Do you ever feel like your brain’s about to explode with all the information that is thrown at you 24/7? Wouldn’t it be useful to have a backup brain? Like a wine cellar for your thoughts, allowing you to store them and let them age with grace.
The good news: This concept exists and is called a Second Brain.
A brain that reliably stores all the information, impressions, and thoughts that we constantly pump into ourselves and presents them to us later in a neat and organized manner.
Enter the concept of the Second Brain.
Essentially, it’s an external system where you store information, thoughts, ideas, and all other insights and organize them.
The oldest concept of a second brain is the so-called Commonplace Book, which was used as early as antiquity by philosophers like Seneca or Marcus Aurelius to record their personal thoughts.
However, you don’t have to be a toga-wearing philosopher with a white beard to benefit from a substitute brain. Second Brains are helpful for all kinds of knowledge workers, especially for creatives, artists, or content creators.
Of course, you can build your Second Brain using a physical notebook. But since we live in the 21st century I assume you are interested in pursuing this endeavor using digital tools.
In my opinion, due to its flexibility, my favorite app Notion is the most suitable for this project.
It combines the features of a wiki with the capabilities of a task manager, so in Notion, you can do much more than just save notes. Furthermore, Notion pages can be customized according to your individual needs, so you can implement exactly the right workflows for your brain.
By the way, it’s not necessary to build a Second Brain from scratch.
Nowadays, there are already many Second Brain templates that you can duplicate into your workspace. The only drawback of these templates is that they almost always have a price. Therefore, if you want to save money, I’ll show you in the following post a compact guide on how to create your Second Brain in Notion by yourself.
What is the PARA System?
It’s a system developed by Tiago Forte within the aforementioned Second Brain method, aimed at efficiently categorizing and organizing information. PARA is considered the most popular system for a Second Brain. Another example would be the Zettelkasten method, developed in the 1970s by Niklas Luhmann.
How does the PARA method work?
PARA stands for:
- Projects (Projekte): A project is a series of tasks that serve a common goal and can be completed within a year. Examples might include: “Launch a new product,” “Plan an event,” or “Create an online course.”
- Areas (Bereiche): Areas are spheres of activity with a standard that one wants to maintain. They don’t have end dates. Some examples might be: “Health,” “Finances,” or “Professional Development.”
- Resources (Ressourcen): Resources are topics or areas of interest that you can consult or utilize. They aren’t projects or tasks but collections of information. Some examples might be: “Recipes,” “Book recommendations,” or “Online course materials.”
- Archives (Archive): This is where you move everything that’s no longer current or relevant but is kept for reference purposes. This could include past projects, completed courses, old notes, and other materials.
The idea behind the PARA method is that one can quickly and efficiently access all their digital information without sifting through tons of files and folders. By categorizing your information into these four areas, you can create a clear structure that makes finding needed information easier.
A main principle of the PARA method is to use a flat hierarchy, meaning you try to minimize the number of levels in each category to reduce complexity and speed up information retrieval.
Of course, PARA can also be implemented with other apps or tools like Obsidian or Evernote.
In addition to PARA, Tiago Forte also developed the Building a Second Brain (BASB) method, which is closely linked to PARA. This is a higher-level concept. It’s about optimizing the process of collecting and organizing information. There are 4 main principles here too:
- Capture: Whenever you come across an interesting idea, thought, or piece of information, you capture it for later use.
- Organize: Information is then organized so that it is easily accessible. This may include tagging, categorizing or structuring the information.
- Review or Review: Periodically reviewing and revisiting stored information helps keep it current and relevant.
- Retrieve: The goal is to easily retrieve the stored information when needed, whether to gain insights, make decisions, or solve problems.
This is how you build your Second Brain with PARA in Notion
You start by creating a page in your Notion workspace for each of the 4 main categories.
Then you create the following 2 databases:
According to Forte, your projects need to be SMART!
- Specific: The project should focus on a specific area of improvement or address a specific need. –
- Measurable: The project must be quantifiable or at least allow for measurable progress.
- Attainable: The project should be realistic based on available resources and existing constraints.
- Relevant: The project should align with other business goals to be considered worthwhile. –
- Time-Bound: The project must have a deadline or a defined end.
Examples of projects include: buying a new smartphone, creating a website, or running an outreach campaign.
I would also add a Select property that includes at least these three selection points: Active, Future, and Archived.
- â€œActiveâ€ are all projects that you are currently working on
- â€œFutureâ€ includes projects that may become active in the future
- â€œArchivedâ€ includes all completed projects.
Later on, I would also link the task database that we create as part of the resources to the projects so that each task also has an assigned project. Alternatively, tasks can also be assigned to areas. Now we come to this:
Many people have difficulty delineating projects and areas in PARA.
An Area is an ongoing aspect of your life or work that has no specific endpoint. Projects, on the other hand, have an endpoint.
An area has standards but no final goals. For example, the â€œhealthâ€ section might have the standard of staying fit and healthy, but as long as you are alive there is no specific â€œendâ€ after which you stop caring about your health.
Examples of areas could be: â€œHealthâ€, â€œFamilyâ€, â€œCareerâ€ or â€œFinanceâ€.
A useful way to differentiate between the two is to consider: If what I’m working on has a specific end or result after which it is considered “completed,” then it is a project. If it’s something I want to maintain or pursue on an ongoing basis, without a specific end goal, then it’s an area.
The Areas database basically looks similar to the Project database. As mentioned before, I would also connect this database to the task database.
I wouldn’t build resources as a database but as a page. Several resource databases that are relevant to you and your tasks are stored here.
This could include the following areas:
Each of these databases should be linked to projects and areas using relations. For example, you could link a book about nutrition to the â€œHealthy Eatingâ€ area. Reading the book and summarizing it would again be a project.
The archive should also be a separate page and not a database. However, in the archive, all databases are listed as linked databases and the archived entries are made visible using filters.
How do you create a linked database? Simply enter /linked database view and select the respective data sources.
You set the filter by clicking on Filter in the top right corner of the database views, adding a filter, selecting the Select property and clicking â€œArchivedâ€ there.
For this view to work, each of the databases you have created so far should have a Select property that gives you the ability to archive projects, areas, resources and other entries.
Conclusion: Building a Second Brain in Notion
That’s all you need to do to create a second brain using the PARA method in Notion.
As already mentioned: Use Notion’s ability to link between databases to connect everything together. Because that is Notion’s great strength!
Depending on your needs, you can adapt the steps and ideas above. Notion offers great flexibility so you can design the PARA structure according to your preferences.
Remember to regularly review and update how you organize your information in Notion using the PARA method to ensure the system continues to work effectively for you.