Organizing the LEGOs In Our Minds to Build the Ultimate Version of Ourselves with Tiago Forte

Aug 02, 2022

The endless amount of information we have access to nowadays can be both a curse and a blessing. The number of data we receive daily is so massive that it is impossible to retain, and the not-so-useful stuff lays on top and buries the things we could use. 

The sensation of trying to remember something is comparable to when we need a cord from the drawer full of cables we all have at home; we know we have it somewhere, but it is tough to find. 

Our guest, Tiago Forte, developed a tool to solve that issue once and for all, an information management system, the Second Brain. 

Tiago is the Founder of Forte Labs, where he helps people increase their productivity using the principles, techniques, and tools of design thinking. He is also the creator of Building a Second Brain, a podcaster, and a published author. He has been featured in The New York Times, The Atlantic, and Harvard Business Review. 

In this episode, Tiago shares bits of his past and the origin of his passion for organizing and building systems to make life easier. We talk about how reality pushes us to become professional content managers and why this makes developing a second brain a need if we want to increase our productivity levels. 

We also talk about Tiago's book, the multiple apps available in the "second brain apps" category, and how building systems can help us actually work less and accomplish more. 

Some Questions I Ask:

  • I would love for my listeners to learn more about you, your story, and how this all came to be. So tell us a little bit about yourself (1:55)
  • You got to the point where you realized in your life that you needed to create a system for yourself. Could you expand on that? (11:15)
  • We talked about using technology to leverage the use of our second brain. What do you recommend? (24:42)

In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Tiago talks about his project of building the ultimate spaceship, how his passion for organizing manifested, and what he learned from it (3:04)
  • Tiago talks about how the world is pushing us to become professional content managers (8:22)
  • Tiago describes the moment he developed a second brain system to deal with health issues and how he used that system to improve his life (13:31)
  • Tiago explains why he decided to write his book (20:42)
  • Tiago and Clint talk about some of the most popular second brain apps available (24:34)
  • Tiago explains how his Second Brain system works (34:58)


Connect with Tiago:

Let's Connect!


Clint Hoopes: On this podcast, often, we talk about making sure that we are present with our family when we’re with our family, and when we're at work, we're present at work; we're all in wherever we're at. Really having your mind clear in such a way allows you to truly be present.

Clint Hoopes: Welcome to the Unrivaled Man podcast. Thanks for joining me. I am very excited to introduce my guest for today. Tiago Forte is one of the world's foremost experts on productivity and has taught thousands of people around the world, including me, how timeless principles and the latest technology can revolutionize their productivity, creativity, and personal effectiveness. He has worked with organizations all over the world and has appeared in a variety of publications such as the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Harvard Business Review. Tiago, welcome to the Unrivaled Man podcast.

Tiago Forte: Thank you, Clint. This is a real pleasure to be here.

Clint Hoopes: Well, Tiago, you have impacted the lives of so many people around the world with you building a second brain system. And really, that was the reason I wanted to have you on the show. I want my listeners to be able to learn how this has impacted me and so many other people. But first, really, I would love for my listeners to learn a little bit more about you and your story, and how this all came to be. So, tell us a little bit about yourself and how this all happened.

Tiago Forte: You mentioned something before we started recording that I don't usually go back this far. But I think it's an important point; I do mention it in my book, which is, I grew up in a family of artists. My dad is a painter. He paints with acrylic and oil, small paintings, large paintings, with figures, still lives, landscapes, abstract. He's a very prolific lifelong painter. And my mom is a musician. She's a singer and a classical guitarist. And then I have three siblings, I come from a family of four. They all have different art forms that they do. And the way that this connects to building a second brain is-- It's kind of funny, I was always the uncreative one, I was the black sheep.

Clint Hoopes: From painting and multiple mediums of art, including music. I mean, that's a wonderful thing. But yeah, you kind of feel different.

Tiago Forte: The thing that I was known for was organizing. I like to organize stuff, which is not generally considered an artistic medium. I love Legos, and I have this whole story of, over years as a kid, trying to find the ultimate way to organize my Legos, which foreshadowed what I do today. I thought, “If I just organize these Legos in the perfect way, then my creativity will really be unleashed, and it will just be seamless and frictionless and I’ll have no challenges and no problems.” So, I tried all sorts of things. I tried organizing by color, by size, by function, by theme; was it pirates? Was it the space pieces? Was it the ninjas? And actually, specifically, I have the story of wanting to create the ultimate spaceship. This was my big dream as a kid.

Clint Hoopes: Not just buying a kit, but putting it together.

Tiago Forte: Yeah, I didn't want to buy the kit. I thought I can do better than all these kits. So, I was going to combine a bunch of different kits and make this just epic spaceship. But then I thought, “Oh, but let me get myself organized first.” And this is what I see people constantly doing with their big creative projects; “I want to do X. Well, let me first do A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H.” They create this laundry list of supposed, preliminary steps. And maybe some of those steps are necessary — like if you want to paint a painting, you probably need paint brushes; if you want to record a song, you probably need an instrument. But not all of those pre-steps are necessary. That spaceship sticks in my mind because I never even attempted it. I never got myself organized enough that I had the confidence to actually try, which, to this day, somehow, I still regret. I don't even know if I was capable. I don't even know if that was possible because I got so caught up in organizing.

Clint Hoopes: That's interesting. My kids love doing Lego and they’d build all the different LEGO sets, and they love it, and it is fun. Just last night, actually, we were trying to get all the kids to bed and my four-year-old was sitting there in the corner with this pile of Legos on this table — it’s a table dedicated to Legos — and he was sitting there building just something. And I still know exactly what it was because he's still working on it, but he's over there building it, it's late at night. I was like, “We gotta go to bed.” He's like, “Just a minute, just a minute.” So, I just picture little Tiago doing the same thing; “I'm building this. I'm gonna make this happen.” That's fun.

Tiago Forte: Exactly, that was me. And then if my parents asked me, “What are you working on?” “Oh, I'm building my ultimate spaceship.” Basically, fast forward, I think what it actually was, when we think of artists and creatives, we usually think of people that are highly specialized to one medium — like usually, someone will be good at drawing, they'll be placed into this category of drawing or painting. They're good at music, they get placed in music, or dance, or poetry, or theatre. It's like we have all these little silos. I mean, it's fortunate to have a talent, but when you have that talent, you get placed in this little box, which some people are fine with, and that's the best way for them to reach their potential. But for the rest of us who didn't have the singular talent from an early age, we are still creative, I think we are still artistic. But we tend to work across mediums. A typical knowledge worker might work with text, emails and reports they write, articles; they might work in imagery, a website they design, a graphic, a slide; they might work with speech, giving presentations, giving talks, even just speaking up during meetings — all these different kinds of content we have to work across. And I feel like a lot of what I'm doing is just my father and the way that he did his art is one of my prime sources of inspiration because I just asked, “Okay, well, what does an actual artist do?” Let's get that practice, tweak it, modernize it, bring it into software and the internet, and often it applies incredibly well to our work as creative knowledge workers.

Clint Hoopes: Honestly, that's how I found you originally. Years ago, I don't even remember when I first read the book. And I'm sure so many of your people come from David Allen and Getting Things Done, that side of things. Because David Allen really did some amazing things with his book, Getting Things Done. And so many of his methodologies really did help me, early in my career, get organized at work and do a few things. But in our world, with all the technology and so much more content than really, in my opinion, that book was ever designed to handle is in front of us. I was feeling overwhelmed — how do I handle all of this at work, at home, personal life, hobbies, everything? I just couldn't find a way to organize things. And I started finding the videos of you and others that were talking about your system. And I thought, “Well, ‘second brain’, that sounds kind of cool, that's kind of a cool idea. I don't want to keep everything in this brain because it's getting muddled.” And it's just funny how over time I started learning the system and realized, “Okay, this is worthwhile. There's something here.”

Tiago Forte: That's exactly, I think, the need that this is serving is we are now professional content managers. The average person, the average modern human, you're right, we didn't use to have to think about this. Some executive producer at NBC would just do this for us to curate what they thought we needed to know. And then Walter Cronkite would get on — I don't really remember him, but I've heard — whatever the current newscaster is would just tell us what we need to know. We had these gatekeepers, these trusted authorities.

Clint Hoopes: Go down to the bookstore if you want to find a book, and whatever's being pushed at the time by the publishers at the time, that's what you find.

Tiago Forte: Exactly. Choose from these three to five options, and that was your choice. Now, it's an absolute free-for-all, a random blogger from the middle of nowhere can have the same reach as a major media organization — it's absolutely wild. And I think there are negative sides of that, like misinformation and stuff, and there are also good sides. The good side that I think we often miss is that it's now an even playing field, you can have access to any kind of perspective, any kind of idea that in the past you wouldn't have had access to, but that will only be a net positive for you if you have a system for buffering, for filtering that information storm. It's really like an information blizzard; you don't want to be walking out there in the middle of the snow naked — in information terms — you need layers, you need boundaries and borders, and that's what a second brain is.

Clint Hoopes: So, everyone out there listening right now, I remember the first time I heard this I thought, “Okay, this is making a little bit of sense. I need somewhere else to put my information to organize everything.” And you might be thinking right now, “Okay, well, I kind of have a way I organize things. I use my email to put things, I can search my email. I put things in this place or that place, and I think I know where most of it is.” But if you're truly honest with yourself, the average person does not have so many things in their life organized. We're in the middle of actually building a house right now. If anybody's ever built a house, or really anything at all, there are so many different pieces, different questions, different things you need to answer. It's absurd, you can't keep it all on top of your mind, you don't know where to organize. I'm receiving information by text, I'm searching on the web for something, I'm getting emailed a quote. But from the same company, I might be receiving information three or four different ways. And then when I need to make a decision, I have to remember where it all is. It was so funny, once again, as I started getting introduced into this, I started realizing, “Okay, that is truly a pain point I have.” I thought I was pretty organized. And as I started listening a little more, I realized, “Okay, there is so much more that I can gain from the information I have.” So, all of you listening out there, I needed to say a little caveat, listen to this and start thinking about your own life, this can change your life in such a big way. So, let's keep going. So, you got to the point where you realize in your life that you needed to create something like this for yourself. I can remember a story, I believe that where you had began this whole process, right?

Tiago Forte: Yes, it was an unexplained medical condition that just came out of the blue, which was pain and tension in my throat and my neck. I was 22 years old, in college, having the time of my life, San Diego State University, working at the Apple Store, which was kind of my first job and my dream job, selling computers, teaching people how to use computers. And I just was plunged into this world that I had no experience with and no interest in, against my will, which was the wonderful world of the US medical system.

Clint Hoopes: I worked in health care for a good 13 years or so before doing some of the things I'm doing. So, I feel your pain having worked within that world.

Tiago Forte: It's awful. It's truly awful. It's like right at the moment that you are at your weakest, right at the moment that you're suffering and you're not at your full capacity, right at that moment, they unload upon you an incredible amount of highly complex, detailed, sensitive information and paperwork that you are totally unequipped to handle, and you have to handle it.

Clint Hoopes: They have no other option either. They have to give you the information because you need it now. It's a hard thing for everyone.

Tiago Forte: Yeah, you’re taking all this advice. As soon as a doctor will just casually mention, “Oh, why don't you try this?” Well, just hearing that advice makes no impact whatsoever; you have to take in that advice, interpret it, then you have to just reflect on it, write it down, decide how it's going to be applied, then apply it, then track the results of it. It's like running a scientific experiment. It's like a randomized control trial of one. Every time any doctor, and I saw probably over a dozen doctors over several years, told me anything; it's an absolutely insane amount of information in detail to keep track of. So, that's what the second brand was, in the beginning; it was my own personal patient record system, and I use it for nothing except for my medical information, and it worked. So, to cut a very long story short, what I eventually discovered was it wasn't like an illness or an infection, there wasn't like a pill I can take or a surgery that I could do. It was what's called a functional condition. It was something going wrong and how my body worked. And ultimately, through taking notes and just noticing patterns and correlations; “Oh, if I eat differently this way, I feel differently this way. If I exercise, if I meditate, if I avoid these foods or have better posture.” All these little things, each one of which was not this silver bullet, but to summarize all this, I learned the importance of self-care. As a 22-year-old, dude, I had no conception of, “Oh, I have to take care of myself?” But I ultimately found a resolution that, honestly, no doctor could have told me because I am the only one that can look at my holistic life picture and see the totality, no doctor is going to do that for me.

Clint Hoopes: And that's really the segue here to all of this is that's true in all parts of our lives. No magic fairy is going to come and tap all of the knowledge and organize everything that we get bombarded with every day and just organize it for us. Even if they could organize it for you, it wouldn't work in the end. That's the craziest thing. I remember one time I thought that somebody should come up with a business where they come in and they just organize all of your digital files. They just organize everything and they go through and just make it so it's just this perfect system. And then after I thought about it a little longer, I thought, “It wouldn't work. It would be destroyed immediately after.” It's the creation of the system where you get the buy-in, and you actually figure out how it works for your life. So, you segued, obviously, in a big way from taking gesture healthcare into your own hands and seeing patterns and changing your life to gathering more information in your life.

Tiago Forte: Yeah, exactly. It was such a slow, gradual evolution over many years. But I just realized, “Wait a minute, this approach, this system that I created, it wasn't strictly for medical information; it was a general purpose note-taking system. There was no reason I couldn't use it for all sorts of things.” And so I did. I used it to study abroad, and to manage finding housing, figuring out all the different things I had to figure out to study abroad in Brazil and in Colombia; I use it to teach English in those two countries, I worked as an English teacher at local schools. And then that's a whole nother domain; lesson planning, keeping track of exercises and vocabulary words, homework, grades, and all these things. And then it just kept expanding. I think what was happening was my confidence in my agency was increasing alongside this system that I was using or just started being applied to more and more areas of my life until, eventually, I use it to get a job — my first professional job for a consulting firm in San Francisco. And then a couple of years later, used it to start a blog. Many people started a blog, but then they’re like, “What do I write about?” Well, I looked over here and I had, at this point, several thousand notes that I had saved on things I'd read in books, things I've read in seminars and classes. At that time, I was maybe 27 or something, very young. You don't think you have much life experience, but if you've written stuff down, 27 years is a long time, you do have life experience, at least life experience that might be interesting to people your own age are people a bit younger than you. And then, eventually, I used it to start a business, used it to launch a course. And now my second brain is just my second brain. Unless something has to be done by my first brain, like it actually matters to my first brain; by default, at this point, it goes into my second brain, and I just don't even worry about it.

Clint Hoopes: That's a big one. I'm going to focus on what you just said. You said, “After it goes, if you determined you made that decision, it doesn't need to be in your first brain,” which basically means “on your mind”. I always think of it from a computer standpoint, it's like, if something is actively being used by the RAM or the processor right now, it is slowing down the system, it is slowing down the computer in some way even if it's small. All of these things that are just hanging out in our minds have to be put in a trusted system. And that's what I love is being able to put it there. And really what happened to me is I used to do things in a similar way where I would try and remember things, I'd write on a sticky note. And I still do this on occasion, if it's something that I really want to know, like now, to try and remember something. And then before I know I have 30 sticky notes. Well, that's not doing anything, my brain is still going to keep thinking about it because it's not in a good place. So, take us through a little bit more. Your second brain is a place where you can get it out of your mind and know that it's safe.

Tiago Forte: It's really worth asking yourself what is worth worrying about? What do you want to worry about? Probably very little. There are very few things in life that actually get better when you worry about them. This is something that's so pervasive in our culture. I noticed it everywhere. It's this invisible background assumption that you can remember everything, that you should remember everything, and if you don't remember something, it's bad. Think about every time someone says, “Oh, keep this in mind.” We toss out that sentence as if it's nothing.” And every time someone says this, I go — I don't always say this, but I think to myself — “What do you mean, ‘keep this in mind’? What are you really asking me to do, memorize it, ruminate on it endlessly until the next time that we see each other?” No, I'm not going to keep it in mind. This is David Allen’s idea, “I'm smart enough to know how bad my memory is. I'm smart enough to know that most of the time I'm not very smart.” So, if I truly want to remember something, I have to not even try to remember it. I have to write it down.

Clint Hoopes: And that's profound. We don't think that generally; we think, “We have to know it. We have to know offhand. We have to know it now.” But why? If you can find it in a matter of seconds, why?

Tiago Forte: I don't understand. Like I said, as pervasive people say, “Remember to always do this.” In the case of habits, routines, or best practices. Well, how? Or they go, “Always do something-something. Never do something-something.” Just how in the world is any of this going to happen? As humans, there is nothing that we are naturally worse at than consistency. We are the opposite of consistency. We are like little hummingbirds; we never rest; we never put our little feet down on a branch, hardly; we just flutter and flit around attention span of 0.1 seconds; we're always just moving from one thing to the next, going up, going down, going around, buzzing around. That's kind of how I think of our minds. And honestly, I'm fine with it. I'm not going to try to change the way my biological mind works when I can just complement it with this system of technology.

Clint Hoopes: So, we've been talking a little bit about “Building a Second Brain” is a course that I took, when was the first time you did the course. I was in cohort 14 earlier this year, so how many years have you been doing that course?

Tiago Forte: It's been almost six years. 

Clint Hoopes: And I'm telling you, it was an incredible experience going through that course. And I highly recommend that to anybody listening that wants to go deep on this. It was an incredible experience to go so deep on these things. And for many years, that has been the only way to get this information. And Tiago, I know for quite a while has been working on a new book and has just released the “Building a Second Brain” book, which I actually have right here. For anybody looking on YouTube, you can see the book right here, beautiful book, wonderfully concise, yet gives you the depth that you need to be able to begin your path on this. So, why a book? Why read a book instead of just continuing on with the course?

Tiago Forte: Good question. We're still teaching the course, that's our main service product that we offer as a business. We'll still do that, absolutely. And actually, we have some big plans for it that we'll be announcing soon. But the mission of this business has always been to enable anyone in the world to build a second brain, anyone, which when you really sit with what “anyone” means, which have been doing lately, the implications of that are pretty radical. Anyone is not just elite tech knowledge workers in major urban centers in North America; it's not just knowledge workers; it's not just tech workers; it's not just professionals; it's not just highly paid people; it's everyone. What that means is seeking the broadest possible distribution and translating these ideas, which like you said, up until now these ideas have been around for years, none of them are new. They've been around in Silicon Valley, going back to Doug Engelbart and Vannevar Bush, back to the ‘60s and the ‘70s; we've known about the power of knowledge management for many decades. And note-taking itself goes back even much further back to the enlightenment, the renaissance. The word “commonplace” as in commonplace book comes from the ancient Greeks. There's nothing new under the sun. But what I'm trying to do is boil it down to a just simple daily habit, a daily practice — like brushing your teeth, balancing your budgets, doing laundry — so people who aren't obsessed with this, like you and me, can just adopt a simple set of practices that just have a dramatic impact on their life. And of course, that means also it needs to be in the formats and the languages that they understand. So, I went with traditional publishing, got everything from five years of teaching the course, and boil it down to, like you said, just a very simple straightforward book, which at this point, I think we have over 15 international publishing deals. So, as of now, it will be translated into at least 15 languages available in every little bookstore, airport, and train station. 

Clint Hoopes: I mean, I'm seeing you pop up on all the bestseller lists and everything lately. It's been a lot of fun to see that it's truly going out to the world. It's amazing.

Tiago Forte: That's what we're trying to do: democratize the practice of personal knowledge management so that anyone who wants to, that's the part we can do for you, is the interest, the desire. Anyone who has the motivation, we want to offer something for them.

Clint Hoopes: That's excellent. So, let's get down a little bit more, just a little more granular, so that people can visualize. We know we need to keep some of this information that we have in our lives organized in a way, but once again, what are some of the more common ways? What does this look like? 

Tiago Forte: You mean examples of how people use the second brain? 

Clint Hoopes: Yeah, maybe an example of where you might keep your second brain. Just as somebody who is just looking at a high-level thing, where would they keep their second brain? We talked about using technology to leverage this. What do you recommend?

Tiago Forte: There are a couple of things. There's a whole category now of second brain apps. I didn't even coin that term. I didn't even coin “second brain” actually. But I've started seeing people say “second brain apps” as a software category. And that includes the OG, which is a platform that I use, which is Evernote. Evernote launched back in the mid-2000s, was the first mainstream software that did this idea that it's a place to keep information, not just for one project or one class, but for a lifetime of learning and a lifetime of productivity. Their mission to do that was what inspired me. But that starting point, that one app has now blossomed into this abstract notion, which is the current, trendy, up-and-coming one. There is this new category of what's called “networked note-taking”, which is apps like Roam, Obsidian, and Logseq are the three biggest ones. So, now there's not one option, there are many options. And it depends actually on your personality and your temperament and your goals. I have the most popular series on my YouTube channel. It’s a four-part series where I basically take you through a personality test and I tell you, based on certain criteria, whether you are — there are four archetypes — an architect, a gardener, a librarian, or a student. And once you know which archetype you are, I can recommend one or two note-taking apps for you. So, I encourage people to go check that out.

Clint Hoopes: I love that. And if you're kind of a nerd like me, I had to try them all, obviously. Because then a little bit of FOMO going on, it's like, “I can't miss out on the best one.” Spoiler alert for me, I went through all the different ones and actually ended up at Evernote, which I had used for years already, so it was like, “I know how it works. I trust it. Let's do this.” And it's been an incredible thing for me. And I've toyed around a little bit still with Obsidian and things and linking ideas, and it's been kind of fun. So, any of you that want to go deeper, I'll put a few links in the show notes to some places where you can go a little deeper with Tiago on some of these things, because you really can go so deep on some of these, but you don't have to go that deep to get the benefit, that's the one thing. I know some people listening might be thinking, “Oh, man, this sounds like Greek to me. I don't know. All of these apps, all these things.” In that case, start with something simple. And in my opinion, that's what helped with somebody I was talking to, I’m like, “Just don't worry about going so deep, check out the book, and just start.” And if you want to keep going deeper, go deeper, and you can.

Tiago Forte: That's the other thing I was going to advise people is if any of this seems overwhelming, challenging, too much, too complicated, it probably is, for you and your life situation, what you're trying to achieve, the time you have available. So, I actually advise you to start with the default notes app on your phone. We live in this amazing time, we all carry with us a device pretty much 24/7. That device is a multimedia capture monster; it can capture text, photographs; it can download things from the web; it can transmit things to others. There's more computing power in that smartphone than the entire US government had in 1980 or something. And very likely it already has, at this very moment that you're listening to this, a notes app of some kind — it's probably a very simple one, which is what you want anyway — start there. You don't have to download or pay for one single thing. Just try. In fact, part of this series that I have is a little experiment that I have people run, which is a 30-day note-taking experiment. So, I went back and analyzed my second brain. Over more than 10 years of doing this, my average number of notes that I take is two notes per day. And a note is small. A note can be one quote, one image, one web bookmark. It's not a giant document; it's one little snippet, two per day. Right now, the day you're listening to this, did you learn two things today? Did you hear two interesting ideas? Did you create two interesting little pieces of work or do two interesting kinds of thinking? If you did, you've already done 99% of the work, just save those in your default notes app, Apple notes, Android notes. After a month, you'll have 30 to 60 concrete building blocks of your best thinking, which means you never have to do that thinking again. You're starting to build a knowledge treasury, a knowledge library where all ideas that you've acquired, that you've learned are stored. And over time, think about a year, in a year, you'll have 700 Legos, what could you build out of 700 Legos, and the equivalent of that for your life and your work? 

Clint Hoopes: That was one of the most pivotal aha moments that I had as I began learning about this was this very philosophy: use the information to know what you have as building blocks. I found that so many of the things I did in my work and my own personal life, were just repetitions of something that I've done before, so similar. I'm writing an email and the email is almost like I'm just writing the same thing again, just changing the names, basically, in some of the things I'm doing. And I'll be creating a document for someone, and all of a sudden, I’d realize, “Wait a second, I've created something like this before.” And once you have everything organized in a good enough way, or put it in such a way that you can find it when you need it, that's the biggest step where you don't have to spend more time trying to find it. And then all of a sudden, I start finding that I can piece these little blocks together and save myself so much time in my work and in my personal life.

Tiago Forte: It’s such a transformative shift that one right there, we are not taught this. In fact, we are taught that is virtuous. Like we were saying, to memorize things and also recreate them again and again, that's what we're explicitly taught to do. 

Clint Hoopes: Makes you think it's cheating almost to reuse something, right? 

Tiago Forte: It feels like cheating. I mean, it’s school, it is. You can open up your notes. You can take out your answers to the last test and use those as a crib sheet for the new test. But in the professional world, in the adult world, you're not going to gain leverage. I think that's basically what this is about. Leverage is about having better and better results while doing less and less work. As parents, you really learn how crucial this is because the trajectory of how much time and energy you have over your lifetime goes down. It is not going to go up, but it's not even going to stay the same. It precipitously declines.

Clint Hoopes: And yet we have this superpower that we don't even know about, that we don't leverage, that's within our grasp to be able to reuse some of these things and to free our mind so that we can be present in the things that matter most. On this podcast, often, we talk about making sure that we are present with our family when we’re with our family, and when we're at work, we're present at work; we're all in wherever we're at. Really having your mind clear in such a way allows you to truly be present. How many of us sit there with our kids, and you're sitting there and you come home from work, and the kids are sitting there on the ground with these Legos because that's we've been talking about, but they're playing with Legos on the ground or they're throwing a ball, whatever it might be, and you show up, and you might greet them and you act like you're going to start playing with them. And within moments, your mind starts just instantly turning back to work, you're mentally back at work of all the things that you haven't gotten done, all the things that still need to be there. Or maybe it's something at you're home where you're like, “Oh, my gosh! I need to fix that thing or call that person.” Whatever it might be, but it's on your mind and takes you away.

Tiago Forte: The reason productivity matters, the reason systems matter, and personal acknowledgment management matters is ultimately how do you cash that out; those savings, that efficiency? You can cash it out with more work. And there was a period that I did that. I was working eight-hour days but getting 16 hours done because of these systems and these methods. But when our son was born in October of 2020, so much changed, but I saw how just critically important the time — not just the quantity of time, but the quality of time — was going to be for basically the rest of my life and his. This is one example, I made the decision, I was going to finish work every day by two o'clock, which sounds absurd. If you're used to having to spend X units of your time, you can't just reduce by 30% or 40% how much time you're working because then your income will go down by 30% or 40%, your output will go down by 30% or 40%. But I think, looking back on my medical condition even, I'm grateful for it now because it forced me to learn a lesson very young, which is to decouple the results that I'm trying to produce from my raw physical effort. I couldn't do it because of what was happening with my body and my health, and having learned that lesson that it is not my job to do work, it is my job to create systems to do the work, which means I can work more, I can work less, or I can even take days off, those systems continue to operate, they continue to produce value, they continue to make my knowledge available to others, which is ultimately what we do as knowledge workers, even if I'm not personally there sitting at my desk, writing emails, and doing Zoom calls, and different things.

Clint Hoopes: That's profound. Because so many people might be thinking, “Well, I don't own my company. I work in an organization. I have certain expectations.” And I think as they go a little deeper, like you said, they can find places within their jobs where they can uncouple the result from the time spent, and begin to actually leverage those things a little more at work. But then, once again, other parts of their lives as well. Because saved time is saved time, saved mental energy is saved mental energy, no matter what part of your life it's in.

Tiago Forte: Exactly. I've been self-employed for 10 years, and only two of those have I had employees. And actually, funnily enough, I had to learn this and master it before I could hire. You have experience with this too, but people think, “Oh, I'm going to hire someone, they're going to come in and just fix all my problems.” No, no, no, they're just going to amplify the problems.

Clint Hoopes: Isn't that what they say: if you have a poor system, when you add extra volume to it, it’s going to break? So, it's the same thing.

Tiago Forte: I’ve had to learn how to use other kinds of systems. When I say “systems,” it’s something as simple as a blog. You might not see yourself as a blogger or a content creator or a writer, but I have this exercise I have people do called FAQ (Frequently Asked Question), which is, what is the question people ask you the most? It’s probably a question, how to solve X problem, how to navigate this situation. If you've written out that email, recorded the Loom, or written out the instructions more than two or three times, just put that into an evergreen, shareable form, it can be in public or even just saved in your notes. The next time someone asks you, be like, “I'm happy to answer that question for you. It's so important for me to serve that need. I have prepared. I've taken the time to prepare a comprehensive, detailed instruction manual to help you hear this.” And by the way, sharing that link is way faster than sitting there and recreating it from scratch. That's what I mean by a system. It's not this crazy mechanical device; it is just stepping back from the immediate demands that are being placed on you and asking how to solve problems once and for all in a way that they're solved forever, not just for the momentary demand.

Clint Hoopes: In business, running companies, this is often what a business leader will do: they will go and they'll see something, they'll see a need, and then they will either create the system and write it down and all the steps, but sometimes it feels like a chore — like, “Oh, my gosh! I have to do this big thing, big project, it has to look a certain way.” And what I love about this is it's your system, it's your thing, somebody's asking you a question or things are happening, if it happens a couple of times, don't worry about it having to be so perfect. You can just save it in a place you know you can find it, and you can forward your email to Evernote, that was one thing I found; just forward the email where you responded — sometimes I'll do that — into Evernote, and I'm like, “Oh, perfect, now I have my response. So, in the future when I need that again. If I decide that it's going to come up more often then I can formalize it at that time.” But another concept that I love to talk about is pushing out, making it all perfect and creating it perfect until right before you need it. Will you expound a minute on that? I think that's an important thing where we waste time sometimes.

Tiago Forte: Yeah, absolutely. Just to close out that loop, I'll often just BCC my second brain. If I'm sending you a great answer to a question, doesn't even need to be a separate email, just in BCC, so the person won't even see this, they won't even know. I'm just firing off an extra little copy over here. I'm done with it. I don't have to do anything else with it. 

Clint Hoopes: That's great. I'm totally going to do that now. That's a great idea.

Tiago Forte: This is one of the more subtle ideas that, in my book, I think I only treated lightly because you need a second brain to fully appreciate what is possible here. But I think we're going through this transition as a civilization, which is in the past — I always think of the 1950s — we lived in a just-in-case world. The 20th century was a just-in-case world. Everything was just in case: do your homework, get good grades to have a good college application to go to college where you also get good grades and have a nice diploma and a good GPA. And at every stage, you're asking your parents, “Well, why? Why am I doing all this?” And the answer is, basically, “Well, just in case. Just in case you needed to get a good job, to have a good career, to work for a nice company, to have safety and security.” “Just in case” is a fear and scarcity-based mindset, first of all. Just in case spending your precious time now for future eventualities that may or may not ever arrive. It's a conservative mindset. But also it only works in a predictable world.

Clint Hoopes: And who are you creating it for? What circumstance?

Tiago Forte: You can do that if you know what's coming. In the 20th century, you could make a five-year plan, a 10-year plan. You'd probably be doing more or less the same thing at the end of your career that you were doing at the beginning, just more advanced. You could predict and plan. These days, that is all out the window. You can’t even predict what you're going to be doing a year from now. At every level of society, from your personal life, to your local community, to the climate, to politics, to culture, to international relations, every level of reality is now becoming unstable and chaotic, which is terrifying, scary, and confronting. But as always, there's a silver lining, which is we get to have control, we get to have more agency, and to determine our destinies in a way that was never possible before. So, the transition I think is from a just-in-case world to a just-in-time world. A just-in-time world is much more about being sensitive to the strategic opportunities that are emerging around you all the time. Not being attached to “Oh, no, I have my plan and I have to follow my exact plan.” But being open and unattached and asking, “I'm open to many pathways, many kinds of opportunities.” Because you never know, someone could call you in an hour and say, “Clint, I want you to give a presentation to executives at this pharmaceutical company.” And you're like, “I've never done that. I don't know how to do it. Maybe I don't have anything prepared.” That could be totally out of the left field. But if you're open and fluid — this is really about fluidity — you might say yes, and just in time, pull from your notes — your second brain — a collection of slides, metaphors, examples, research. And in one or two days, even, be able to put something together. It's like you're leaping through that window of opportunity, just in time, right before it closes, and that will, honestly, lead to some of the biggest milestones of your career and your business.

Clint Hoopes: Thank you for that great explanation, because it is amazing how much this system can bless your life if you actually capture it, capture the information, and put it in a place where you can find it. And that's what I love is so often we're just capturing other people's ideas, which is a wonderful part of the second brain is capturing those things to remember. But you talked about it earlier on, capturing your own ideas that are unique to you and your view of the world. That is what I love because there truly is. And it's not just your mom that thinks so that you are unique, you truly are. And that's what I love is being able to capture those things for myself, for me, organizing this way has been an amazing thing to see patterns in my own thinking and give me clarity on directions for what I want to do with my family, my business, or even hobbies. It's very interesting how having this information in such a way and making decisions on some of that information has caused me to make different decisions in my life over the last few months. 

Tiago Forte: That's beautifully said, that's really what it is.

Clint Hoopes: Well, Tiago, this was fun. Thank you so much for joining us here today. I really want to make sure that my listeners know where this is at and what they can do, so I'm going to add links in the show notes to everything. But one thing I love to ask anybody who comes on the show is what would be your top action step for my listeners, what can they do that would impact their lives today?

Tiago Forte: I would really encourage people to check out my introductory series. It's four really short, I think 10-minute videos. They're very action-packed, we put a lot of effort into making them engaging and entertaining. Because those four videos will lead you through picking a notes app, determining your note-taking archetype and personality, and then take you through a 30-day experiment. I would say just do a test if this is even for you. I'm not going to stand up here and be like, “No, this is the global universal solution to all problems that will usher in a new era of peace and prosperity for mankind.” No, it's a solution to some problems for some people some of the time. So, give it a test drive, see which parts of your life, maybe there's only one project or one area of your life that you may want apply this, that's fine, too. And we've prepared this video guide for you to do that, which I encourage you to check out.

Clint Hoopes: I'm going to put links to that series in the show notes as well as a link to your new book for people to be able to find that. And where else should people connect with you? Where is it best for people to follow you? 

Tiago Forte: The best place is You can find information about the book, the course that I teach, but also our free podcast, also the plethora of free written content and visual content that we have on the blog. is the central hub of the second brain universe.

Clint Hoopes: Excellent. So fun, so exciting. Well, thank you so much for being here and congratulations on the success of your new book, and look forward to speaking again. 

Tiago Forte: Thank you so much, Clint. I really appreciate it. 

Clint Hoopes: And for all of you out there listening, now is the time for you to be the unrivaled leader and unrivaled man in your life.