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Building a Second Brain in Microsoft 365 — An introduction

Building a Second Brain in Microsoft 365 — An introduction

This blog article is also published on LinkedIn.

Imagine that you had a second brain outside your body that could think for you. That would quietly work in the background, helping you preserve your precious attention and energy for your most important commitments.

It’s now entirely possible to achieve.

In my article I go through the purpose of such a second brain and give an introduction to how to build one for yourself in Microsoft 365.


The idea of having a Second Brain has caught on among knowledge workers the past years, in particular in the US. Through his book “Building a Second Brain” Tiago Forte has helped many to understand the value of building a second brain for organizing one’s digital life and to unlock one’s creative potential.

In short, having a Second Brain amounts to using information technology to allow your First Brain to function at its best. Another way to put it is that it’s a system for personal information management that exists outside of your own head. 

Of course, the idea of externalizing one’s information is nothing new for us humans, as our brains have not evolved around the need to store and retrieve abstract knowledge. An example of that is the practice of commonplace books that has been used widely in human history. And you have probably tried out a lot of ways yourself for storing your information externally (post-it:s, notebooks, etc.).

With modern IT tools and information being in digital format, there’s a great opportunity to not only capture, store and organize the information, but also have it come back to you when it’s a good time for you to act on it. Having a digital Second Brain would allow you to:  

  1. Save time and energy
  2. Expand your memory and your intellect 
  3. Improve your creative output 
  4. Have a more relaxed and balanced First Brain 
  5. Become more action-based with your knowledge 
  6. More reliable on fulfilling on your commitments 
  7. Reduce your feelings of information overload 

You might think “How would it even be possible to gain so much value from a Second Brain?” 

Well, the answer lies in the conditions for knowledge workers in today’s world. As knowledge workers we use information to produce our output (such as presentations, social media posts, emails, reports, as well as larger output like movies, books, courses, etc).  

Our brains, not having evolved for managing digital information, are put under a lot of strain to keep on delivering quality output (that will have the desired effect of creating trust and confidence, make sales, etc). If the brain at the same has been assigned to keep track of deadlines and task due dates, recall information that you’ve received in the past, etc. there’s a risk that it won’t that easily find access to the required creativity and authenticity.

Imagine now having a Second Brain that would be dedicated to keep track of our information, and serve it to us at the right time so we could take action much more frictionlessly. This would open up a lot of opportunities for us, and explains the potential benefits above.

A Second Brain in Microsoft 365

Let’s now take a look at a potential Second Brain in Microsoft 365. I have included 5 of the most used apps for building Second Brains in Microsoft 365.

NB. The images of each app is taken from the app menu of Microsoft 365 (that you reach by clicking on the app launch on the top left at www.office.com).

1. A note app  

A note app is where you would store and work with the unstructured information that you’ve captured. Tiago Forte’s method CODE (Capture, Organize, Distil and Express) is very useful for working with your notes. A main idea of using a note app is to instead of starting from scratch each time you need to produce an output, you are able to start with your own curated knowledge bank. In Microsoft 365, the note app is called OneNote.

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2. A task app 

A task app is a vital part of your Second Brain, as it keeps track of the what, when and why of the tasks you have deemed important to perform. In that way, your brain can relax and focus on being present, go into deep work, access your creative energy. The personal task app in Microsoft 365 is called To Do.

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3. A list app 

A list app allows you to manage your information structured in rows and columns (similar to Excel). It’s a great tool to use when you have information that adheres to the same logic and has actions attached to them in the future (e.g. contacts to follow up on, event itineraries to follow, assets to manage, content to publish, expenses to track, etc.). A great benefit of a list app is that you quite easily can automate what should happen with the data and when, and have yourself notified (e.g. notify me when its time to review an asset, to publish a piece of content, follow up with a contact, etc.). The list app in Microsoft 365 is called Microsoft Lists

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4. A document app 

A document app allows you to manage your documents and files, and access them from wherever you are. You can, for instance, keep a folder for images and illustrations that you have found inspirational and that you can access when you will have to create some output in the future. The document app in Microsoft 365 is called OneDrive.

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5. An automation app 

An automation app will allow you to automate the information flow between different sources and apps, based on certain criteria. The purpose of automating information flows and actions is for saving time and energy, and achieving consistency and structure. The automation app in Microsoft 365 is called Power Automate.

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Concluding remarks 

The advantages of having a Second Brain that can support your work as a knowledge worker are astounding. And as a platform for building a Second Brain, Microsoft 365 has a lot of tools to offer the individual knowledge worker (it is not only for collaboration and communication with others).

The process of building a Second Brain in Microsoft 365 may seem daunting. My advice would be to start small and make improvements and amendments as your system expands. Trust that your efforts will be well worth it, and your future self will thank you!

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