The feeling of learning something new in a book is wonderful. In my experience, there is one better feeling; finding something you knew but didn’t have the words to explain until you found them in a book. I guess it’s the combination of validation and a way to express the method, idea or technology to other people. I recently had the pleasure of going through this feeling while reading Tiago Forte’s book Building a Second Brain. The book is all about using journaling, which we have covered extensively here, to improve your mental performance.

The CODE Framework

The idea that is central to the book is the CODE Framework for learning things. This is the idea that gave me the aforementioned feeling of finding the perfect words to express something that I already know but couldn’t express. It’s a method I discovered through combining all the wisdom on planning, journaling and goal setting from various sources and was happy to find in one place in Forte’s book. CODE is an acronym for Capture, Organise, Distill and Express. Let’s go through each step in the CODE Framework and how to use it in our daily lives.


The best way to look at this is as Forte puts it, that our brains are made for processing information and not really for remembering it. I’m sure many would agree. Your brain is good for remembering things but remembering lyrics to that popular song you don’t even like better than your birth certificate number is all the proof you need. Relying on your brain to recall all the things you come across has a low success rate. So when you come across something you think is important or you want to look up later you should probably note it down. You can choose a digital or paper journal system, whichever works best for you. The important thing is capturing information. One thing if this is going to be your first time doing this, in the beginning, you may feel like you’re noting down too much. That’s alright. In the early stages, a lot is new to you and will interest you. As you learn more and hopefully narrow your focus you will be more discerning. Capturing information is great but how do you use it?


Here a lot will depend on what you want to do. I’ve used journalling for many things including business ideas, books, articles, research and a lot more. Organising the information you have captured into its “use cases” will prepare you for the next step. This is where digital journaling has advantages for me. For example, I could capture notes on things I have found interesting in a day. This capture list can include tweets, youtube videos, articles, audio clips, a quote I heard or saw and many other sources. Firstly digital notebooks can store multimedia and hold many types of content. Secondly, I can easily move things around. Some people like to organise things based on where they found them, this is good. I have found it better to organise based on purpose or where you will use it. So if it’s for a business idea you’re researching have a notebook for only that. Organising helps you to distil information properly so we should skip to that now.


Distil here means to reduce something to what we need from it or extract what we find valuable. And that’s what we do here. So when you have a book on your list because someone recommended it don’t just go through the book, write notes from the book. Every lesson from the book. Depending on how familiar you are with the subject you may have a short or long list. The point is you have a list of lessons from the source. One way to get the most out of this list is to also jot down an example of when you have noticed that idea working in the past.


Finally, we express. There is a great debate that comes up every so often about reading too many books without applying what we learn from them. While not all books are created equal there is no point in reading a book if you’re not going to apply what you learn from it. At least the good ones.  That application is expression. It’s using the lessons in preferably low-pressure situations so you get the hang of them. The sooner and more often you do this the better the chances of the idea sticking. And yes, this goes in your journal too.

The CODE Framework is an incredibly effective way of learning things and I recommend reading the book to get a full understanding of it.