What Apps I Use to Build my Second Brain
Notion: My Life OS
As far as flexibility and personalization, Notion takes the cake. Unlike Evernote, each page in Notion is composed of blocks — blocks that can be uniquely shaped and created to do exactly what you want them to do.
Want a bullet point? Add a block. Need a checkbox? Add a block. Want to make an H1 heading? You guessed it, another block.
Everything in my Notion revolves around my Life Dashboard. The dashboard is a compilation of linked pages for different areas of my life such as my Youtube channel, my weekly Newsletter, and freelance video editing.
Along with my life silos, I have pages created for projects that I’m working on, a master database for all the books I’m either currently reading or have read, and a master goals page.
I use my dashboard as a landing page for my life. Whenever I need to access some notes, figure out what video to make, or blog post to write next, I navigate to my dashboard and begin cranking out work like a productivity grease monkey.
In the words of Ness Labs founder, Anne-Laure, Notion is my Architect app. It helps me plan, structure, and organize my life.
Obsidian on the other hand is a lot less structured and is free-flowing notes or ideas.
Obsidian/Roam: Live Notes & Ideas
Obsidian/Roam is the holding tank for all my notes on articles, books, podcasts, and ideas. Obsidian/Roam’s structure, or lack thereof, makes it easy to link notes together manually or automatically with the backlink functionality.
A typical article will have anywhere from 5 to 30 backlinks, depending on its length. I backlink most nouns such as companies, names, and key terms. Doing so adds a unique function that most note-taking apps can’t give — serendipity. Let me explain.
If I’m taking notes on an article written by David Perell that mentions the key terms Gardner, Librarian, and Architect, I will most likely backlink each of those. When I click into each key terms page and show backlinks, I see the reference that David Perell made to it. However, because I took notes on that exact topic on a different article from Ness Labs, those notes will show there as well.
I now have two different sources talking about the same topic in my personal wiki. From here, I can read both articles and synthesize, or try and create my own take on the Gardner, Architect, Librarian philosophy. This doesn’t typically happen in rigid note-taking apps such as Evernote or OneNote unless you manually think, “Ah, these two terms are related.”
Evernote: Set it and Forget it
Evernote, or as I like to call it, ‘Ol Reliable.
Evernote has been around a long time, and, along with Word, Evernote made massive waves in the Personal Knowledge/Information Management field. Founded in 2004, it was one of the first companies to adopt smartphone operating procedures. Within a few years, Evernote was seeing incredible success and most thought they were headed toward a great IPO.
Because it has been around so long, people depend on Evernote to store a plethora of information, which it does quite well. However, the hierarchical structure of Evernote makes it hard to manipulate notes like in Obsidian. Additionally, its rigid format doesn’t allow for the same degree of personalization as Notion.
Although I use both Obsidian and Notion already, I do use Evernote as well. Evernote has insanely accurate Optical Character Recognition (OCR for short), which makes it a great tool to store important documents or receipts.
OCR means Evernote can search the actual text on a PDF or JPEG, instead of just searching the text that was written in the program like Notion or Obsidian do. This makes it invaluable to store documents for my house, receipts you might not want to throw away, or handbooks you want to get out of storage; this is exactly what I use Evernote for.
When you signing up, Evernote creates a custom email for each user. When emails or attachments are sent to this email, they automatically appear in the Inbox section of Evernote. From there, you can drag and drop the file to the appropriate folder. This has been game-changing in regards to getting all my important docs saved because I can easily snap a photo on my phone, use the text expander feature on IOS to get my Evernote email address, and it’s on its way.
Thomas Edison would lose his mind if he had these features when inventing that lightbulb.
The best feature in any task manager is quick capture. Think, “quick capture is queen”. That’s why I use Things3.
Things3: Basically Wizardry
Things3 is an incredible task manager. Its quick capture feature, its automatic imports from reminders, its ability to add different projects and areas, and its inbox/today view blow any other task manager out of the water.
I use Things3 as a quick capture tool when I’m at my desk or anywhere else on my laptop. If I come across an article I want to read, a video I want to watch, or a company I want to research, instead of doing that in the moment and ruining the flow of work, I add a new task to my inbox.
By simply pressing CTRL + SPACE, a small window in the center of the screen appears. Things3 automatically captures the URL of the current tab I’m on and places that in the notes. Then, I type in one of my many action verbs such as watch:, read:, or look up:, and describe what it is, then press enter.
I use keyboard shortcuts for my action verbs because it helps speed up the process when I batch process them all in my inbox. Here are a few that I use:
- /wr = write:
- /em = email:
- /rd = read:
- /rv: review
If used properly, the native reminders app can be an incredible quick capture tool when on the go. I use my reminders to remind me of absolutely anything and everything I have an idea for or want to do at my desk sometime later.
Sometimes, they’re actual reminders such as, “Remind me to call Belen and schedule a haircut.” Or, they can be less actionable such as, “10,000-hour rule is true, but what can 100 hours make you.” Seems pretty cryptic, but let me explain.
Whenever I’m listening to a podcast that has an interesting idea that could make a good blog post, I tap the Siri button in my car and say, “Add to my reminders the 10,000-hour rule is true, but so is the 100-hour rule blog post idea.”
Instead of having to text and drive or hold onto that thought until I get to my destination, using Siri to add stuff to my reminders like that has been revolutionary. I now know when I get back to my desk, that reminder will be waiting for me in my inbox of my task manager. From there, I can open up Notion and create a new page in my Master Blog Post table for that idea.
If I’m listening to the My First Million podcast and they mention an interesting company I want to research later, I do the same thing. I simply tap the Siri button and say, “Remind me to look up tempo.fit.”
If I’m not in my car, say I’m walking around the grocery store, I’ve optimized my widget section on my iPhone to quickly add new things to my reminders. I made a video on how I did that, so I won’t write about it here. To watch, click here.