By Maria Aldrey of Groovywink, offering 1-on-1 productivity training for busy freelancers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

The day in 2015 I took Tiago Forte’s course on Getting Things Done a weight was lifted from my “brain’s shoulders.” 

I recognized what I had been doing wrong; I was relying on my brain to store every bit of information I found offline and online. Not only that, but I wasn’t managing this knowledge, let alone optimizing it for action.

Not long ago, I learned about the Forgetting Curve: a hypothesis about the decline of memory retention over time. It demonstrated that we would forget about 40% of information received in the first 24 hours. After waiting another 24 hours before reviewing the information, we would lose 60%. 

This curve indicates how information is lost over time when there is no attempt to retain it, but the point is not retaining it – it is managing it somewhere else so I could use that space for higher leverage creation.

Knowledge is only valuable when it leads to taking action on an idea.

As the years went by, Tiago kept releasing more information on how to Build a Second Brain. His methods helped me grow from working as a “stock associate” in a retail store to getting as many freelance clients as I could handle, traveling, and living life. 

More specifically, the PARA method supported me in organizing and learning new material.  I was able to grow my business without having to collect anything in my brain. 

PARA provided me with the space to think about developing new projects while handling many clients at once. 

I didn’t follow the BASB system in its entirety though, as the primary place of storage was Evernote; to be honest, it wasn’t my jam. 

“Creating a system of personal knowledge management is a design problem. And like all design problems, it must balance and trade off multiple priorities against each other: the balance between order and serendipity” – Tiago Forte

In 2018, I found Notion, an all-in-one workspace for note-taking, project and task management, A.K.A a place where I was capable of Building a Second Brain and keeping it up.

Notion hammers every point on BASB’s requirements for choosing a Note-taking App:

  • It’s backed up by the cloud, it’s cross-platform, and accessed via the web
  • I can quickly capture, edit, search, duplicate, and store any type of file such as notes, import text, images, videos, PDFs, embeds, and others
  • It’s effortless to add and move information between pages and databases with copy/paste and drag/drop
  • I’m able to save everything privately in one place and share individual pages for public viewing
  • It is highly visual, flexible, and minimal.

Being such a fan of GTD and BASB, I decided to design a more fluid method. Something that could spark my passion for action, because I used to get bored quickly and finishing projects was typically a struggle. 

BASB and Notion helped me:

  • Expand my creativity by making better connections between diverse ideas
  • Refine and externalize those ideas
  • Interpret the information I’ve found more accurately
  • Enable the information and ideas to simmer for an extended period of time
  • Devote more attention to the things that inspire me
  • Stop starting from scratch every single time
  • Get more frequent feedback
  • Reduce time by building shortcuts through automated workflows, databases, filters, links to pages, template buttons, among others
  • Find information faster and eliminate the question “What was I looking for?”

In this article, I will guide you step by step on how to use Notion to build a second brain of your own, following the method in Tiago Forte’s online course Building a Second Brain. I’ve created a free Notion template below that you can use to follow along. 

Click here to access the Notion template

How to Build a Second Brain using Notion

If you are new to Notion, I recommend you get familiar with their concepts as it differs a lot from Evernote.

Instead of using ‘Notebooks’, In Notion, we work with ‘Blocks’. 

Blocks can be turned into a page, a checklist, a database, toggle, or even a table of contents. To do so, you just press forward-slash and a menu will pop up (the more you use it, the more familiar you will get with the shortcuts.) 

You can change the block’s type and layout. With the drag and drop feature, you can easily create columns.

How to setup PARA in Notion


PROJECTS

The best place to start knowing how to best use Notion and start setting up PARA is with the classic GTD Mind Sweep. This is an exercise to capture, group & manage your projects.

  1. In an empty page, turn one of the lines into a checklist and start writing down all the things you want, need and have to do. 
  2. Create a toggle at the top of your list with the name of the project for each task.
  3. Create a page called PROJECTS and drag and drop your project toggles into this page.
  4. Go to the Projects page and turn all your Projects into Pages and arrange them by priority.

AREAS

  1. Go back to the main page and create a page called AREAS and drag and drop the toggles that represent the Areas of Responsibilities.
  2. Go to the new Areas page and turn all your toggles into pages.
  3. Find a layout that works for you. Click here to go to Notion’s Template Gallery for more inspiration.


RESOURCES – Your Second Brain Library

  1. In the main page, create a page called RESOURCES and drag all the bookmarks, web clippings, embeds, or anything that you’d categorize as a resource. 
  2. Go to your new Resources page and create a Table Database – this will be your Second Brain Library.
  3. Rename each column with the type of information you’d like to easily find. Example: Title, Description, Date Added, Summarization Status, URL, Theme, etc.

ARCHIVES

  1. In the main page, create a page called ARCHIVES.
  2. Create another page called: “ARCHIVE – {Today’s Date} ” and move all the remaining blocks to this page.
  3. Move the dated page to the main Archives page.

You should now have only four pages on your main page and sidebar.

How to use Progressive Summarization and Just-in-time Management in Notion

Progressive Summarization is a technique for designing notes that are easy to find in the future. The best way to prepare your resource collection for retrieval in Notion is by going through the following steps:

  1. Create an Inbox page, a parking spot for random notes.
  2. Dump incoming resources in the inbox page.
  3. Bold the best parts of the resource you saved.
  4. Highlight the best parts of the bolded parts.
  5. Write an executive summary at the top of the page, for the most significant and insightful resources.
  6. When you start working on your Projects pages make sure you create a Linked Database and filter the resources out so you can only see relevant items, this will help to keep them separated by existing projects or topics.

Developing a system for dynamism requires tools that allow for productive flexibility. Thanks to Notion & BASB, I’ve been able to respond to serendipity more quickly by creating conditions of rapid execution. Just remember, not everything needs to be perfect simultaneously.

About Maria Aldrey

Maria is a Productivity Trainer based in Vancouver, BC. With 10 years of experience in Marketing and Communications, she understands how to get things done fast. Less time at work means more time to travel and live life.

She currently guides entrepreneurs to optimize systems that allow them to move towards their desired outcomes in business, relationships, health, and spirituality by gaining clarity, improving self-awareness, and taking on a growth mindset to identify and remove bottlenecks. Learn More.


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