Mind Mapping a Project from Start to Finish

Last week I introduced you to the concepts of mind mapping and all the ways that it can help you brainstorm ideas. Hopefully, you've given mind mapping a try and have seen just how many new ideas or connections you can make in a relatively short amount of time. This week we're going to put mapping techniques to the test by taking a project idea and seeing just how many ways we can apply mapping techniques throughout your project from initial brainstorm stage to the final wrap up.

Now I know that my focus tends to be more "writerly" based (only because I spend most of my days writing and designing technical documents for various audiences) so I've decided to try and pick a project that could be more fun... like website redesign. So imagine you are a web designer working on a website redesign for a client. They have given you free reign on the project and unlimited budget. However, they want it to pop and wow visitors and need it within two weeks time. What are you going to do? Ideas swim in your head but nothing seems to jump out at you. Your stomach sinks and you wish you were in back in bed, daydreaming the answer. Seeing that you just arrived at work, and cannot really go home to dream more... you grab a large blank paper and write down the word website in the middle and circle it. It's time to make a website.

Creating a Web of Ideas: An Intro to Mind Maps

Every now and then I get an itch to redesign my personal website domain. Usually this gets spurred when I see some new eye catching web design and I go, "Oooh, shiny." and then wish I could apply more modern designs and graphics to my own home online. I end up breaking out graph paper and project cards and start listing new site structures and what things need to go into my site. Of course, every time I do this, I don't get any further than that. However, a few weeks ago, I saw yet another spiffy design, and out came the hipster. This time, instead of grabbing more than one card, I pulled a single card out and gave it a title. Then, I wrote down SOM (the nickname for my domain) and circled it. From there, I listed sections, tools, colors and anything else I wanted to put into my web space. I successfully created a mind map; the first one I've done since high school.

For the next three weeks, I'm going to discuss mind mapping and how you can apply it to almost every aspect of your life. This article briefly introduces the mind mapping concept, how to make one, and when to use them to get the most bang for your buck. Since I enjoy practical learning experiences, next week we'll go into the details of how you can use and create mind maps throughout an entire project from inception to publication. In the last installment I'll get into online and offline tools and some good book resources to help you jump-start mapping your life.

Have Art, Will Travel

There are some days when I don't want to stay at home to make art. Sometimes, my friends and I like to gather at each other's homes and make an art day out of it. Usually surrounded by mass piles of paper, magazines, glue sticks, chips and dip and good tunes, we craft and journal the day away. Traveling with art, for me falls into two categories based on distance: short trips and long weekend craft gatherings. And when you travel with art in mind, the first place you need to start preparing for is how you're going to carry all the knick and knacks to your destination. Usually, this means a bag.

I start my travel kit with the container because I tend to go overboard with picking all the things I want to carry with me on trips. Therefore, by starting with the bag first, I can pick and choose just the right amount of pens, paper and other things I love to craft with. Now, I've gone traveling with art using nothing but an old recycled plastic bag, but I've found that it's not very good to carry paper measuring 12x12 or small jars of paint that get lost in the small corners of the bag. Which is why I have a two dedicated bags that I use when I want to carry more art than just my journal, a few pens and my tarot deck. These bags were made for paper-based scrapbooking, but I've found that they work well with any sort of art, as long as you're willing to get creative with how you view the pockets and features.

Moving on Upwards: Making a Motivation Collage

Now that the site's had awhile to calm down as it sets back into it's new skeleton, we can move back into our regularly scheduled Thursday fun. And let me tell you, I've been wanting to write this article for awhile now. Between work and dental work, the writing that I love to do, has become a bit harder to do. When I got home tonight I was feeling very unmotivated. Yep, that's right. Sometimes it's even hard for me to get the energy to write my weekly column. Pain is a horrible motivator. And all I wanted to do today was sleep. So, what does one do when one is feeling unmotivated? Well, if you're like me and a few of my other artsy friends... you turn to making a collage. That's right. Collages. They can be fast and fun and a great way to use up images out of your favorite magazines. They're also a very powerful tool to help you get motivated.

Setting Up a Circa System, D*I*Y Planner Style

Levenger FolioLook through the forums and comments on this site, and you'll see folks with an all-too-common problem. This problem is not relegated to paper productivity fans, but high-tech gadget users as well -- the chief distinction often being the amount of money spent, and the technical ability required. I'm sure you've suffered from it yourself. You've wandered the aisles at your local office mega-store, browsing the shelves and looking in vain for the perfect solution for your productivity crises or creativity ailments. You're convinced it's there somewhere, probably covered in rich leather, sporting multiple pockets that miraculously organise your clutter, holding sumptuous paper that just inspires you to write all the right things. You don't know what size it is: it might be tiny, it might be large. It might consist of index cards, it might be loose paper on rings, it might be fixed pages in a special journal. It may have forms with all the right prompts, it may be blank and free-form. You've tried multiple products and approaches, and none have stood the test of time, and now all you have is a mass of half-written pages of different sizes and shapes and methods and mappings. Still, you think, it's out there: the perfect solution. The Grail quest continues, and like Galahad, you plod wearily onwards and blindly follow the next vision, taking home the next item on the shelves.

Well, the solution is out there. I can assure you of that much. But it's likely your problem lies not in your gear, but in its fluidity. Is your structure too rigid, to the point of caging you and reducing your freedoms? Or is it too loose, where nothing has a place, and nothing is assured? The key is adopting a system that is as fluid as you need it to be, and no more. The system must be crafted to your needs, but be flexible enough to change as you need it, even on a daily basis. It isn't easy, but I believe it can come from the merging of two core products: a powerful but tightly-constructed set of forms, and gear that's flexible enough to be used in many different circumstances. The former may be the D*I*Y Planner, and the latter may be the Levenger Circa line.

The Value of Tagging (part 2)

Last week I introduced you to the concept of tagging things as it relates to getting the bigger picture of your life. Tagging is an old, but recently rediscovered, way of categorizing your thoughts, goals, website links, into organized clusters for ease of retrieval. Many websites now offer tagging as a way to quickly make personal relationships to the things you gather in a computer. And if you think about it, tagging is something you've been doing your whole life-- to make meaning out of those facts and cds and links. Now it's time to give you some tips and suggestions for incorporating tags into your favorite organizational methodology. For those of you interested in rediscovering how tags can help you online and off, here's some tips.

Review: The Levenger Circa System, Part II

Levenger FolioA little more than a decade ago, I was scouting out some venture capital for a possible multimedia project, and made arrangements to meet with a retired paint manufacturer at a cafe. Wanting to appear as professional as possible, I wore my best suit and tie, got a hair cut, and filled my slick black vinyl day planner with all the requisite calendars, to-do lists, expense sheets, project planning forms and special notecards that I thought might convey a good impression. I therefore felt a little awkward when he hobbled in through the door wearing a t-shirt and long shorts that barely skirted the top his knobby knees, toting a worn leather planner that looked like it might have been subjected to World War II. In fact, it had been: he had used the same planner for over five decades, spanning a wartime stint in the navy to the present day, and it was now a rich but scarred ochre brown, replete with years of yellowing papers brimming with ideas, random numbers, and a legacy of tasks undertaken and completed. During the conversation --not much was to come out of it-- I was at first amused, and then transfixed by the rustic nature and longevity of both the man and his queer little "catch-all," as he called it.

The necessity of quality workmanship was made all the more plain when the following month --while trying to stuff too many papers into my own planner-- the cover split along the spine from an errant stitch, and I sliced my finger open. By contrast, I can today hold all of my father’s 50-year-old gear from his army days, from notebooks to sliderules to map cases, mostly still in excellent condition, and the value of investing in quality starts to really hit home.

In my last article, I looked at some items in the Levenger Circa line, and wondered if it crossed the boundary from form into function. Since I’ve already covered the system in general, this article will review the basic core of any planning or notetaking solution: the notebooks and folios that bring all the papers, forms, writing tools and techniques together. And then the big question: is the quality worth the price?

Value of Tagging Things (part 1)

Every day our minds make constant associations between tasks and items and how we personally relate and shuffle them off into the large organizational box that is our brain. There can sometimes be no rhyme or reason to the connections, just a split second after thought about how we relate to the content being presented. Things that my friends say, get filed under friendship. Good books or music get filed into favorites. Even my daily work tasks get broken down into various short term associations called "priority list". Whereas many productivity books and college classes have us structure reports and research into hierarchical formats, our minds would rather make our own self identifiable connections based on the levels of what it deems valuable or important at each given moment. Our minds work like aggregators of content. And this concept of contextual sorting has gotten very popular online. It's called tagging and its the closest thing to representing how our brains create the bonded neural pathways on a computer and online.

This concept hit home for me the other day, while I was visiting and updating my 43Things list . I noticed that the site started allowing tags for each goal I listed on the page and thought that I should take advantage of the new feature. As I started marking each item, deciphering the context of how my brain wanted to relate to the information, the light-bulb turned on in my head. I wasn't just labeling and categorizing each goal, I was also defining what set of values were most important to me at that moment. For example, I have a goal on my list called, "Learn Japanese." Therefore I make a note in a field that this relates to languagestudies. Later on, down the list, I have another item called "Learn Latin." Seeing that this has similar features to my "learn Japanese" item, i reuse languagestudies and now have 2 items with this tag, instead of one. Making this field seem more important than the last. After associating everything on that list with some word(s) that my brain deemed worthy, I realized that tagging was much more than a system of categorization. Tagging things also helped me get a clearer picture of what interests I currently had and how important to my mind and my well being was. Of course, I also thought, what great material for an article, so here I am, talking about how tagging can be an important part of your productivity toolbox.

Review: The Levenger Circa System, Part I

Levenger FolioDon't get me wrong: I love art. I'm married to an artist, and I've suffered my own artistic yearnings over the years. But the reason most often cited for purchasing many of the expensive products created by upscale manufacturers is that the objects are art in themselves, and not meant to be used seriously in any practical application. In other words, form does not always follow function. (Would one take a family trip in a Ferrari, or tote a $10K Prada handbag to a day-job?) Things precious to us, and dear to our wallets, can be merely a symbol that screams out, yes, I have arrived.

Time for some perspective. I'm definitely not the sort to pose in a Ferrari, nor in any other vehicular objet d'art. Neither am I a man of any great pretension, nor significant financial position. Give me a hefty, boxy, unergonomic, kidney-busting Jeep any day. If it's utilitarian, I'm quite happy. (Woe to my fashion-conscious wife with the delicate internal organs.)

Which brings me to Levenger. I've been watching the forums and comments with some interest, musing on the possibilities of the Levenger Circa notebook and folio line-up. But --as I said-- function is usually more important to me than form, and Levenger is widely known for insisting on a certain upscale aesthetic quality in their products, along with price tags that might prove intimidating to those folks overly familiar with the office supply section of Wal-Mart. True, Levenger does produce some beautiful gear --everything from Oxford bookcases to leather Quincy Winger recliners in russet-- and there's barely an item in their catalogue that doesn't awaken something in me akin to lust, but how much of it would prove useful on a day-to-day basis? And what of the costs? Are they really worth it?

I decided on a little experiment.