An exocortex is an external brain extension. The main distinction between the external brain and the actual brain when using something as an “Exocortex” is that the real brain is for having ideas, while the external brain is for storing ideas.

A second brain is not only for keeping track of ideas though - that would be personal knowledge/information management - it is for storing anything that you would have to remember. I personally put any dates and meetings into a calendar, which is part of my second brain. A second brain does not have to consist of only one tool - if I use a different calendar app than the app I take notes with, together they can still form my exocortex.

The ultimate goal of the exocortex is to allow for easier creative output.

This concept was brought to me by research on org-roam and Zettelkasten-style note-taking.

My current implementation of an Exocortex is org-mode and for knowledge-base things Org Roam specifically.

1 Reasons to maintain an Exocortex

1.2 Idea Recycling

Ideas can be used more than once, and depending on the context and the project they are applied to, they will come out differently. This is the reason all ideas should be captured in the second brain, to be re-used when appropriate.

1.3 Slow Burns

A lot of projects can be started at the same time, all being worked on simply by existing and having ideas and knowledge “attached” (linked) to them while the second brain is maintained.

The assumed projects are creative projects like books, videos and articles.

1.4 Starting with Abundance

When starting with a new project, like for example writing a book, if we don’t maintain a second brain we start with a blank page. That is a daunting situation to be in. If we instead have a second brain with a personal knowledge management in-place, we have all of those ideas and all of that information right at our disposal. Instead of starting with a blank page, we start with an abundance of knowledge, ideas and information.

1.5 Intermediate Packets

An exocortex contains a lot of “blocks” of information and ideas. These blocks can be slotted into a lot of projects, whether it be videos, tweets, books or blog-articles.

2 How to maintain an Exocortex

2.1 The Capture Habit

Since the exocortex is the place to store information and ideas, while the actual brain is for having new ideas, everything that should be retained (which is as much as possible) should immediately be captured. Otherwise it might be forgotten.

2.2 Projects over Categories

Instead of putting newfound ideas and knowledge into categories like “project management”, “motivation” or “software engineering”, they should instead be linked to a project where they can be applied to right now. This ensures that whatever is put into the exocortex actually gets some use out of it, instead of it just being a dump of interesting information that will never be looked at again.

2.3 You only know what you make

To truly understand something, you have to apply it yourself. Therefore, anything that is captured in the second brain should be created yourself. Instead of just copy-pasting quotes, summaries, videos or images from the internet into the second brain, write your own notes and summaries, or create your own illustrations for the things you put into it. This makes sure that whatever you put in you actually understand, and it tailors the content to yourself.

2.4 Make it easier for your future self

When making notes always assume little knowledge of the context, so your future self actually gets value from the exocortex. The maintainance of your exocortex is not the reason to have one, it is to serve your future self. However, while you might know a lot about a certain topic right now, always assume that your future self does not. It is better to write down too much information than it is to write down too little. It’s also the reason I am writing full sentences instead of writing short and possilbly non-understandable bullet-points.

2.5 Keep your ideas moving

A second brain is only useful if it is used. It is not only a place to store information, but also a place to retrieve the information from and apply it in different contexts. You want to create things with your second brain and draw new connections between concepts and ideas.

3 Sources

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