Freemind, mind mapping, time management and life

Organizing chaos to fool friends, coworkers and managers.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

As I was organizing my daily plan, it struck me that some of you would be interested in some of the tools and techniques I use.  Mind mapping is a powerful tool that helps me organize my chaotic thinking into something that looks, from the outside anyway, to have been sequential and logical. Freemind is an open source mind mapping tool.

The tools

  • Mind mapping — the wikipedia has a nice description of mind mapping. Here's a snippet of their definition.

"A mind map is a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. Mind maps are used to generate, visualize, structure, and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, decision making, and writing."

  • Freemind — an open source project that makes mind mapping software available on a number of platforms. There are quite a number of open source and commercial offerings in this area. The wikipedia offers a nice chart. I've personally used Inspiration, Mind Manager, Tony Bizon's iMindMap and Freemind. I selected Mind Manager when I needed something that tightly integrated with Microsoft's Office. Freemind works well enough, however, for my purposes, runs on all of the operating systems I use on a daily basis and will create PDF files, JPEG files and files that are usable by OpenOffice.Org or Microsoft Office.

How are they used?

Mind mapping is used in a number of ways in my environment. Time/self management, document organization and project organization are some of the most important.

Time/self management: I have a set of hierarchical maps that allow me to keep track of projects I have underway, calls I need to make, events I need to attend, and things that I need to deliver. Freemind, as well as most of the other mind mapping software, makes it possible for one map to link to another. This allows me to have a high level view of my committments and responsibilities and then go to a map devoted to a single project, program or committment. These maps are synchronized between my desktop systems and my smartphone.  I can update them on any system and know that all of the other systems will be updated the next time I synchronize files.

Content Creation: I collect thoughts about a report or a presentation by creating a map. This process is somewhat like getting out the ingredients of a meal and placing them on the counter. Then it is easily possible for me to link these thoughts together into a hierarchal view of topics, subtopics and thoughts about what should be presented. These topics and subtopics can be moved about until the flow of one to another makes sense.  The maps can then be exported into a number of different formats and used as input to a word processor or presentation software. On more than on ocassion, I've presented using the map as if it were a presentation deck.

Program or project planning: As with content creation, I can grab thoughts and just place them in a map.  This might be done with the aid of a project or program team. These ideas can then be linked together into categories and the categories then sorted out by time and priority.

Although my train of thought is easily derailed, using these tools has helped me keep folks around me fooled. They think that I'm focused and on top of things. The truth is that I have well organized notes, in the form of mind maps, and refer to them each time I am interrupted or am finished with some task.  Oh, one more thing, every time I make a commitment to do something, agree to be somewhere, or am given a task by the CEO, I update the maps.

My system isn't perfect, but it works well enough for me.

What are you using to get and keep organized and on track?

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