You stare at a blank screen trying to write a course outline. Or maybe you try to capture rapid fire input for your next course while meeting with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). How’s that working for you? Do you get brain freeze when it’s time to brainstorm?
During my meetings with colleagues, clients, and teams, I often hear, "What are you doing?" "That’s cool!” as I quickly and easily capture the essence of strategic and project planning.
What I’m doing is Mind Mapping. Mind mapping is an easy and effective way to get information into and out of our brains.
Why Mind Map?
Unlock your brain’s potential by taking notes in a creative, logical, and graphical way that ‘maps out’ your ideas, allowing you to relax and be successful. Trying to get our ideas out in a linear organized way keeps us focused on the structure instead of the content, and blocks our ideas from freely flowing out.
Instead, mind mapping mimics the way our brains think. It’s an intuitive way to organize our thoughts, letting them bounce off each other and form relationships. This allows us to generate ideas very quickly and explore creative pathways. Mind maps link and group concepts together through natural associations. This helps us generate more ideas, find deeper meaning in our projects, and fill in the gaps.
Your First Mind Map
A mind map is a diagram used to visually organize information. All mind maps start with a main idea, subject, or focus, in the middle of the map. The themes related to the main idea are drawn as lines, ‘branching’ out from the central topic. Further details related to each branch are added as needed. See this basic mind map below.
Basic Mind Map Structure
While I generally keep my mind maps pretty simple, you can get fancy with colors, images, symbols. These enhance the connections between all parts of your brain.
Fancy Mind Map from mindtools.com
When to Mind Map
Create mind maps whenever you need to process information quickly and think clearly. In my personal life, I create mind maps for all sorts of things, including trip planning, packing lists, personal goals, and problem solving. Mind maps are especially helpful when I feel stuck. I grab paper and pen, and let my thoughts flow. Pretty soon I see a way forward. I have clarity on what's working and what needs to change.
In my professional life, I use mind mapping for strategic planning, project management, course development and writing.
The start of projects is a great place to mind map, when I'm defining the project scope and pulling together the concepts. Once I have the project map, I review it with stakeholders and modify the plans as needed. When the plan is approved, I build the project plan in Smart Sheet with dates, owners and dependencies. While some mind map tools include templates for project plans, I prefer to manage the project from project plan software. I like a more linear approach while I am executing the plan.
For strategic planning, mind maps capture the big picture requirements and goals. When I led the Customers for Life initiative as part of the TIBCO Analytics Senior Leadership Team, I facilitated strategic planning meetings with a large cross-functional team. Mapping our ideas helped us see relationships between ideas and ways to align projects to be more effective. When I inherited a large global team at TIBCO, I met with my new management team to brainstorm how to merge two teams and move the business forward. Mind mapping allows everyone’s ideas to be heard and captured. I send colleagues and clients PDFs of the maps to review, and at other times export the content to Word, Excel, PowerPoint, depending on what I'm building.
Mind maps are also great for creating courses with an agile course development approach. Start with mapping out a course definition, learning objectives, and outline. Have stakeholders review every step of the way. My colleague, Jan Cornish, uses Mind Manager by Mindjet for the entire course development process. He creates a map for each course module and includes all the details, screenshots, and instructor notes. He also creates a mind map for the labs using the node feature in Mind Manager. He then exports the appropriate content to Word and PowerPoint for the final course materials.
Jan's Course Mind Map
Jan's Lab Mind Map
When I write blogs, the first thing I do is map out a data dump of my ideas for what to include in the blog. When I sit down to write, I choose one theme or branch to focus on at a time. It helps me to keep the words flowing in a chunked down way, and keeps the writing manageable and enjoyable. Here’s the mind map for this blog.
Mind Map for this Blog
Mind mapping is so simple that pen and paper are the only tools required. At home, I quickly draw mind maps by hand when working on personal projects. For business projects, however, I prefer mind mapping software because it helps me to capture ideas more quickly. Editing maps is a breeze and aids in the flexibility of the planning process. Then I export to PDF to share with my clients and teams. With several free software products available, explore mind mapping at no cost. Options include Freemind, XMind, and Mindjet. While Mindjet is built with professional features, my personal favorite is XMind. I like the clean interface, the export functionality and find the keyboard shortcuts intuitive, I started with the free version and upgraded to the professional version.
Since there's no wrong way to mind map, take a few minutes to map out a course you’re developing, challenges your team is facing, or what you want for dinner. You just might find ideas flow easily, you see more connections, and you unlock your brain's potential by getting out of your mind and onto a map.