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Mind over mapper
April 16, 2012, 16:01
Filed under: Chartership, CPD, Events | Tags: , ,

On March 20th I attended an event about mind mapping presented by Susie Kay. I’ve heard Susie speak before and was looking forward to hearing her again, though I must admit I was feeling a little dubious about the subject matter. Sure, I’d made mind maps once or twice before, and found them quite handy, but mostly I’d have described myself as a list sort of person.  Consequently I didn’t have an entirely open mind at the outset, but I was willing to be convinced…

The first advantage of mind maps over lists seems to be that the human brain likes having visual hooks to hang things from. This means that if you’re trying to remember things (like the plan for a hugely complicated project, or revision notes for exams) having the information arranged as a mind map will enable you to recall much more of it, an effect which is also enhanced when different colours are used. Furthermore, people don’t tend to think in straight lines, but rather run off in all directions at once (certainly true for me!) so trying to write things out in a linear fashion can be restrictive.

Mind maps apparently use both sides of the brain, thereby combining order and creativity, and enabling connections between things. They are easy to understand, and visually interesting, and can be used in all of the following ways and situations:

  • planning
  • learning
  • problem solving
  • management issues
  • meeting agenda
  • meeting minutes
  • getting organised
  • enhanced communication

The best way to begin mindmapping is to procure a blank sheet of paper and start in the centre. (At the moment I prefer to begin to the left of centre and really don’t mind whether the paper has lines or not, but maybe that will change over time!) You then proceed to break down the main issue into its major subsets, and ideally use a separate colour for each. Use only as many words as absolutely necessary, and make sure that everything written down will mean something to you later on.

Creatively varying the layout will keep things interesting, but the best thing is to find a format which works for you. There are also several computer programmes you can use to generate mindmaps, including a basic version within MS Word (I have Office 2007 at work and found this via the insert smart art options, but it may be elsewhere in other versions of the software).

Susie’s session also included the opportunity to make a mindmap of our own, and one or two brave souls were invited to share their efforts with the group at the end. I started mapping some of my Chartership to-do list, then decided I’d started in the wrong place! This was quite useful in itself though as it highlighted a perpetual problem I have with my to-do lists – I tend to just write down all the big things without breaking them up into manageable chunks – and illustrated a way in which I think mindmapping will help me a lot.

My work to-do list tends to be composed of several main themes (e.g. cataloguing, shelving, weeding project, writing, web stuff), and the home one likewise (e.g food, cleaning, knitting, Chartership) but very little of this stuff ever gets crossed off as it is all ongoing. Consequently I spend quite a lot of time running through the minutiae of what I need to do, but not actually doing much of it. Using mindmaps to break each thing down into segments which I can then act upon seems to be a really good way to improve on this.

Previously I would have been inclined to just write a load of sub-lists for each item, but the reason I’m converting to mindmaps is because they make it very much easier to see connections between tasks, and to assign priority. (And of course I can always make a list after I’ve mapped everything out!) Only this morning I mapped a list of tasks connected to a project I’m doing at work, and have made myself a nice flow-chart of the procedure I need to follow to get the bits done in the right order. I realise this is nothing terrifically new or ground-breaking, but I’m rather pleased with myself, particularly as my diagram will not only be useful as I do the work over the next few weeks but also when I write it up later on for my Chartership portfolio.

Another use for mindmaps which has just occurred to me is for making menu plans and shopping lists. The usual practice in my house is for one of us to scribble down a list of our usual groceries before adding extra ingredients based on what we think we might want to cook for however many nights we’re likely to be at home over the next few days. Mostly this works reasonably well, but it does sometimes lead to things being forgotten (e.g. last week when we bought everything we needed to make lasagne except for the pasta). I think it would be rather nice to make a mindmap with the meals planned surrounded by their ingredients, from which the shopping list itself could then be produced.

As you can see, contrary to my original expectations I’m actually quite sold on the whole mindmapping thing, and I can see several ways in which they will enhance my productivity straight away – thanks Susie!!

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