In this article, we'll go over what you can learn from the book "Building a Second Brain" by Tiago Forte. This is especially helpful for anybody who uses Mem. 

We'll go over some of the key concepts that the author talks about in this book. We'll then show you how to apply each one in MEM note-taking app.

The book is organized into four basic sections with the acronym "CODE." 

  • C-Capture
  • O-Organize
  • D-Distill
  • E-Express

These are the four core stages of how you build a second brain. 


For most people, "Capture" is where knowledge management usually ends. They save some notes to a folder or on Evernote or whatever other note-taking apps. They might highlight things in books, and save them to read-wise but then they never do anything with them. As a result, their notes end up not being particularly useful. 

One of the things that Tiago suggests is to have actual criteria for what you capture and to be much more deliberate about it. This is because when you capture everything it's like those people in college. They highlight the entire textbook as if the entire textbook will be on the midterm. Then, they actually don't know anything. 


Pretty much anything can be inspiring. It's not just necessarily notes from a book or some podcast or something that you typically think of as knowledge. It could be:

  • a memory of a conversation you had with someone
  • something you watched on TV
  • something you heard on a podcast
  • something you heard in a conversation with a friend

For example, my dad just had a 70th birthday and my brother-in-law filmed a video and asked him what the secret to his happiness was. The whole thing was about 40 seconds but can be summed up as four really simple life lessons. I thought that was super inspiring so I transcribed it and made a note of it with tag lessons from my dad.


You might come across something you could use in a project.  For example,  I read an article on Medium about a landing page with these nine ingredients that will help you make money and  I saved that to Mem. When I was rewriting a sales page, I actually used those nine ingredients as a checklist and incorporated a lot of the ideas. 


This could be a memorable conversation with a friend again or text messages you exchange with someone, or maybe there's a lesson someone in your family shared that you thought was valuable.


When you open your mind to surprising information, you reduce confirmation bias. It is a tendency to only seek information that confirms what you believe even if it's inaccurate. That's how you end up in echo chambers, which leads to inaccurate ideas about things.


Organizing is often a big sort of issue for everybody when it comes to knowledge management. As mentioned, people usually capture notes and then don't use them. Tiago actually offers one really useful strategy.

Separate, Capture and Organize into Two Steps

You want to capture before you organize because sometimes you're not sure how you'll use a note in the future. You might write down ideas and sometimes they don't bear fruit until years in the future. 

Author Ryan Holiday, who's, written five books– all of which are sold millions of copies at this time– uses something called a note card system. It's a category-based analog system. 

One of the things he shared was that he wrote down the idea for his book "The obstacle is the Way" on a note card four years before it went on to sell a million copies. He basically built a career off of it. The thing is, you just never know when these ideas will bear fruit.

The PARA system

The other thing that Tiago talked about when it comes to organizing is his system for organizing which he called "PARA." The PARA which stands for 

  • Projects
  • Areas
  • Resources
  • Archives 

PARA is not a way of organizing information. It's not for storage but it's for production. 

The point isn't to be more organized but to take action on your ideas more consistently. What that means is you want to organize your notes for taking action on them and relate them to a specific project. When you don't know what project that is, then you just give it some sort of tag that will allow you to retrieve it in the future. 

Tiago suggests that to make your notes more discoverable in the future,  you need to organize your ideas for action. Mem helps to do just that. That is by far one of the most valuable things that you can take away from the book. It will make you rethink the entire structure of PARA, which is the foundation of building a second brain. 


So projects are obviously anything that has a finite timeline with a defined end date. For example, planning a birthday party or a vacation and writing a book are projects. 


Areas are your ongoing responsibility. So if you think about the context of the example above, launching a new version of a course is a project. Creating videos to promote it, on the other hand, is an area of responsibility because this is something that is ongoing. It has no end date. 


Resources are all the things that you capture. This could be book notes, quotes that you write down from things you saw on TV which you could do inside of Mem and pretty much any other thing. 


The last thing you have are archives. Now, why do we need archives? Part of the reason we need to archive old projects or things that are no longer relevant is that we need to clear that space. We need to have a clear mind. That's because, even if you're using tags in Mem, you can find everything you don't want your mind to be cluttered with. That includes things that you were working on before. 

PARA is the basic foundation and backbone of the concept of building a second brain. Tiago goes really deep into all of these and he does an amazing job in the book. He highlights three main benefits of using PARA:

  • It gives you a solid understanding of how to move your projects forward much faster
  • Be on top of the things that are your areas of responsibility
  • Have instant access to your resources 

With Mem, that's even easier than it is in almost any other tool.


Distillation is about testing your true understanding of how well you really know something. There are a couple of ways to do that. 

Tiago offers one method which is what he calls "progressive summarization." If you look at your typical notes from a book, chances are you'll have quotes that you highlight.  For most people that have highlighted something from reading a kindle book or a physical book, this is usually where note-taking ends. 

While most would import several quotes and other notes into their note-taking app, they have no idea how to use them. They don't also refer to them in the future as they're not sure what is actually useful. 

And so what Tiago does is he breaks down this concept into layers. 

  • The first layer is just the notes that you capture. For example, if you have book notes, the 10 or 20 quotes depending on how much you like to capture from each book you read are your first layer. 
  • For the second layer,  bold everything that really stands out to you out of those notes that you capture and 
  • For the third layer, highlight out of the bold components --the things that are really important.

Progressive summarization lets you get the gist of a note in seconds. 

Smart Notes

Smart notes by nature force you to distill because you're rewriting everything in your own words. When you rewrite things in your own words, two things happen. 

  • First you end up reinforcing your understanding of your knowledge. 
  • Second, you come up with new ideas and new insights where you can create Mems and capture those as well. 

Smart notes and progressive summarization combined really give you a lot of power because they make your reference notes or verbatim quotes about thousand times more valuable. 


The whole point of the second brain is to express yourself. Ultimately, our goal with all of this capturing of information is to do something useful with it in your life. 

This is what we call the cycle of knowledge generation:

  •  You capture notes or ideas
  • Create project plans
  • Have insights 
  • Put all the insights together 
  • Put the insights to use

Tiago talks about the fact that this is not just a method for storing or organizing information.  It's a method for producing knowledge, and ultimately the term "knowledge management." 

However, that doesn't make a lot of sense because our goal here is not to manage information. It's to generate knowledge and insights. That is where Mem note-taking app comes in handy.

How To Apply Tiago's Principles in Mem

One of the things you'll start to see inside Mem is that you've got a lot of content.  

The first thing that Tiago talks about in the section on capture is separate, capture, and organize into two distinct steps. This is because often we don't know what we're going to do with it or when or how we're going to use it. 

For example, you come up with ideas while you're writing something else that becomes a bi-directional link. You're not sure what you want to do with them. With Mem, you can put those ideas in the inbox first.  That way, whenever you are ready to process it, you can just do so. 

  • If you have something that is going to be a blog post idea, you can give it the tag "UC Blog" and then call it "blog post idea." Now that you know what it's for, you can actually remove it from your inbox. 
  • Let's say you wanted to work on this tomorrow morning, you can actually say "tomorrow 8 a.m" and then it'll disappear from your inbox. So that's one way to use this entire concept of separate capture and organize. 

Organizing Your Notes In Mem 

In Mem, the whole idea of organizing information is a paradox because it's a self-organizing workspace. Rather than thinking of PARA in terms of folders, what happens in Mem is that tags actually become your replacement for folders. 

Example: Literature Notes

The concept behind literature notes if you are not familiar is that you're taking what are called "smart notes." Herein, you rewrite a key idea in your own words in order to enhance your understanding of it. 

If you click on the tag literature notes, you'll see all your tags or mems with literature notes showing up. 

Those notes end up being really useful because you can actually use them for other things. You can connect them to new projects and new ideas. That way, you end up being able to use them. 

  • It's best to keep your tags fairly general rather than extremely specific. You want to tag your notes based on context not on a topic 
  • Contexts are limited and topics are infinite.  Tagging your notes by contexts helps you to simplify and organize your tags. 


Distillation is the main thing that makes your notes discoverable in the future. Literature notes are one example, which is where you're rewriting things in your own words. 

Example 1

Here's what Tiago’s progressive summarization looks like. I have actually used  this technique to "progressively summarize" Tiago's book.

  • First, I have underlying things bolded. These things should be what I really wanted to remember and ended up using. This allows me to get the gist of this book and look at the things that are really important things or that stood out

  • One of the things that Tiago says is that the content inside of any piece of knowledge isn't evenly distributed. So there's a handful of things that really stand out and those are the things that we want to be able to capture.

Example 2

Another example of progressive summarization was when we were relaunching the Mem course. I emailed our list to find out what their biggest challenges were with knowledge management. 

  • I actually bolded a lot of these challenges. In my “maximizer output sales page,” you will find almost these exact words in a lot of the copy. This actually helped me understand what I wanted to include on the sales page. It also saved me a lot of time. 

  • Moreover, out of all this survey data, I thought there may be a handful of things that I could really use. But by bolding all of it and progressively summarizing the entire set of survey data, it becomes a lot more digestible.

  • I pulled a lot of these things again as a template from Tiago's book. I took what he put in the book in terms of how he organized these projects. 

  • I created a template inside of flows and mem. That way, anytime I wanted to have a project I could use that same structure. 

  • I found one big thing that is really valuable. It ended up helping me be able to do this much faster than I would have been able to do in the past. That was what Tiago calls the "archipelago of islands."  The whole idea is that you gather all the things that you need in one place. 

  • So in Mem, I’ve got a bunch of links-- all the various launch sequences from previous launches, different testimonials that I received, and the first and the second versions. Then, I basically gathered every single note I had. 

  • If you look at the survey responses, you'll notice how the organizational structure of these notes mirrors the survey responses. I pulled every single note that I had that was related to what challenges everybody here was facing. 

  • Thereafter, I pulled all the different books that I thought would make sense. I also used the nine ingredients that would print money as I mentioned earlier. I actually used this concept as a checklist for the landing page.

  •  One of the things I realized was that I had what he called “earned credibility.” This is where I had places I had spoken, companies that worked with media outlets, where I've been featured. I'd never included that on the sales page and so this actually helped me to do that. 

One by one I just went through it as a checklist. I had it there as a resource under what Tiago calls your “archipelago of ideas.” By doing this I was able to move my projects forward so much faster than I would when I was having to gather all my resources from all these different places. 

Final Thoughts

I cannot recommend Tago's book highly enough. if you are already a power user of Mem, I think you'll get even more out of it than you were currently getting out of them. Even as familiar as I was with all of his work, the concepts in the book took my understanding of how to use Mem to another level. I’m able to do things I couldn't do before as my notes are becoming a lot more useful.