The need for synthesis and using a second brain

In the past I leveraged many different note taking tools. Each offered one benefit over the other but never became core elements to how I achieved my tasks and goals. Recently, I found a tool and system to help me maintain knowledge in a hierarchy. I learned this by stumbling upon Tiago Forte, Marie Poulin, and Notion. I can review and learn at my leisure with this personal knowledge base. Synthesis and research are important to me now that I am in a product management role. This system has been the most beneficial in creating a learning habit. It enables me to revisit where I started the week and reevaluate whether I want to continue on my current path.

Building a Second Brain

I used productivity techniques without great results. I keep tabs on productivity tools and saw a video on Keep Productive that introduced me to Tiago Forte. What blew me away about Tiago are two profound ideas that he articulated. PARA and CODE. Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives is a simple way to organize across tools. Collect, Organize, Distill, Express is how humans can learn and keep information. Tiago advocates that the second brain system enables synthesizing new information.

My System

Marie Poulin records herself using notion with the PARA method which I also have adopted and tweaked. I started using PARA with OneNote and I am a heavy note taker using an iPad and Apple Pencil with GoodNotes. I write with a pencil to concentrate and think through ideas in meetings, focus, and pay attention. I would rarely review my written notes. Most or many of them are incomprehensible over time. If there is a doodle I can remember the point of the drawing no matter how crude it is. With guidance from Marie Poulin’s videos I have developed a system that is working for me. I continue to use my iPad for note taking but only when a laptop in a meeting would be a distraction.

My current structure in Notion:

  • Inbox
  • Weekly Agendas
  • Resonance Calendar
  • Projects
  • Areas
  • Resources
  • Archives
  • Journal
  • Vision & Mission
  • Wins
  • Failures
  • Not Doing List

My weekly flow proceeds: Sunday, I review the weekly agenda that ended the previous week. I create a new weekly agenda and review my work calendar for meetings and events for the coming week.

As the week continues I review what activities I am working on, cancelled, or moved. As new ideas or concepts come in I use my inbox as a scratch pad to work through ideas or document notes. If the article is from somewhere online and resonates with me then I add it to the resonance calendar.

From time to time I review my vision and mission. I keep a list of my values and strengths to review. From time to time I ask my peers to tell me what unique strengths they see me exhibit. This helps me to keep focus on improving in these areas since I rather avoid doing work I’m terrible at.

As time passes I note wins and failures. If a project I started completes I note it. If a project I attempted crashes and burns such as my udemy course I note that as well. I also write up a summary of what I learned from the experience and how I can apply those learnings in the future. Anything I dislike continuing to do I add to my not doing list.

My resources section receives the most attention. I will read a book on a topic or listen to a podcast and file away learnings into this. I also use a technique of Tiago’s called progressive summarization. Highlighting snippets and summing up learnings. An example is my Product Management resources, which I have shared with a couple coworkers. With this Notion shared page, they can choose if any of the materials I have found are helpful to them.

Areas, I have defined a few things but I only return to these topics rarely if something has changed in my life. Projects as well. This might be a gap in my project management skills or trying to use notion for tasks. Instead I keep myself organized with my Google Keep sticky note system.

Before I had this system my organization was search based. I had to think hard to remember where I had placed something. If I wanted to send a resource to someone I would often leverage google or my email to find it. Many times I lost resources or failed to share an informative or impactful article. I now have a system I can use to organize and synthesize new ideas and concepts.

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