me reflecting on many a time I’ve found myself up the creek without a paddle, trying to remember something important. Is our brain truly not built for modern information storage?
  2. “Knowledge work is not about the inputs; it’s about the outputs.”
    • An interesting sentiment, making me wonder if we often miss the wood for the trees, focussing too much on information intake rather than its fruitful application.
  3. “The best way to improve your storage is to improve your retrieval.”
    • This nugget of wisdom had me musing; perhaps we’ve been barking up the wrong tree all this time, prioritising hoarding over accessing.
  4. “In an age of information abundance, the only true scarcity is attention.”
    • An undeniable truth. With the digital world buzzing like a fridge, where do we hang our hats and focus?
  5. “The brain is for having ideas, not holding them.”
    • While reading this, I felt a penny drop. It was a eureka moment, shining light on the perennial struggle between creativity and memory.
  6. “Information is no longer a scarce resource – attention is.”
    • Echoing earlier sentiments, this quote underscored the daily tussle for our mind’s real estate. With so many voices vying for attention, where do we draw the line?
  7. “Building a Second Brain is about making your thinking legible.”
    • A quote that gave me food for thought. Is our thinking often as tangled as a plate of spaghetti, requiring some structure?
  8. “Your external brain should be the most interesting place in the world to you.”
    • This was a cracker! It put into perspective the value of curating one’s knowledge and space.
  9. “The future belongs to those who can focus.”
    • A stark reminder that amidst the hullabaloo of our digital age, perhaps the old adage still stands true: slow and steady wins the race.
  10. “To make knowledge actionable, you have to ‘trim’ it.”
    • Reading this, I thought of how we Brits love a well-pruned hedge. Maybe our knowledge requires similar gardening?

Throughout “Building a Second Brain,” I felt much like I was on a seesaw in the local park – at times soaring with understanding, and at others, grounded in contemplation. These quotes, peppered with insight and intrigue, encapsulated the rollercoaster of my reading journey, sometimes taking the biscuit, and at other times, leaving me with more questions than answers.

How the Book Changed My Perspective

“Building a Second Brain” wasn’t just a casual jaunt through the park, but more of a windy trek through the moors of productivity and information management. While not every step resonated with my usual stride, it certainly jolted me out of my comfort zone, offering a different vantage point to peer from.

For instance, Forte’s proclamation, “Your mind is not a storage device,” had me sitting up in my armchair like a meerkat on the lookout. I’d been prancing about, proud as punch with my mental juggling skills, only to realise I might’ve been carrying my eggs in one basket, setting myself up for a potential scramble. The idea of offloading, of delegating the burdensome task of remembering to an external system, was nothing short of a revelation.

The book stirred a pot of contemplation regarding my approach to information management. Have I been spending more time being a busy bee, buzzing from one bit of info to the next, rather than effectively processing and storing what truly matters? The “PARA method” highlighted this, suggesting a more regimented, albeit somewhat convoluted, approach. But then again, as the saying goes, you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Emotionally, “Building a Second Brain” swung my pendulum from intrigue to bewilderment and back. There were moments I felt as if I’d found the golden ticket, and at other times, like I was chasing rainbows. Post-reading, I’ve found myself itching to declutter my digital world, sifting through the wheat and the chaff, and striving to hone a system that echoes the book’s ethos yet tailors to my personal rhythm.

Immediate changes on the horizon? Well, I’ve already taken a butcher’s at my existing digital filing system, earmarking it for a hefty spring clean. Additionally, I’ve started toying with the idea of creating a dedicated “knowledge hub”, a nod to Forte’s external brain, albeit with a twist – more of a digital “cuppa” to dip my informational biscuits into.

Recommendation and Conclusion

Venturing into “Building a Second Brain” was akin to setting off on one of those unpredictable seaside holidays. Sometimes the sun peeked out, warming my intrigue, and at other times, a sudden downpour of confusion had me reaching for a metaphorical brolly.

Would I be waving this book’s banner high on the village green, urging every Tom, Dick, and Harry to give it a gander? Truth be told, it’s not a straightforward “yes” or “no”. Much like the age-old debate over how to properly brew a cuppa, some might find this read right up their alley, while others could deem it a bit too strong for their taste.

To quote Forte, “Your mind is not a storage device.” This sentiment resonated, presenting a challenging yet captivating notion. However, the book’s execution sometimes felt like trying to spot the ball in a game of cricket during a thick London fog. Clear in premise, yet elusive in detail.

My lasting impression? “Building a Second Brain” is a thought-provoking endeavour into the realm of productivity and information management. While it doesn’t always hit the mark like a darts champ at the local pub, it undeniably offers a fresh perspective.

For those with a penchant for the avant-garde and a thirst for unconventional wisdom, it’s worth a punt. But if you’re seeking a linear, step-by-step guide, you might find yourself in a bit of a pickle. As for me, I’ve come away with a mixed bag of insights, some destined to mould my methods, others to be taken with a pinch of salt.

To conclude, like a classic British pie, it’s a mix of meaty content with occasional flaky bits. Whether it’s to your taste, well, that’s for you to decide.

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