How to Build a Second Brain in Notion

Fab Giovanetti

Can you remember some of the best pieces of advice you have received? How many articles have you bookmarked for later and forever forgotten about? What about all of those incredible ideas you have had and never seen the light of day?

I am building my second brain, and, for once, I feel I am incredibly late to the party. As Becca, a friend of mine and co-host of Alt Marketing School's podcast, introduced me to Notion last week, I realized that you could build your second brain in a few simple clicks. Just a few days prior, Chief Education Officer introduced me to Notion last week to build the curriculum and strategy for Alt Marketing School. I was hooked - yet I felt like my invitation got lost a long time ago.

I remember Becca sharing her screen with me and proudly announcing that she'd show me her second brain. And at first, I was a bit confused; I'm not going to lie. A second brain?

In a nutshell, a second brain can help you store exciting and relevant information, as well as helping you plan specific projects effectively. It seemed serendipitous when Becca showed me her second brain. As she opened Notion, a little light bulb went on, and everything made sense. So, on a whim, I started working on my version of a second brain.

Whether you're an entrepreneur, a content creator, or just a productivity lover, a second brain can help you be creative at a glance. As your favourite productivity guinea pig, I want to share how I started mapping my very own second brain (above) and the key benefits of it.

Beat information overload

Honestly, I'm an idea person, and now more than ever, my work constantly requires me to be up to date with what's going on in the world. If you are a creative person and have loads of ideas, then information overload is a real issue.

Do you find yourself switching between bookmarks and devices? Are you wading through emails and RSS feeds daily? Is your browser always hosting more tabs than it can handle? What about your brain tabs?

According to Harvard Business Review, this is not just a phenomenon hindering companies, but also us as individuals:

" Researchers say that the stress of not being able to process information as fast as it arrives—combined with the personal and social expectation that, say, you will answer every email message—can deplete and demoralize you. "

Building a second brain can help you offload your mind. Unpacking information - what I affectionally call in my book Reclaim your Time Off a brain dump - is a necessary process.

Being able to sort and catalogue information, tasks, and ideas allows us to be more mindful about what we want to keep in our brain, especially our second brain, and what is irrelevant for us to store later.

Without an offloading system, whatever we "store for a later date", most times, never gets reviewed in the first place.

A couple of months ago, I shared how to create notes from audiobooks to retain information better. This method has been beneficial for podcasts and articles that I was reading - this was a double-edged sword because everything was in different places, and I started to feel overwhelmed.

I lost track of everything that I was working on as I hopped from one place to the next. Because of that, I realized that having a second brain that could help me better direct my focus.

Choose your tools wisely

Having a centralized system to retain information is not entirely new to me. For the past five years, I've been using an app called Quip to help us running Creative Impact, my other company. Similarly to Notion provides you with one place to store all of your ideas and documents. Without Quip, I genuinely do not know where we'd be as a small team working remotely.

However, I currently have three or four different reference points, including bookmarks and notes, when it comes to my writing, notes, and ideas. As more writing and consulting opportunities came my way, I realized I needed to centralize my information. Plus, starting to work on Alt Marketing School prompted me to create a new place to map the brand's next steps.

Instead of being discouraged by not having found Notion, I became a student and learned how to harness the platform.

What I love about Notion is the simplicity of the tool. In Notion, every single piece of content is considered a block. So you can convert a word into a new page and condense pages into tables.

It allows you to embed different formats of content and create connections and rules between various documents. You can browse a selection of template to fit a variety of needs. For my second brain, I stuck mainly with the 'personal' templates.

To build my second brain, I first identified core projects and areas of focus, through which I could create a collection of resources through Notion's templates. Here's where things got juicy.

Start building your core areas of focus

There's a couple of questions that I think can help you setting up your second brain. But, for that, you'll need a piece of paper - because, dear reader, you are about to experience your very own brain dump.

First, you need to understand what this second brain will be for.

  • Can you recognize some recurring themes?
  • Do you have any questions that you seem to come back to in your professional life or personal life?
  • What are the topics, areas, or even hobbies that you enjoy exploring, and that you're passionate about, you already have access to and that you want to improve on?
  • Is there any topic or knowledge you want to connect from a professional or personal level that can help you upscale?

Write down everything that comes to mind. Don't worry about having different topics not interconnected. Before we build a second brain, we need to dump our brain on paper.

First of all, you need to see all the information to curate it into one place. After this step, you are going to become a curator.

It's time for you to start looking at patterns and rank the topics you want to focus on to build projects around them. Then, just like you would have different folders for your additional documents, we're going to create other pages or areas of focus when it comes to your second brain.

The hierarchy would look slightly like this:

  • Different topics or areas
  • Each topic or area has a variety of projects
  • Each project is built on a collection of resources

Let me use marketing as my area. I have created different projects for my "marketing area", including a reading list and social media news. I then chose the best Notion template to contain all of the resources - this is where you're looking to get clear on what template can serve you best.

Building your personal library

The resources in your second brain will become the library that you can access whenever you need any information.

Some of these areas that you're going to choose, you might find a bit more passive, and that is okay. As a content creator, these could be podcast or article ideas, which will be more dynamic. You will be able to create spreadsheets that you can update and showcase within those, the different articles that you're working on their stage and build a step by step solution that allows you to complete them and progress them without losing them along the way.

Due to the nature of my projects, I will be able to review content in my second brain at least once a week. By digesting information, reading through it, and referring back to it, I will progress in my learning and even apply some of these processes for myself.

I hope that this inspires you to look at how you want to build a second brain for yourself.

  1. Choose your tool wisely (I recommend Notion, but I am biased!)
  2. Identify what the different areas that you want to focus on are. When it comes to topics or interests that you want to build your second brain around.
  3. Create different resources based on your needs based on templates that will help you archive all relevant information.

I'm excited to start this project with myself. I'll make sure to share the process with you and show my progress along the way, and reap the benefits of offloading my brain and reclaiming mental space for myself.

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