Mind mapping: Visual thinking for project clarity

I tend to get lost in wordy writing outlines, messy meeting notes, even my own handwriting, which, when rushed, becomes illegible. Sometimes I find it hard to organize the flurry of ideas that swirls in my mind around a creative task, or I can't get a project off the ground. Lately I have been using a more visual, nonlinear alternative - the mind mapping tool. It has been around for years, but when it comes to it, few of us seem to use it consistently.

Mind maps 101
Mind maps serve to bridge the gap between our linear language thought structures and spontaneous, free-flowing creativity. They map the associations, ideas and connections that our minds come up with around a central idea. Check out this Mind Map Hall of Fame. You can tell, the maps adopt as many shapes and forms as there are humans making them. That's because each one of us thinks and visualizes differently, there is no right or wrong. 

Each mind map begins with the central idea. Be it a problem, project, challenge or presentation, or a phone call or meeting. If possible, you note this idea as an image. From this idea, you allow other ideas, associations, thoughts, and images to radiate along curved lines and in different colors - from big, organizing ideas to finer details - like a tree branching outward. So the central idea-image evolves into a structured drawing consisting of words, visuals, and even codes and symbols. In essence, your mind map becomes a natural, visual representation of your project in all its aspects. You can create a quick one in minutes or build a complex one over weeks. 

Mind maps are powerful in this phase of growing your branching tree. The map offers a space for your mind to wander freely, and for a creativity that's still fragile to flow. The mind map has no critics! A tree is just a tree and leaves no twigs out. 

Moving from map to implementation:
But after this first spontaneous phase, mind mapping turns trickier. I think that the reason we don't use mind maps is that we aren't quite sure how to apply them for maximum effectiveness: They are fun, they are beautiful, and yet: How can you move from a creative, colorful, and very cool map to  targeted, clear action steps. How can your mind map enable successful project completion?  

I am finding that I can only make my mind maps effective when I am not afraid to rearrange the tree's branches several times. Eventually I can prioritize the branches. And then I can link each of the final nodes to specific actions. From there I can create time-specific tasks and timelines. It takes time. But here is my reward: Everything is in place, all is accounted for and complete. I do love that!

It's true, though, that the hard science on the effectiveness of mind mapping remains scanty. Tony Buzan, who introduced the tool in the 1960s, gathered some statistics and research several years ago.  More recently, a study in India showed the effectiveness of mind mapping on teaching students. Others have indicated that mind maps seem to serve best for organizing projects, managing information and getting ideas sorted out. You can sharpen your memory, and use them to solve problems, others state. 

Regardless, it appears that hand-drawn maps are important early on, when growing your first fragile tree. Buzan offers clear instructions on how to get started on his site.The hand-drawn process accesses all parts of the brain much better than modern software. But for the implementation phase, software picks up where the hand-drawn mind map leaves off. So much so that mind mapping has been embraced by major corporations. The software, often with free trials, is fun in and of itself, but it spans a vast spectrum of price tags. For a great discussion about software choices and the pros and cons of mind mapping, click on over to Erik Fisher's Beyond The To Do List. My personal favorite is MindNode 2.0, clean, uncluttered, easy to use, intuitive, freeing. MindNode 2.0 also let's you connect to some task management software systems.

So should you?
Science or not, software or not, mind mapping captures thoughts and brings them to life. It gets things off the mind and onto the page. Through this process alone, it leads almost certainly to greater clarity. 

Recently, I made a commitment to grow in the mind map area. I want to make more mind maps and link them to actions. I want to see what happens with my dreams, creativity, projects and goals. I invite you to do the same and we can share our progress! 

To Read More:

Mind Maps for Effective Project Management Paperback – May 25, 2015, by Maneesh Dutt(Author)

Mind Maps: Quicker Notes, Better Memory, and Improved Learning 3.0 3rd Edition, by Michael Taylor (Author)

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