I recently compiled all my notes, findings, and ideas about the “ideal customer” for Building a Second Brain, and put them into a single document. I’m working with my editor to narrow down and refine this customer profile from here, so I can have a crystal clear person in mind as I write the sample chapters for the book proposal.

I’m publishing it here to gather any feedback or ideas you may have about the kind of person I should be writing this book for. Hopefully it will also be useful for any creative projects you are working on that require identifying a target customer. The prompts and questions were pulled from various courses, books, and marketing exercises I’ve collected over the years.

Who are my ideal readers?

  • People who have an idea or a skill or a perspective that could make a positive difference in the world, if they only had the organizational skills to make it happen
  • People with innovative ideas and talents that cannot be fully expressed in conventional organizations, professions, or fields
  • People whose work requires patient, thoughtful cultivation of a body of knowledge over time
  • People who have diverse interests and goals, not limited to one specific discipline or area
  • People who want both material success and peace of mind, who combine analytical and intuitive, right brain and left brain ways of thinking
  • Intellectual people who enjoy thinking and learning about how they and others’ work
  • Artistic and creative people who are trying to create something new, important, or beautiful that pushes current boundaries
  • People working on or with new technologies, seeking to make them easier to use, more powerful, or accessible to more people

Who would most likely benefit from this book?

  • Busy professionals who have incredible skills, but can’t seem to get out from under the burdens of modern life
  • High-performing knowledge workers seeking new ways of leveraging their time, attention, and impact
  • Productivity enthusiasts who are always looking for new ideas, methods, and perspectives on how to work more efficiently and use their time more effectively
  • Personal growth enthusiasts who read books on self-improvement, spirituality, and philosophical topics but who also want to produce tangible results
  • Creative professionals (makers, designers, and creators) seeking structure and a process to turn their ideas into reality, but who don’t have the natural organizational inclinations to make it happen
  • Disadvantaged people who don’t have access to the best education and tools to help them reach their full potential
  • People who are successful but feel a bit alone with their intellect and creativity, who have an inkling or a certainty that there is a better way to get things done
  • Voracious readers who spend a lot of time consuming knowledge, but don’t have a way of reliably putting it to use in their lives or work
  • Self-help and non-fiction readers who are trying to solve a problem or learn something, but don’t have a way of organizing and making sense of that knowledge
  • Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and self-employed people seeking a systematic way to develop new content, products, and services
  • Researchers, scholars, and academics who need to systematically track large volumes of information while keeping track of sources and details
  • Students, teachers, and other learners who need an actionable way to intake and triage the knowledge they are acquiring
  • Developers and designers creating new technology or products, who need to track and synthesize the knowledge generated by their work
  • Writers and content creators who need a reliable pipeline to consistently turn their ideas and inspiration into new creative output (blog posts, mockups, videos, podcasts, websites, essays, etc.)
  • Content marketers seeking a dependable process for consistently producing content that impacts business metrics
  • Creators of information products (ebooks, online courses, webinars, seminars) who need a way to systematically summarize and distill their knowledge into sellable products and services
  • Artists and other creatives who need a more systematic way to manage their work in process, and stimulate new ideas and connections
  • Technology-centric workers who spend a large portion of their day consuming, saving, managing, organizing, and making use of information, and are dissatisfied with their current practices
  • Non-profit leaders and altruists who need systems for tackling important causes
  • Successful professionals who want more time and space to pursue more creative, more fulfilling passions, hobbies, or side projects while keeping their day job
  • People “with 10 million browser tabs open,” who are constantly starting new projects or pursuing new interests but rarely bringing any of them to completion, and who want to change that

What are they passionate about?

  • Changing people’s lives for the better
  • Teaching, coaching, mentoring, writing, healing, sharing, leading, cultivating, building
  • Challenging conventions and norms in service of others’ thriving
  • Uncovering the deeper layers of reality: the underlying principles, the universal patterns, the eternal truths, the counterintuitive paradoxes, the elegant simplicity of the universe
  • Discovering and experiencing the mystery of consciousness and existence
  • Gaining insight into how the world, themselves, and others work
  • Acting in the world with more power and intention to produce better results
  • Passing on their privilege and learning to others who are less fortunate
  • Leveraging technology to do more with less

What are their goals, dreams, and desires?

  • To gain freedom from obligation, routine, and things that don’t make them feel alive
  • To gain the freedom to work on what they want, travel and live where they want, spend time with whoever they want, pursue the interests they want, learn what they want
  • To discover and fulfill their true potential
  • To discover a mission or purpose worthy of their lives
  • To live and work in close community with other people who are growing and learning in their own ways
  • To make a dent in the universe – a unique and lasting impression upon the world that outlives them
  • To make the world a better place, for their audience, their clients, the less privileged, and for future generations
  • To make money and use it to live the life of their dreams
  • To become powerfully effective and achieve their wildest ambitions and goals
  • To experience as much of themselves and of life as possible
  • To make sense of their experience and knowledge and use it to positively impact the people they care about
  • To provide for the needs and wants of their families and communities
  • To make a difference in the great challenges facing our civilization, such as inequality, climate change, poverty, injustice, war, mental illness, and human suffering
  • To have it all
  • To live a life of abundance
  • To create communities of like-minded people committed to similar goals, to be able to share the joys and the sorrows of the journey with others who can understand and appreciate them
  • Relief from the frustration, stress, anxiety, and purposelessness of unsatisfying work
  • A solution to information overload and conflicting, unclear priorities
  • A clear pathway to their goals and a reliable, effective way to make progress on them
  • To be led by their intuition and desire

What is the biggest fear (or pain) your ideal reader has that’s preventing him/her from getting to the end result?

  • Stress and anxiety toward volume of information coming their way
  • Fear of failure, embarrassment, ambiguity, risk, change
  • Limiting beliefs about their abilities, their potential, their capacity for change
  • Lack of time/energy to absorb and implement new methods
  • Uncertainty around which methods to adopt, and how to implement them
  • Overwhelm around how to use technology
  • Perceptions of work as boring, obligatory, threatening, limiting
  • Outdated mental models about employment, teams, organizations, and productivit
  • Lack of self-awareness about what they really want, what really matters to them, and the impact of limiting beliefs

Potential readers’ problems in their own words

  • I want my digital notes to be organized and useful, but don’t have the time to follow rigid rules or spend hours cataloguing
  • I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume and intensity of the information coming my way every day, and feel like I can never quite get ahead
  • I’m already creative and have a good imagination, but just can’t quite get projects finished and out the door
  • I want my work to build toward a new business, career move, or side project, but don’t have the time and energy to dedicate to it
  • I’ve used Evernote (or another notes app) for a while, but never felt I was using it to its full potential
  • I don’t have time to do all the research that would help me perform at a higher level
  • I don’t feel confident in creating and showing my work to the world
  • I have so many ideas and insights, but when it comes to using them I feel stuck
  • I am doing work that requires gathering and tracking large amounts of information, and don’t know the best way to organize it
  • Every approach to organization and note-taking I’ve tried didn’t work
  • My perfectionistic tendencies make it hard to be satisfied with any organizational tool I use

Reader benefits

  1. Consistently move your projects and goals to completion by organizing and accessing your knowledge in a results-oriented way (21 votes)
  2. Transform your personal knowledge into income, taking advantage of a rapidly growing knowledge economy (21 votes)
  3. Uncover unexpected patterns and connections between ideas (15 votes)
  4. Reduce stress and “information overload” by expertly curating and managing your personal information stream (11 votes)
  5. Develop valuable expertise, specialized knowledge, and the skills to deploy it in a new job, career, or business (11 votes)
  6. Cultivate a collection of valuable knowledge and insights over time without having to follow rigid, time-consuming rules  (9 votes)
  7. Unlock the full value of the wealth of learning resources all around you, such as online courses, webinars, books, articles, forums, and podcasts (9 votes)
  8. Gain total confidence in your ability to take notes and find them when you most need them
  9. Using work and productivity as a vehicle for personal growth
  10. Doing work that is exciting, meaningful, fulfilling, and purposeful and pushes you to learn and to grow
  11. Relief from the stress and overwhelm of interruptions, distractions, and unclear priorities
  12. Focus and clarity around the direction you want to go in and how to get there
  13. Confidence in your ability to learn anything and put it to use
  14. Enjoyment of the learning process and a sense of progress from everything you consume
  15. Creating a platform to share your ideas and your work with the world, to have a positive impact on others

Who would most likely pay for this book?

  • Knowledge workers in demanding, high stress jobs
  • Scientists, doctors, lawyers, coaches, consultants, and other knowledge workers who need access to knowledge to do their daily work
  • Self-help and non-fiction readers who are trying to solve a problem or understand something by acquiring knowledge, but don’t have a way of organizing and making sense of it
  • Entrepreneurs and freelancers trying to build or run a knowledge-intensive business, but who don’t have time for extensive, detailed maintenance
  • Developers and designers creating new technology or products, who need to track and make use of knowledge generated by their work
  • Writers and content creators who need a repeatable pipeline of ideas and inspiration to consistently produce new output

Who seems most underserved on my topic?

  • Skeptics and rationalists who need evidence, data, or underlying principles to buy into something
  • Entrepreneurs, freelancers, and self-employed who are seeking skills that help them build a business, not just self-improve for its own sake
  • Spiritual and philosophical people who want to develop themselves, but can’t stand the corny sales gimmicks or hustle porn
  • Creatives and artists who want to be organized and productive, without quenching their basic freedom and inspiration to create
  • Established, successful people who need a practical path to implementation, not more reasons or motivation
  • Self-help aficionados who are searching for a practical tool but who actually need personal growth
  • Productivity geeks who have every trick in the book, but are missing the creative, intuitive, embodied, and ontological aspect of being truly effective and happy

People who need education on my topic often belong to which kinds of groups or organizations?

  • Large tech companies
  • Startups
  • Small, modern businesses
  • Creative agencies in design, advertising, innovation
  • Freelancer or self-employed
  • Universities and research orgs
  • Consulting firms
  • The “Rationalist” community (who frequent blogs and meetups such as Quantified Self, Effective Altruism, LessWrong, among many others)
  • Ribbonfarm community (where I’ve published a series of guest posts)
  • Social media pages, online forums, and user groups for Evernote, MS OneNote, Simplenote, Bear, Zoho Notebook, Notion, Bear, Agenda, and other note-taking apps
  • Evernote’s certified consultant network
  • Marie Kondo and KonMari community
  • Communities of productivity apps I recommend (Cultured Code/Things, Todoist, Teachable, Otter, Superhuman, Unbounce, Omnifocus, Asana, Instapaper, 1Password, Moleskine, Google Drive, Pocket)
  • Consciousness Hacking community
  • Lean Startup community
  • Tim Ferriss and 4-Hour Workweek community
  • Farnam Street community
  • Hacker News
  • Product Hunt
  • TEDx and TED-Ed
  • Online business and course creator communities (such as Marie Forleo, Pat Flynn, Amy Porterfield, Brendon Burchard, James Wedmore, Jenna Soard, Sean McCabe)
  • Online course platforms (such as MIT OpenCourseWare, Khan Academy, edX, Udacity, Coursera, Udemy, Apple Education, Skillshare, Quora,
  • Large tech-centric firms like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, and others
  • Facebook groups, Slack groups, and Reddit subreddits related to Productivity, Note-taking, Personal Effectiveness, Organizing, Memex, Extended/Distributed Cognition, Augmented Intelligence, Accelerated Learning, Online Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Freelancing/Self-Employment, Habit Formation, Writing, Research, Design, Knowledge Sharing, Personal Information Management (PIM), Digital Nomads, Science Fiction, Blogging, Content Marketing, GTD, Project Management, Goal Setting, Product Management, Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning, Online Business, Meditation/Mindfulness, Philosophy, Software Development, Creativity, Reading/Books, Personal Growth, Wisdom

What are the ways I provide value to them?

  1. Explaining complex ideas in simple ways
  2. Introducing people to new ideas that change how they perceive reality
  3. Helping people use practical tools to accomplish their goals
  4. Providing specific, actionable advice on getting things done
  5. Solving problems in novel, non-conventional ways
  6. Listening and empathizing with different points of view
  7. Learning large, complex bodies of knowledge quickly, and then using it to help others
  8. Creating systems and routines for getting things done
  9. Getting to the source of the problem
  10. Breaking established viewpoints and perspectives

What is my reader’s dream? What’s their ultimate fantasy of what my book delivers?

  1. System: To have all tasks, projects, and notes organized in a comprehensive but manageable system
  2. Speed + quality: To help them accomplish more tasks, at higher speed and quality, moving them toward their goals
  3. Technology: To leverage technology to communicate better and get more done, instead of distract and overwhelm
  4. Information: To better use information to accomplish objectives and create value
  5. Models: To gain new perspectives and models for what work means and how to perform it
  6. Self-Understanding: To understand themselves better through their work, and use this understanding to then do better work
  7. Time + energy: To have more time and energy for relationships, family, health, and hobbies through higher productivity
  8. Excitement: To feel enlivened and excited about work, instead of seeing it is an obligation
  9. Companies: To change how companies treat their employees, as creative possibilities, not resources
  10. Society: To change how society is organized and functions, using work as leverage

What kinds of things does my audience hate having to do?

  • Meticulously organize files
  • Figure out how to set up a software program or how to use all its features
  • Reread and remember things they already read in the past
  • Comprehensively tag notes or files

What does my audience pay good money for?

  • Online courses
  • Live workshops
  • Training seminars
  • Conferences and summits
  • Toolkits and downloadable digital products
  • Books and ebooks

Which steps does my audience often miss when trying to achieve their goals?

  • They aren’t consistent, always switching between different approaches and tools looking for the silver bullet
  • They adopt stock methods without customizing and personalizing them for their own needs
  • They don’t build up reserves of knowledge, instead always acquiring new knowledge
  • They don’t explore the inner game – their emotions, intuitions, dreams, fears – which are their true source of power
  • They fixate on goals instead of the intention or outcome behind the goal
  • They try to be self-disciplined and prepare everything in advance, instead of letting their desire lead the way
  • They try to focus on one thing at a time, not making use of their mind-wandering, background processing mode
  • They try to “get it right” from the beginning, instead of failing quickly and learning from their mistakes
  • They make their failures personal, taking it to mean something fundamental about them instead of just data
  • They try to force themselves to do things they don’t want to do, instead of being curious about why they don’t want to do it

Journal entries from reader’s POV


  • 32 year-old, urban apartment-dweller, cosmopolitan, upper-middle class working professional
  • Highly educated, traveled, cultured
  • Smart, but also creative
  • Likes to think, likes to gain new insights and aha moments, enjoys learning about new methods and ways of doing things
  • Busy and has little free time
  • Has a long-term partner or spouse, an active life with a role in the community, friends, and hobbies, so little time for research and analysis
  • Tech-savvy, but limited interest in diving deep into pure theory and concepts
  • Wants to leverage technology without being dominated by it
  • Appreciates new approaches, and would love to read more books, but can’t usually find the time
  • Has big goals and plans, but is lacking a few practical skills to be able to make progress on them
  • Doesn’t need hand-holding every step of the way, just a few high-impact tools
  • Spends a significant amount of time online, so familiar with common frameworks and tools, while not quite knowing how to use them to their full potential
  • In a digital, creative, or at least knowledge industry, facing extremely high demands on attention and time, and flood of incoming information
  • Interested in technology, history, innovation, design, marketing, lifestyle, fashion, futurism, sci-fi
  • Believes in progress and liberal values of cosmopolitanism, equality, and pluralism, but also self-improvement and self-knowledge
  • Likes books by Malcolm Gladwell, Tim Ferriss, on psychology, history, design, the future, productivity, habit formation, and culture
  • Tends to google for solutions to very specific tech problems, but otherwise relies more on higher quality sources like Facebook, RSS feeds, blogs, and aggregators like Pocket, Instapaper, Feedly
  • Attends lots of classes and workshops to develop job and professional skills like design, productivity, meditation, counseling, business, marketing, product management, copywriting, and tool-specific courses
  • Attends events and conferences on her industry, topics of interest, and areas she’d like to get into
  • In her free time, likes to read, work out, work on personal projects, writing, music, hobbies, crafts, travel, photography, languages, art, cooking, yoga
  • Guilty pleasures include Netflix, chocolate, romance novels, spa and pedicures
  • She idolizes successful entrepreneurs, media personalities, civil and women’s rights advocates, and leaders in her life and community
  • Loves upscale and affordable brands, including urban chic and thrift stores
  • Fantasy vacation is Southeast Asia, including a meditation retreat

What primary emotion, or set of emotions, does she feel at the exact moment she’s about to buy your book?

What is she saying to herself in her head? What specific words and phrases is she using? What story is she telling herself?

I know what I want, I even know the path I need to take to get there; all I need are some practical skills, some tools to help me get organized, manage my to dos and commitments, maintain healthy and productive habits, get things done, and start making progress toward my goal. I don’t need inspiration or motivation primarily, but some practical methods that fit into my daily life, use my existing skills, are forgiving, encourage rather than ignore my needs for balance and mindfulness, and serve me, instead of me serving them; I also don’t need fluff, vague advice, or tips and tricks; I’m already very successful and ambitious, in fact that success is the main thing holding me back, as I have a lot to lose and a lot to prove; I’m afraid further success in a new direction will require me to give up my values, or sacrifice the lifestyle I’ve worked so hard to create, or my relationships with my family and friends; will this book be the one that really makes a difference? Will I actually be able to finish it, unlike most others? Will the lessons stick and have a real-world impact, or just be interesting insights with no application? Who is this guy, and why is he such an expert? I’m afraid of embarking on yet another big push, believing this time will be different only to have something in life interrupt me and throw off my momentum. Maybe I should just be satisfied with what I have?

What do you secretly fear may be true about your life?

That I’ve peaked, I’ve reached my full potential, or at least as much as I’m ever going to realize, and what’s left is preserving what I have and maybe incremental improvements; my family is more important than my career and goals, and I’m not going to be able to advance without sacrificing my family time; my limitations are fundamental aspects of who I am, and can only be mitigated, not addressed and certainty not leveraged; learning more won’t help, because I’ve learned so many things without being able to put them into practice; I haven’t had the education or experience to learn more advanced methods, and not understanding them, I’ll probably just feel bad and get depressed; this book may be awesome, but it requires dedication I don’t have; it’s probably designed for single, childless 20-somethings with no other commitments outside work; I’m not tech-savvy enough to understand this material, and probably won’t be able to get help from anyone; I’m such a procrastinator, I’ll probably put this off, which will be further proof that I can’t do it.

What do you worry about? What keeps you up at night?

I worry that I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not ambitious enough, not driven enough, not attractive enough, not wise enough, not experienced enough, not authoritative enough. I’m afraid I’ll ultimately fall short of others’ high expectations of me, and my expectations for myself. I’m afraid I won’t set a good example for my children, that they’ll learn to accept less and settle for whatever they can get. I’m afraid I’m not investing in myself, and I’ll reach a place in my life of stagnation and complacency that I won’t be able to get out of. I’m afraid there are areas of my life that are simply inaccessible, unimprovable, that I will never be able to handle effectively. I’m afraid that I’m forgetting what I know, losing access to the knowledge and experience I’ve gained, professionally and otherwise.

What stresses you out on a regular basis?

Information overload, all the many things I have to track and manage and keep tabs on, for myself, my work, my spouse, my kids, my extended family, my neighbors. It all falls to me, the responsible one, and I can’t keep up with what’s incoming, much less take on anything else. I’m stressed out by trying to learn new things from books, classes, seminars, and work projects, but I can’t seem to hold onto or fully make use of what I’ve learned.

What do you not look at or face in your life because it triggers too much fear?

My habits, especially around health, mindfulness, self-care, and connection with others. My finances, because they seem to be generally functional. My personal goals and side projects that rely on my own motivation and free time, which I never seem to get around to. The organization and tidiness of my home, which is liveable but not something I’m really proud of. The way I use computers and other devices, only learning the bare minimum but not really using them to their full potential because I don’t have time and it seems too complicated and intimidating.

What’s the worst case scenario related to your life situation — the one fear that keeps you up at night?

That I’ll look back on my life with regret, wondering what could have been.

How do you fear others (close friends, family, spouse, clients) would react if they found out about your situation?

They would be surprised, at a loss, and disappointed. They would think I’m not appreciating what I have, what I’ve worked for. They would tell me to relax and be grateful, not realizing that I was made for something special, something different. They’d also be sympathetic, understanding that I like everyone have big goals and dreams that I don’t always have the time to pursue.

What do you fear might fail in your life if your situation continues or if it gets worse?

My responsibilities will fall through, and I won’t be able to keep up with the pace of life, disappointing the people around me and myself.

Where will you lose power, influence and control in your life if things don’t change or if they get worse?

I’ll lose control over my job and my career, risking stagnation, disappointment, unfulfillment, and unemployment.

What do you secretly wish was true about your life situation – either as it relates to the book you’re about to buy OR in your life in general?

I wish I had power – to influence and persuade others, to invent new ways of doing things, to be fully myself in all situations. I wish people respected and listened to what I have to say, took me seriously.

What’s the OMG, I can’t believe that exists “dream solution” that you’d pay almost anything for?

A package of easy-to-use tools and methods, plus a community and support system, for planning and executing projects in the context of my normal daily life, using my existing resources, skills, and knowledge.

If this dream solution – product or service – could appear and unfold perfectly, how would that story go?

I would organize all the projects and goals in my life in a coherent, yet flexible and fluid way, that encompasses all the many things I’m interested and involved in, yet focuses my energy where it matters, keeping me in sync with reality even as I shape it. I would accept myself just as I am, yet know exactly how to improve. I wouldn’t know all the answers, but I would have a predictable method for finding answers, a method which grows along with me and can be adapted to any situation in life. I would feel free and focused, powerful and calm, to simply do what needs to be done to create the result I’m looking for, one step after the other, without creating stories and meanings that knock me too far off the path. The whole thing would be a game, an infinite game of discovery, and enjoying every moment of life because of what it teaches me.

How will others respond to you if you get this situation fixed in an ideal way?

They will be surprised and delighted, so happy for me, but also curious as to how I did it. They would ask my advice on how to think about things, which tactics to use, and confide in me with their fears and insecurities, because they see I am authentic about mine. They will be drawn to me, and I will have a community to overflow into and invest in.

What will you be able to do, get or achieve if your fantasy situation comes true?

I will accomplish my personal goals at a regular pace, producing results like clockwork, even if the pace on any one day or week is slow. I will use every resource at my disposal to the fullest, using my circumstances as springboards, not limitations. I’ll contribute to my family and community in unexplainably huge ways, becoming a source of light and hope for hundreds of people in my community and city.

Where will you be more powerful and influential in your life if your fantasy situation comes true?

In my health, which will be on autopilot and not take up one extra ounce of energy. In my finances, which will also be on autopilot and be completely in line with my values and financial goals. In my relationships, where I will be able to be totally authentic and true to myself. In my community, where I will build strong bonds of friendship and solidarity, with a very diverse and powerful group of people.

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