We’ve all heard it. We probably even agree with it: planning is important for a successful business. And my response is generally: “I’ll get that plan happening, just after I finish this job. Besides, I already know what’s urgent and I’ve got my list of ‘things to do’.”
The problem with my list of things to do is that it is long and seems to get longer every day. It doesn’t look fun. It looks stressful.
I mentioned this to a colleague recently. He talked about Mind Mapping* as a way of turning that natural flow of ideas into a document that’s not only helpful, but for him, has become fundamental as part of job planning.
I decided to give it a go.
What is Mind Mapping?
A Mind Map is essentially a diagram of ideas, tasks and solutions centred around a key concept. It’s a more intuitive and lateral way to look at something you are working on and it’s great for brainstorming, organising projects and solving problems. You can Mind Map for yourself or with colleagues and clients who are working on a project with you.
Mind Maps often take up only one side of paper, making it more a compact method of note taking. By just glancing at your map, you’re effectively looking at a series of cues and so are more likely to remember key aspects of the job.
Different ways to draw a Mind Map
Popularised by Tony Buzan, Mind Maps now support an industry of software programs, the most popular being Mindmanager, MindGenius and Freemind. But I started with an ordinary piece of paper and a bunch of colourful textas….
Drawing by hand
This is when you are likely to be at your most intuitive, by just letting lose on the page. And don’t worry, you don’t have to be an artist. As you can see, I’m certainly not one!
This example shows my brainstorm on ‘time management’ and tries to identify the problems and find solutions. By using key words, colour and even little illustrations, these tools will help highlight important areas and trigger my memory whenever I look back on it.
Okay, it looks a bit like a dog’s breakfast, but I can modify this map into something more presentable later. Getting every idea down first is important. One of them might prove to be a key solution to a problem.
The main topics are in the centre of the map. This layout allows space for other ideas to expand out like branches and twigs from a tree trunk. Some branches link with other branches – it’s all about seeing the relationships. Don’t worry about designing the structure. It will evolve on its own.
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I then attempted a Mind Map using the drawing menu in Microsoft Word. If you know how to design in Word, then the process is pretty straightforward.
This is a more restrained-looking map, helping me to see what I want to address in my week. Colour coding identifies groups and using numbers prioritises tasks:
Using Mind Map Software
I experimented with FreeMind – a Mind Mapping software package belonging to a friend. It was pretty easy to learn and within a few minutes I had a plan for my day that links in with the colour coding used in my Week Plan map (Figure 2).
The program also allows a nice selection of icons to be inserted to make certain tasks/ideas more graphic.
I found that using paper and textas is by far the best brainstorming method as it allows intuition to be a key player in the process. You also have total control of what illustrations you want to include.
Word was fine to use if I want to present the map to someone else. But the Mind Map software was the fastest method and great for presentations to others – two big pluses.
I’ve pinned up my mind maps on the wall. Looking at them I actually feel enthusiastic about what I have to do and can see how I’m going to achieve it all. In no time, I’ve jumped off that black, ‘to do list’ conveyor belt and now have some colour, order and creative planning in my life.
*Mind Map is a trademark of the Buzan Organization
For a full explanation of the mind mapping technique see Buzan, T. (1991). The Mind Map Book, New York: Penguin.