A Second Brain Seems Like a No-Brainer

The idea of a second brain sounds fantastic but I’m falling into a research trap

Photo by Rad Cyrus on Unsplash

Second Brain

Suddenly I am hearing about a second brain from everywhere. I know I’m way behind the pack, but I just watched a webinar from Tim Denning and Todd Brison about How to Publish 57 Pieces of Content Per Week WITHOUT Quitting Your Job which advocated creating one. Just the day before I’d been previewing the book Building a Second Brain: A Proven Method to Organize Your Digital Life and Unlock Your Creative Potential by Tiago Forte.

A second brain seems like a no-brainer!

So what is it?

A way of capturing your thoughts and ideas in an interconnected network that allows you see patterns.

My current notetaking

I’ve been keeping notes in multiple systems for a while now, and separately they have their uses, but together they don’t really work as I would like.

For daily handwritten notes I use SuperNote. It is an e-ink writer that means I don’t have to keep a hundred physical notebooks. I’m doing 3 pages of freewriting each morning to unblock my thoughts as recommended in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

Secondly I’m making quick notes on my phone or computer in Apple Notes as thoughts occur to me during the day.

Then for more structured notes I’m using iThoughts for more freeform mindmapping and Scrivener for managing multiple documents.

Where it falls down

The biggest problem with all these different places is finding the relevant information when you need it.

Search on SuperNote is impossible because the notes are handwritten. You can turn your handwriting into text, but even then they don’t often easy searching without having to tag everything.

Search on Apple Notes has come a long way and you can now also tag things, but these are just my random thoughts, not everything I might want to search across.

iThoughts has a powerful search facility where you can search within the current map or across all maps. It is useful, but again I don’t have anything there.

Scrivener search has always perplexed me. I can search within the same project, and it builds a binder with the results, but I have never really understood how it works.

The power of linking

The real power of the notetaking software available for building your second brain seems to be linking.

If you have all your information in one location, and create the necessary links between it, then you will later be able to connect disparate ideas. From two or more separate ideas, your creativity can then spark.


So what different software is available? I warn you that if you haven’t already looked into this then it is a minefield. There are the main apps to choose from, but new ones seem to be sprouting every day and the options can lead you down a long procrastinatory path.

To help navigate this, the Build a Second Brain website has a great guide here.

They suggest that there are four styles that you may naturally follow which will determine which apps are most suited to you. It is interesting that the great plotter vs pantser debate in fiction writing falls along similar lines.

  1. Architects — prefer to build their own structure for their notes. They are the plotters in fiction writing who create detailed outlines. Their recommended apps are Notion or Craft.
  2. Gardeners — prefer exploring thoughts and connecting ideas. They are the pantsers of fiction writing who prefer to discover their story as they go. Their recommended apps are Obsidian or Roam.
  3. Librarians — prefer to catalogue their information. They are the detailed researchers in fiction writing who create entire worldbuilding bibles. Their recommended apps are Evernote or OneNote.
  4. Students — prefer to focus on a short term project and getting it done. They are the enthusiasts in fiction writing who have a great idea for a novel and a pile of notebooks to prove it. Their recommended apps are Apple Notes or Google Keep.


After a couple of days exploring the main options, watching YouTube videos on how the apps work, and looking at the costs I am leaning towards Obsidian.

I’m an aspirational Gardener. I would love to be able to just write and trust that it will all work out in the end. On the other hand, I know that without some sort of framework to work within I will probably end up way off path. For my second brain, however, I feel that linking will be the most important feature and Obsidian and Roam seem to offer the best options here.

Between the two of them I’m leaning towards Obsidian. Why? It is free for personal use, and I’m all for the free.

I am new to the idea of second brain and have already spent too much of my first brain time trying to figure out where to begin. In the end it probably doesn’t matter too much as starting and taking action is more important than procrastinating over which one.

Are you building your second brain? Which one are you using?

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