My Second Brain in Notion (Alternative to PARA)

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S

econd brain is a digital extension of your biological brain. Tools like Notion, Obsidian and Roam Research made it possible to create modern implementations of the second brain concept.

However, it's an early implementation. In future, devices like neurolink can become the more advanced versions of the second brain. These devices would be able to connect to an external source of information, such as Wikipedia or your files, retrieve information and make it ready for you to use.

Today, the most popular implementation of a second brain is the PARA system. Thiago Forte is the author who also popularized the concept of a second brain in the recent years.

The idea is to store information that our brain is not so good at remembering digitally. Biological brain is good at creating patterns, connecting dots, thinking critically. A digital storage is good at storing information, but not at using it in novel ways. Thus, we take the best of both worlds by storing massing amounts of information digitally and using our biological brain for creative processes.

I liked the idea so much that a year ago I've created a system that helps me to collect and organize different information and use it whenever I need it.

What I don't agree with is the implementation of the second brain with PARA system. It feels redundant and inefficient. Knowledge management is an effortful task and the implementation, therefore, should be as easy and efficient as possible.

Today, I am going to explain how I think PARA system can be improved and share the template for you to try out. We'll first start with a brief overview of PARA. Next, I'll explain what would I change and improve. And finally, I'll share my second brain system that proved to be more productive and straightforward for me. You can find the link to the second brain template at the end of the article.

## How PARA system works

PARA system is divided into 4 parts: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives.

`Projects` are defined as several tasks that have a common goal. It's somewhat similar to projects in GTD. Examples: a course, a blog, a side project.

`Areas` are spheres of knowledge that have to be maintained over time. They don't have an end, unless you are not interested in that particular area anymore. Examples: health and self-development.

`Resources` are topics that interest you. Examples: habit building, project management, marketing, architecture. It's very similar to areas.

`Archives` are items from the other 3 categories that are either inactive or you are not interested in anymore.

You can read [this article](https://fortelabs.co/blog/para/) where Forte Labs goes into great detail about how their system works. Here, I'll try to explain how it can be improved and show the resulting system.

## The downsides of PARA system

First things first, `Areas` **and** `Resources` **are in essence one thing**. I don't see a difference between habit building, which is a resource according to PARA, and hobbies, which is an area. Both are topics of knowledge that can co-exist in one database. There's no need in separating them. The difference is so small, if there's any, that it's not worth dividing them into two. Simpler → better.

Side note. Throughout this blog post you'll see me strive for simplicity. For many people, personal knowledge management seems complicated and demanding. That's why I try to make my systems as simple and efficient as possible.

Next, having `Archives` **as a separate entity seems redundant** as well. Why would I move a project that is full of valuable knowledge to an archive? Wouldn't it be more useful to group together completed projects and the related page in the knowledge db together?

Let's say I have a `Programming` page in my knowledge database and `The Odin Project` course page in my projects database. According to PARA, once I finish the course, I should move it to archives. I still have an interest in programming, so my programming page is still active, but the course with all the notes, assignments and info is archived. Later, when I need to refer to that project I have to go to archives and find it there. **The knowledge from** `Areas` **and** `Archives` **in PARA system is stored in separate places**.

Don't you agree that it's not that convenient? Wouldn't it be more efficient to store completed projects with the related area so that it's one piece of knowledge? You kill two birds with one stone: group the knowledge and simplify the system.

Archiving is useful, don't get me wrong. But in my system it is just a property that can be assigned to any entry. I archive projects or tasks that didn't start, finish, or don't hold value. I do it to keep the history of my ideas and projects. There is little to learn from those items, but it's still important to keep the history. I just assign an archive tag and filter those items out.

Lastly, I think **it lacks the last part that adds granularity and flexibility to the system: task management**. A GTD system works really well not only with tasks, but also with a personal management system. You can add notes, inputs, and ideas in the inbox and then later move it to the related page. Very flexible and convenient.

You can even use it as your note-taking system. Make topics for your notes in the knowledge database and add notes throughout the day to your inbox with an assigned topic. My topics include psychology, relationship, and personal notes.

To summarize, PARA system can be simplified to make building the second brain more productive. In addition, it would benefit from a task management process. Quick capture is important. It should be fast and efficient.

With all the above mentioned points, let's see how the system for my second brain works.

## My second brain's structure and the system behind it

To recap, a second brain has to be simple and efficient in both capturing the information and retrieving it. Whenever I come up with an idea, I write it down in my inbox. Whenever I learn something new, I try to capture it. Whenever I need something, I know where it find it.

A diagram showing how secon brain works with 3 components: knowledge database, projects and tasks.
Second brain system in Notion.

Here's are the parts of my second brain.

1. **Knowledge database.** The main piece of the system. Contains all the knowledge you input.  Includes areas, interests, topics, books, films, resources, notes, and what's not. It is a database where your knowledge is grouped by theme. Inside you can make horizontal links between areas and topics.

2. **Projects** are a part of my productivity system and they fit really well with my goals and my knowledge database. I try to first relate every project to a topic in my knowledge db. This framework helps to gain new knowledge. Ask yourself what you can learn that is worth your knowledge database. When I finish my projects, I move them to relevant pages in my knowledge db so that I can **find and refer to them** later. A business project goes to the business page, and etc.

3. **Tasks.** Same as projects, they are part of my life os. I mostly assign tasks to projects, but when I need, I can assign one to a knowledge db entry.

So you can call it KPT 🤓. Or whatever you want.

###### Here's the link to my [second brain template in Notion](https://maray.gumroad.com/l/second-brain).

Let me know what you think about it. Does it work as well as it does for me? I also wrote an article about [my knowledge management system](https://www.maray.ai/posts/notion-knowledge-management-system). There I explain the huge benefits one can gain by spending a bit of time managing your knowledge and second brain. Here you can check out [my dashboards](https://www.maray.ai/posts/notion-dashboards) and how I use them.

Also, check out [my life OS in Notion](https://www.maray.ai/posts/life-operating-system) that also weaves goals, habits, task management, knowledge management, ideas, and journaling into one coherent productivity system.

## Final thoughts

A second brain that augments your biological brain and stores information digitally is a pretty cool concept. Notion and other similar tools made the concept feasible. The only thing that I lacked was a simple and efficient system for capturing, organizing and retrieving information.

I hope you'll find my findings helpful. Until next time!

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