Why A Personal Archive Is NOT A Notebook, A Personal Journal, Or A Second Brain

A personal archive is a place where our completed thoughts live. 

Archiving is the practice of completing thoughts. 

Thoughts are simply our reflections and responses to the library of stuff other people are pumping out into the world, in every medium – from Instagram music choices to investment manager commentaries, from grocery store talks to gross stories on TikTok, and from ancient religious textbooks to amazing grandparent texts. 

Everything is content. But,

There’s so much noise. 

Slowing down to even complete one thought is a major accomplishment. We can acknowledge this. We have to. And effort f-ing hurts.*

If you can complete one thought, you can complete two thoughts. If you’re willing to store them in a singular place, if you’re willing to make your thoughts even the slightest bit searchable and sharable, you’ve already done it. Because it only takes two thoughts in one searchable, sharable place to have a personal archive.  

While there are ton of similar concepts out in the world, at a high level – a personal archive is its own beast. 

Notes are how we capture information. They can capture exact quotes and stats or the more colorful essences of our observations. They don’t require any reflection, although they are always a starting point to having one. Note taking is a part of the archiving process, but not the archive itself (even in a notebook, notepad, or whatever – this is the raw/uncut stuff).  

Personal journals are great too. They’re like notes, but with the added act of reflecting. Since personal journals may or may not have search capabilities, and rarely are intended to ever be sharable, they exist adjacently (and appropriately) to any archival space.

Second brains are fascinating. Using Tiago Forte’s excellent book and definition(s), second brains include notes, journals, public and private,, and yes – archives. But their entire point is to harness ALL of this stuff in a searchable way. Only the completed or cold-stored ideas go into a second brain’s archive. So while a second brain may include a personal archive, it’s a lot broader (in purpose, practice, and use!).** 

Personal archiving is the act of receiving inputs from the world, reflecting on our feelings, emotional responses, and behaviors to those inputs, and recording our reflections. 

Once recorded, we take the time to respond. We complete the thought. Judgements optional. But we sit down separately with the intention to close a single loop. And that thought gets batched out to become an archival entry.

A note, with a personal reflection, becomes a completed thought – entered on a searchable and sharable shelf. 

The habit of regularly completing thoughts and storing them in a searchable and sharable way is also a reminder of how nuanced our thinking can be. 

If we see the nuance in ourselves, it’s easier to see it in others. It’s like an empathy antenna. When curiosity and creativity are part of our habits, we don’t just always have something to talk about – we have an infinite number of things to listen for. 

When two (or more) complex people can have a thoughtfully complicated conversation, the world can change. Or, perhaps more realistically, when complex people can thoughtfully communicate about complicated issues, the world doesn’t need to change, because we can accept the world we share as it is. We can choose to take action from there, but first we have to feel.

A personal archive is bigger than notes, more important than only writing in a personal journal, and a conveniently focused sub-section of a second brain. These are all complimentary. Which is important in a world that doesn’t hand out many compliments.  

Complete a thought. Make it searchable and sharable. Start a conversation. 

If that’s not the entire ethos of cultish creative, I don’t know what is. 

You should start a personal archive too. Start here. Let me know if I can help.

*put that on your novelty coffee mug and drink from it

**My friend Bill Seitz has been doing this since before you ever heard of a second brain. He has a wiki-based model and tool you can check out at FluxGarden ( https://flux.garden/ )

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