Note from Tiago: I recently received this unsolicited email from C. Wess Daniels, a graduate of Building a Second Brain. I’m publishing it here with his permission, with only minor edits for clarity. Comments in [brackets] are mine, and I’ve bolded the “juiciest” parts.


Hi Tiago,

I hope this finds you well.

I’m writing to tell you that I basically just lived a BaSB case study and thought you’d like to hear it.

I was planning to write something out eventually on my blog or on the forum, but then I was sharing this with Jeff [another recent graduate] today (we’ve been meeting one on one every few weeks since our class ended) and he said I should share this with you.

So I thought I’d send this in email form.

On September 1st, about 3 weeks after your class ended, I received an email from a head editor for a book series I am working on (I’m an associate editor for one section of the series “Quakers and the Social Sciences”). That email said, “You realize you have a deadline today too?” The truth was that I didn’t know what he was talking about 🙁

I didn’t remember agreeing to any writing projects — this is not a thing I usually forget. So I did some digging and realized that back in January he’d sent an email to me and the two other associate editors and said “consider writing a 10–12,000 word chapter surveying all of the literature and work done in your area up to this point.” I think he must have felt the “consider” was a bit more of a “command” and much less of “why don’t you think about it,” as I clearly took it.

When I realized that I had a 10,000-word chapter due that same day, I literally panicked. I’m not proud to say I had a hard time breathing. I was pacing all over my house. Finally, I got ahold of myself and started doing some yoga and other strength training to clear my head.

Then as I thought about what I needed to do, I was immediately able to begin drawing on stuff from BaSB. I thought, well, if there was ever an opportunity for “just-in-time” project management [one of the three pillars of the course] it was now.

So I started with a plan the plan. My basic thought was this: I am going to make a thorough enough checklist that once I do all these things I will have researched and written a paper. What I found was this was very helpful for getting focused on what I actually needed to do, the next steps. And any time I would freak out or get lost or distracted I’d bounce back to this note and see what I’d accomplished and what I could work on next.

I want to be very clear when I say I knew virtually nothing about the topic I was being asked to write on and had done absolutely no work for it. I emailed my editor and said something to the effect that “I am pretty behind on this project” 🙂 and are there any authors or works that he felt were absolutely necessary for me to include in the chapter (he is one of the authorities on the subject). I also asked for an extension. He gave me until September 8th and then sent this email which became the basis and most important note for my research.

From there I was able to create a very basic working outline.

I didn’t have time to read a lot of books, or for that matter go to various libraries and do that kind of research, so I scheduled a visit and beforehand I had narrowed down the books I needed. Otherwise, everything I did was through ebook or pdf. I liked this better, especially in a crunch, because I was able to use PDF Expert for a lot of my progressive summarization [another pillar of the course] and exporting of those notes into Evernote. By the time I was in my writing phase I had a ton of notes, mostly pulled from abstracts and then critical chapters in books I’d skimmed that I could draw on.

Another thing I found really useful was an annotated bibliography note which eventually became a draft bibliography. Here I was able to do research and link back to ebooks, pdfs, blog posts, other note links, etc. I added check boxes to my annotated bibliography and used that as my research map.

I used Liner when I was reading Wikipedia articles for basic landscape/general overview work.

This creative frenzy generated a lot of notes and documents so I found I needed to create two folders in Evernote — the main folder for my notes and a “supporting documents” folder. I had over 70 artifacts in these two folders by the time I was done.

Fortunately enough, I was able to clear off just enough work that I could have some larger swaths of time for focused work. But I have written large papers before and I have always struggled with keeping track of my research, notes, outline, bibliography, project list, etc. Because of BaSB I really felt in control of my research and “input” in a way that I have not experienced before. I was able to handle large amounts of information and keep track of everything in a way that was very useful to me when I began the writing phase.

Another piece is that before your class I did the GSD course [Get Stuff Done, my previous self-paced online course on the Getting Things Done method that comes bundled with Building a Second Brain] and have been doing the morning and weekly review consistently since that time. Doing this allowed me to manage the rest of my work and home life just enough that I didn’t fall behind on anything too much, lose sight of any fires, or drop any balls. Each morning I continued to get up, work through my morning review and make sure that everything was at a low enough hum that I could focus completely on my main project.

I turned in my first draft on September 10. The chapter was slightly over 10,000 words. My editor wrote back and said this:

This is looking really good, Wess.

When you mention Jones, Barithwaite etc, do include refs. And when mentioning Blackmore, this is a series we are producing, not a volume.

So spend Tuesday getting it all sweet and perfect and send it over at the end of the day to Steve and myself.

That was it. Not, “You’re going to really have to add these 10 sources,” “You have a ton of editing to do,” nothing. I spent about 3 or 4 more hours cleaning up the mechanics, touching up a few sources and I was done!

I cannot tell you how thankful I am that I took this course. There is no way I would have been able to have this kind of turnaround with this amount of research and writing without it. While I was stressed, I certainly also felt very much in control and actually very alive. I felt very much like I had a second brain I could rely on and that reliance made me able to manage what felt almost insurmountable in a way that I was able to create a product I’m proud of.

A screenshot of one of Wes’ research notebooks

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