Fostering Mindfulness and Boosting Productivity: The Second Brain Methodology by Tiago Forte

Felix Liao
Felix Liao

In today's hyperconnected world, being overwhelmed by the constant inflow of information is a common challenge. This constant deluge can make staying organized, focused, and productive difficult. Fortunately, innovative thinkers like Tiago Forte have introduced methodologies that seek to improve how we think about and work with information so that they work for us and not against us.

One such concept is the 'Build A Second Brain (BASB)’ methodology and framework created by Tiago Forte. Tiago originally developed it as an online cohort based course, and has since also published a book covering the same key ideas. I attended an earlier version of the BASB online courses and found his teaching and ideas refreshingly useful and practical.

Leveraging ideas of the past, such as GTD, the BASB methodology was developed specifically for the digital age. The focus on organizing information based on the outcomes you want, coupled with practical organization techniques, was a revelation for me. Here, I want to highlight some of the key ideas and how they can be helpful in fostering mindfulness and improving productivity.

Why we all need a Second Brain

At its core, the 'Second Brain' methodology is a system for managing information and tasks across all aspects of your life. As the name suggests, the second brain concept builds on the core idea that it's no longer effective or efficient to store all the information in our biological brains. Instead, we should create an external, digital 'second brain' to capture, clarify, and organize our thoughts.

In other words, leveraging your second brain can help keep your mind free of distractions and focused on the task at hand, one of the key tenets of mindfulness-focused productivity 🙂.

The fundamental idea of using a digital second brain to reduce cognitive load is remarkably simple. The difficult part is having a simple, pragmatic system that you can trust. This is where Tiago brings some simple, elegant ideas that turn the BASB concept into practical steps that you can follow.


What I loved about the BASB framework is the practical nature of the ideas Tiago teaches. One such example is the CODE framework, which is a practical and simple way to think about the information that comes into your life.

The CODE concept lays the foundation for how you should interact with information on a moment-to-moment basis. Relying on a simple, clear set of steps means less stress and more focus when you have a piece of content in front of you:

  • C: Collect
  • O: Organize
  • D: Distill
  • E: Express

The Collect step resonates well with my mindfulness-focused approach to productivity and is based on the same idea that you should use your brain/mind for thinking and creativity but not to collect or remember things. With the exception of the 2-minute rule, you should immediately capture ideas or tasks down as soon as they come into your life and get them off your brain. From a content consumption point of view, Tiago recommends that you should always collect articles that you come across and want to read and store them in a read-it-later service such as Readwise. By doing so, you don’t have to context switch away from whatever you are currently doing, can focus on the tasks at hand, and know that it has been stored away in a trusted location that you can go back to.

How you Organize your information once they have been collected has always been the most complex, difficult, and controversial part of any knowledge management framework and is an area in which I have struggled to come up with a consistent approach. There are basic strategies around folder naming conventions and complete organization frameworks such as the Zettelkasten Method. Tiago’s insight here is that you should organize your notes and content based on actionality. Form a practical point view, this means that you should always store notes and information in one of 4 folders.

  • Project: Stuff that you are working on that have a definite end and outcome. For example, “Planning for my son’s birthday
  • Area: Information related to areas where you have real responsibilities and have to maintain a certain level of standards. For example, “Household Maintenance
  • Resource: The resource folder is meant to store anything that you have an interest in but don’t necessary below to a project or an area. For example, “Jazz Saxophone
  • Archive: Archive are used to store items that need to be moved out of the three areas but are potentially useful for future reference.

His PARA method (now a whole book by itself) provides a very specific, rigid way on how you should store your information. I personally find this structure extremely simple to use and valuable, likely due to the focus around “Actionality”. From a notes and files organizations point of view, I have come to appreciate the PARA framework and trust it to provide me with what I need when I need it which is exactly what you want in a filing system.

Extending on the idea of being outcome or action focused, the whole idea of the Distill step is to use steps like summary and highlighting to make your notes easier to consume in the future. Tiago encourages you to think of taking notes as a way to communicate and help your future self. From that perspective, distilling and highlighting is about making your future self more efficient and effective and I have so far found that to be the case.

If you have laid the foundation of the previous 3 steps, then the process of Express should come naturally. It is all about how to leverage the second brain you have cultivated for the purpose of creating something or expressing yourself. Tiago believes that the fundamental goal of the second brain (and in life generally) is the create and express oneself. By freeing up our cognitive resources and having a system that we can trust, we can channel more energy into generating new ideas and solutions, leading to increased productivity and outputs.

I find it incredibly useful to think about my relationship with information through the lens of the CODE framework. For me, it clarifies what I should and shouldn’t do in terms of managing information and has dramatically improved my ability to recall and leverage my notes to create new content and ideas.

A system that you can trust

I should add that Tiago is not prescriptive in terms of the exact tools that you should use to tackle each step of the CODE framework, as it is more about the strategy than the tool. The second brain can be as simple as a physical notebook or as sophisticated as a digital tool like Apple note, Evernote, or Obsidian. The tool is not the critical aspect but rather the practice of consistently capturing, clarifying, and organizing information. Having said that, read this post if you want to get a sense of the tools that I use to develop my second brain 🙂

From a practical point of view, I believe mindfulness productivity ultimately requires a system that you can trust. A system that you can trust to find the things that you need at the right time. The BASB is one such a system that I am increasingly rely on to get stuff out of my mind and get more done.

Implementing the 'Second Brain' methodology may take some time (as it was for me) initially, but the benefits it can deliver in fostering mindfulness and increasing productivity are well worth the effort. If you struggle with capturing the information that comes into your life and are looking for a better way to manage it for more insights, then you should definitely give the BASB framework a try.

MindfulnessKnowledge Management