An AI Answers Second Brain Questions

Every day we heard of a new use for AI. Whether it is to assist with travel planning, exercise routines, or writing resumes, the applications seem without end. In prior postings I shared experiments with the most famous AI on the block right now, ChatGPT. However, it is not the only one out there. In fact, people are feeding content into other AIs as a way to help the system learn and grow.

An example I came across recently was from Tiago Forte. He took an AI and feed it the contents of his book, Building a Second Brain. Next, he set up a simple interface to allow users to ask the AI questions about the book.

Here’s what happened when the AI is asked the sample question, What is Building a Second Brain about?

Answer: Building a Second Brain is about how to use technology to revolutionize personal effectiveness. It provides a system for organizing information holistically, for any project or goal, and for easily and generously sharing it with others.

To test it further, I asked it to define PARA.

Answer: PARA is a productivity system developed by Tiago Forte that helps knowledge workers organize their work and resources into four categories: Projects, Areas, Resources, and Archives. It is designed to help users quickly access the information they need and keep their workspace uncluttered.

Finally, I decided to ask it a more challenging question: What is the best way to save video content in a Second Brain?

Answer: The best way to save video content in a Second Brain is to take notes while watching the video, distilling the key points and ideas into concise summaries. This will make it easier to quickly rediscover the information in the future. Additionally, it is important to store the video in an easily accessible format, such as a bookmark or link.

Overall, I found these responses to be on point. However, maybe you can ask it a question about Building a Second Brain that will stump it. To try for yourself by jumping over to the AI website.

Tidying Odd Spaces

This weekend I got into the tidying zone. The target was my home and office work desks. Paperwork and other items had gotten out of control and required dedicated attention to resolve. The cleanup also included the desk drawers, which contained all sorts of strange items.

Marie Kondo has through a lot about how to tidy up odd spaces in the house. On her website, she shares tips on how to get those spaces under control. One of the most important steps to clean a drawer or closet is to take everything out.

Taking everything out of junk drawers and other komono hot spots and laying it out provides a fresh view of all the contents. You may find something that was once missing or something you forgot you owned. It is an opportunity for re-acquainting yourself with the objects that live with you and recognizing those that spark joy and those that don’t.

The rationale for this is simple; it takes just as much energy to put the item back in the original spot as it would to simply toss it or place it in a more appropriate location. However, that leads to the question of how to organize these miscellaneous items so that they remain functional and not lost in an out of the way space. Marie’s approach is to compartmentalize.

Komono is hard to contain when not carefully thought through. Organize the contents of a komono drawer by category. When you open it to reach for your scissors or letter opener, have those sharp items live together. Matches and lighters can live together as fire-starters. Grocery list paper and your favorite pencil should be neighbors.

Small items that live in these kinds of komono drawers tend to jostle around every time the drawer is open and closed. Junk drawer organizers and small compartments within help keep like-with-like and protect the drawer from becoming jumbled again.

Review all the steps to tidying odd spaces on the Konmari website.

Every Choice is Fatiguing

What if choices are actually traps?

We tend to want more choices in our life. The general feeling is that more options are better. However, this may only be true to a certain point. After that point, the exhaustion of too many choices may lead us to stop making any! This is known as decision fatigue. It is defined in Healthline as:

Coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices.

“When humans are overstressed, we become hasty or shut down altogether, and that stress plays a huge role in our behaviors,” says Tonya Hansel, PhD, director of the Doctorate of Social Work at Tulane University.

In other words, when your mental energy begins running low, you’re less able to override basic desires and more likely to go for whatever’s easiest.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

According to the article, decision fatigue can lead to these types of outcomes:

*Procrastination. “I’ll tackle this later.”
*Impulsivity. “Eeny, meeny, miny, moe…”
*Avoidance. “I can’t deal with this right now.”
*Indecision. “When in doubt, I just say ‘no.’”

To learn more about decision fatigue and how to avoid it, read the rest of the Healthline article.

Team Knowledge Management

What is the best way to share knowledge within an organization?

Most organizations have never thought about this problem. Those that have often use solutions such as virtual discussion forums or open office spaces that they hope will naturally bring people together. However, these attempts seem to rarely create the sharing synergy needed to move the organization forward. What can be done about this?

Tiago Forte has studied this challenge and believes his PARA system can be used to address it. In a recent posting on the Forte Labs website, he shares that a bottom-up approach is more likely to succeed.

All of this leads to my conclusion that modern organizations need to take a “bottom-up” approach to knowledge management instead of a top-down one. It can’t be about “extracting” knowledge from their people; it has to be about empowering them to do their absolute best work.

He then shares five recommendations on how to create this team knowledge management environment. The first step is getting clear on the organization’s flavor of PARA.

Even if you’ve decided you’re going to follow my advice to the letter, there is always a “flavor” of PARA that makes sense for your culture. This can include decisions such as:

  • What is our definition of a “project,” “area of responsibility,” “resource” and “archive”?
  • What needs to happen when we kick off a new project for it to be considered “active”?
  • What needs to happen when a project gets completed, put on hold, or canceled (for it to be considered “inactive”)?
  • Who is responsible for maintaining the standard for each shared area of responsibility?
  • What are the officially supported platforms on which PARA will be used?
  • What are the strict rules, softer “rules of thumb,” dos and don’ts, and cultural norms that govern how people will use PARA?
  • Who will be the “PARA Champion” who oversees its implementation and makes sure the guidelines are being followed?

Learn the other four recommendations at the Forte Labs website.

Choosing What To Do

It’s Monday morning – how are you going to start your week? What is the most useful task to get done first? How will you ensure the most important parts of your upcoming projects will be done? Also, how will you ensure that nothing is missed along the way?

Following the core concepts of GTD can help anyone prioritize their day. In a recent blog post, the folks at Getting Things Done shared the five fundamental steps to successful workflow. They also took time to explain the limiting factors affecting the abilty to engage. Below is an excerpt from their article.

The five steps of GTD workflow are Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect, and Engage. When it’s time to Engage, people often ask how to choose from what may be long lists of tasks to do. That’s when it’s helpful to use the criteria for choosing:

Context – What place, tool, or person will the action require? This is the first limitation for choosing–it has to be. If you’re not in the right place, don’t have the right tool, or access to the required person, you can’t take the action.

Time available – How much time do you have to take the action? If you have 20 minutes, only consider actions that you think will take less than 20 minutes.

Resources – What is your energy like to take the action? Have you been in back-to-back meetings all day and you’re tired? Or are you just finishing your morning coffee and feeling alert and enthusiastic? You’re probably already considering this more than you realize when you choose what to do.

Priorities – What’s the most important one to choose based on your roles, goals, long-term strategy, and purpose?

Read the whole post and learn more about how the Horizons of Focus can be a great guide to engage effectively.

How to Get to Inbox Zero

Text of a talk given at the PLA 2022 National Conference on the “How To” Stage.

How many emails do you have in your inbox right now, read or unread? 

In my informal polling, most people have anywhere from dozens to hundreds or even thousands of messages. Keep in mind that a 2019 study by DMR estimated that the average person received 121 emails a day. Without a fast and efficient system to dispatch these messages, inbox backlog will slow down work and increases stress. While one could declare email bankruptcy by deleting the entire contents of the inbox, this is hardly practical. Instead, with the application of a few simple best practices the stress of email management can be vanquished.

Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on

David Allen, author of the bestselling book, Getting Things Done, has thought deeply about workflow. He developed a system of best practices that revolve around managing workflow in an efficient manner. This approach can be used by any level of knowledge worker. It starts with a basic premise, so please repeat after me:

My inbox is not a storage location. It is a processing station.

Learn more by reading the rest in the articles section of this website.

The PARA Method – Projects and Areas

Before you read further, please take a few moments to either grab, or write out, your current list of projects. Don’t worry, I’ll wait …

Very good – now look down the list. Do you see broad subjects like Hiring, Strategic Plan, Scheduling, or Direct Reports? If so, you don’t have a project list, you have an area list. Don’t understand the difference? In a recent post on his blog, Tiago Forte shares his PARA method of organization, in which he spends time discussing the difference between and area and a project.

You have projects you’re actively working on – short-term efforts (in your work or personal life) that you take on with a certain goal in mind.

You have areas of responsibility – important parts of your work and life that require ongoing attention. 

In short, projects are finite, with a beginning, middle, and end. Areas are ongoing. So long as you are responsible for them, they never end.

This means when we organize our work, especially in a digital environment, Tiago recommends using the PARA Method. We just learned what the first two letters in the acronym mean. Here are the explanations for the remaining two letters.

Then you have resources on a range of topics you’re interested in and learning about.

Finally, you have archives, which include anything from the previous three categories that is no longer active, but you might want to save for future reference.

This simple formatting system allows people to organize their work landscape. In fact, the order of the letters in PARA are an indication of how Tiago views the primary driver of work – our projects.

Instead of organizing information according to broad subjects like in school, I advise you to organize it according to the projects and goals you are committed to right now. This is what it means to “organize by actionability,” a mantra I will return to again and again.

Read more about the PARA Method, with detailed examples, on his blog at Forte Labs.

How Managers Can Help Their Team Focus

Have you ever been on a team that lost its focus? You and your teammates may have wasted time wandering down dead ends, getting caught up arguing over trivial items, or had assumed next actions lie incomplete due to a lack of delegation? While there are many contributing factors to such failures, a good manager can make or break a team.

In an increasingly distracted world, one skill that can elevate managers is the ability to focus their team on the priorities. In a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, GTD founder David Allen and Justin Hale break down seven ways that managers can help their teams focus on work. Not surprisingly, the ideas are born out the GTD principles. This first suggestion is to inventory tasks and projects.

This is a discipline where common sense is not common practice. If your people don’t have a complete list of their commitments and projects, they can’t realistically prioritize. As a leader, hold people accountable for keeping current to-do lists and give them time each week to do a full weekly review of these commitments so they can stay in control.

Another way managers can help their employees focus is to make meetings meaningful.

Most people’s workdays are monopolized by meetings. Help employees stay focused by allowing them to decline meaningless meetings. To improve meeting efficacy, one manager we coached set a bold precedent. He said, “If someone invites you to a meeting without a clear agenda and reasons why you’re vital to the success of the meeting, you have my permission to decline it.” This manager put the onus back on the meeting creator (which was often himself) to show greater respect for others’ time. It also put employees in control of their days so they could focus on high-priority work.

Read the other five suggestions at the Harvard Business Review website.

Productivity Propaganda?

At first glance it would seem that productivity is a good thing. After all, who doesn’t want to get more done in less time? However, what happens if the push for increased productivity comes at the expense of enjoyment of life? Does it matter if you get more done if that which is being done is of little value?

Digital anthropologist and author Rahaf Harfoush recently explored this topic in a book called Hustle & Float: Reclaim Your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed With Work. In her book she explored workplace burnout and how to avoid it. Bloomberg Businessweek interviewed her during the COVID pandemic to learn more about how to balance work and life in the era or work-from-home.

This isn’t a normal time, so it shouldn’t be treated as normal work-from-home time. The lines between home and work, personal and professional, are blurred with an additional pressure to be productive since the thinking is that we all suddenly have more available time. This isn’t the case, and furthermore, working nonstop simply doesn’t work. We have turned busyness into a coping mechanism. Now, people are applying that to their personal time while sheltering at home, filling it with back-to-back Zoom calls, baking, workouts, and more activity. It’s important to use some of this time to process our emotions and reflect on the discomfort from all this productivity propaganda. Operating as usual will not only negatively affect your work but could compromise your health.

The interview ended with a warning for those who work around the clock.

If you’re a high performer and recovery isn’t an intentional and strategic part of your time and workflow, you’re only damaging your output in the long run.

Read the whole interview online.