One of the things I have found most helpful in recent years is learning how to use mind maps. Some people are able to draw the most incredible mind maps, that store information in a unique, creative, memorable and beautiful way. I have one such friend who I study with, I envy him, as ever Google images will provide many examples should you wish to try this. However, in the past it is this which put me off using mind maps, until I discovered mind mapping software, which requires no artistic skill at all!
I have tried quite a few mind mapping software packages, some helpfully integrate with outlook, allowing you to manage tasks as a fully synced mind map (Mindjet Manager). However I have settled on the free, cross platform and open source package Xmind. It is simple to learn and there is plenty of help and examples on the forums. Warning… mind maps are like marmite; love it or hate it. Thus, care is needed when presenting information to others to ensure your ideas are presented in the best way for your audience… I suspect that mind maps are most likely to appeal to visual and kinaesthetic learners (I love changing the status flags, colours or icons and moving topics around, especially moving completed items to the done ‘folder’).
Xmind has various icons which can be used to highlight or add visual meaning to an item. I use the same colour system as for categorising email statuses. I am a great advocate of design once and use many… If there are not enough icons for you it is possible to add your own and save as a custom set. Xmind, like spreadsheet applications, allows multiple sheets per single map. I sometimes have a simple braindump sheet for unsorted thoughts. This allows me to get thoughts out quickly, per GTD collection method. Using Dragon Naturally Speaking (or other voice recognition software, even those built into windows or mac), allows even faster collection. At least for me, as I speak much faster than I type!
Here are some of the things I use Xmind for:
- Managing a to-do list: (for those that want information about more sophisticated to-do list and task managers, be patient a post is coming).
- File system map:Planning and mapping out my filing system, including notes of what to store where, in disputable cases. I am indebted to John Ireland, for his basic outline of a generic, repeatable filing system. I use the same principles for high level email folders.
- Reusable meeting template: into which to note any general preparation (location, time, pre reading etc) record my agenda items, actions, and make notes.
- Gantt Chart/Managing small project;(including generating a simple Gantt chart (pro version required for this). At least there is no need to learn complex project software, though this kind of simple Gantt chart is unlikely to satisfy funders or your project management team (for that you probably will need the standard business software).
- Resource Safe: Using it as a file that contains links to various documents in my filing system or online documents, bring together multiple resources into a single place, a sort of bookmarking system that covers more that URLs to websites.The link can use a relative path feature meaning that is using a server or cloud based sync and share filing system such as; OneDrive, Subversion or Dropbox, the links work across multiple devices. Links can also refer to another Xmind file, sheet or topic heading. A nice touch is Xmind displays the icon for each document type.
- Structuring Documents: Making study notes and planning the structure of essays or briefing documents etc.
- Analysis: Thinking/analysing/planning situations.
If you are interested in other diagramming tools or learning about the differences between and maps and concept maps check out the links below:
I have provided screenshots/images of non sensitive examples below, click on the images for a full size version. Coming soon a series of things to know about outlook. Next week 6 men and 6 hats???