There’s so much to consume online, from the millions of pieces of content shared, sent, and watched on social media platforms every minute to the endless stream of news, data, and commentary being published. We are constantly faced with choices of what to watch and read, which leads to information overload, decision fatigue, and what creator Jorge Medina refers to as digital hoarding: saving stuff for later, like the million tabs you keep open (because FOMO) that you never return to. Instead of being inspired by content, he writes, we get overwhelmed—and ultimately less creative.
The “second brain” movement, a productivity framework created by Tiago Forte, suggests that we need external storage for saving information and resources, which frees up our actual brains to be more creative rather than trying to memorize and organize everything we’ve consumed.
A key building-block of your second brain is the CODE method, which helps you curate the content stream so it’s meaningful and helpful rather than overwhelming. Here’s how it works.
C: Capture the most important information
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The first step is to keep only the things worth saving, or the most relevant and useful information. Forte suggests paying more attention to content that connects to something you care about, are curious about, or find intriguing rather than passively saving what’s sent to you by a contact or fed to you through an algorithm.
Practically, you can capture using a variety of digital tools, such as a read-later app, notes app, or transcription app. You can also highlight or annotate in an ebook app or save websites in a web clipper app.
O: Organize by actionability
Once you start saving, you’ll need to start organizing. Forte recommends keeping your organization simple and flexible rather than rigid and hierarchical and focusing on what’s actionable.
To organize along the spectrum of most to least actionable, use the PARA framework:
- Projects: Short-term and with specific goals
- Areas: Long-term and managed over time
- Resources: May be useful later
- Archive: Inactive content from the above three buckets
You should also start with a clean slate rather than trying to reverse engineer this system for files you’ve already saved. Move everything into a dated archive folder—this way, you know you can go back if you need to, but you don’t need to do the work of sorting it.
D: Distill info to its essence
The third step involves a bit of upfront work to make using what you’ve captured easier down the line. You’ll do this by distilling your notes into “actionable, bite-sized summaries.” A few ideas:
- Define key terms and add links to related resources.
- Use progressive summarization to identify different layers of detail, from big picture to specific themes.
- Add value (such as a section title or highlight) each time you interact with a note, distilling over time.
E: Express your ideas
The final part of CODE is actually using the information you’ve captured, organized, and distilled. Instead of consuming passively, create actively by using and sharing your work. Forte suggests creating small, recyclable pieces of a project (the first and most actionable unit of organization) called “intermediate packets,” such as meeting notes or a list of action items. Ultimately, everything is iterative; nothing is final.