09 February 2021

Building a second brain with networked note-taking

We’ve all been there. You got hundreds of notes that you’ve been pilling up for years in a disjointed array of apps and tools. Some of you probably use Microsoft Word or Pages to capture your thoughts. I understand, ability to organize documents within your own filesystem is liberating. Unfortunately, such approach breaks as your collection grows. Sooner or later you inevitably loose sense of where is what. Furthermore, it doesn’t allow you to see the connection between all those great ideas you had over the years.

Over the past ten years I’ve tried dozens of tools, services, and workflows for personal knowledge management. Apps for note taking, read-it-later, todos, project management, personal knowledge management and personal databases in general. Evernote, Bear, Ulysses, Notion, Pocket, Goodreads, Trello, Things, Airtable, Zapier — you name it, I’ve probably tried it.

You know that feeling when you want to create a new note and you get stuck trying to figure out where to put it? Digital tools conditioned us too perceive this top-down hierarchical approach as the only way to organize information in our virtual workspaces.

I’d like to share with you a better, more organic approach to capturing and managing your ideas. A method that is more aligned with how our minds work.


Your brain is great at connecting ideas but not so much at remembering.

Not reling on your erratic and notoriously unreliable memory to recall information.

Create a system that allows you to forget without worrying that you won’t find something later.

Take a bottom-up approach, rather than

Prioritizing capture over organization. If it’s truly important your system will surface it.

It’s a system that gets out of your way to let you stay in a flow state.

From Zettelkasten to Second Brain

WHAT IS Zettelkasten


Smart note-taking approach

Emergent structure

bottom up approach

Daily notes

minimaze friction don’t burden your already overloaded decision-making capacity

just dump it and try to use tags to leave informational breadcrumbs for yourself later

Similar to how bullet journal deals with information overload.

Write for output

This one is optional but extremely helpful if you want to share your ideas with others.

When you write use full sentences and with end-reader in mind.

When you write a piece later, you can just

Tools for networked note-taking

Built around

  • referencing
  • backlinks
  • bottom up approach

Roam Research



Athens — an open-source, local-first alternative to Roam. Seems to have active and highly motivated community. Currently in closed beta with a waitlist.

Logseq — a free open-source clone of Roam. Uses local file-system to store data so it’s suitable for privacy-conscious people. Haven’t used it myself. Seems worth a try if you want a Roam-like experience without paying.

Notion — not a networked-thought tool per se, but I’ve decide to include it because they recently added backlinks and it plays well in tandem with the other apps. Notion is great for structured personal databases of things like books, movies. Also, it’s easy to create good looking pages and share them with others privately or publicly. Many companies use to public documentation and I’ve seen people use it as substitute for a personal website.

Supporting tools

  • Readwise
  • Hypothes.is
  • Annotate.tv
  • Instapaper or Pocket

Additional references

People to follow

  • Andy Matuschak
  • Tiago Forte — an almost cult-like persona and a prominent figure in the Second Brain movement. l has some powerful ideas around organizing your knowledge around projects and goals. Note that attitude and style of presentation might not be for everyone, but his
  • Connor Sullivan — founder of Roam

Concepts to explore

  • Second Brain
  • Zettelkasten
  • Evergreen notes

Closing remarks

I hope this article will help you get a better grasp on your fleeting knowledge.

And with the mighty Internet blasting more and more content at us every year…

I’ve been experimenting with this approach for a little over a year. There are periods when I don’t write any notes and times when I write thousands of words per day.

There is no right or wrong way to do this. Use whatever works for you. The ultimate goal is to establish a more purposeful relationship with information we encounter on daily basis.

Given how crazy and

Written, designed and developed by Ilja Panić