To Do Lists and Mind Maps – From Idea to Action

To Do Lists and Mind Maps

Do you make lists? Do you use mind maps? Here’s how I use these incredibly useful writing tools:

Making lists is how I perform a brain dump. Lists are a great way to get the writing ideas floating around in my head on to the page so that they can be dealt with – or discarded.

One of my favourite things to do is to sit with a cup of coffee, grab a pen, and make a nice list of everything on my mind. Sometimes I even colour-code my lists. Lovely.

to_do_list

Turning Lists Into Actions

I use Things to organise the post list-binge mess. It removes the problem of coffee stains, and also allows me to set due-dates and reminders.

things

If the list item is a simple task (i.e. email Mr. Smith) then it’s easy to scratch off the list. Done. Move on to the next item.

But when the task is larger (i.e. write an article, or a book on the meaning of life) it’s less obvious what to do with it. How do you move ahead with a biggie project like that?

When I’m ready to get started on a bigger creative task, I use a mind map.

To-Do List Item into Mind Map

From hard-won experience, I know that deciding on a structure for your writing too early can be a very bad idea. It’s too easy to throw words down but then have to unpick and re-stitch ideas after you discover that you selected a bad structure.

Continuously editing a bad structure = putting lipstick on a pig

Building a mind map adds an extra step to my writing process, but it’s a necessary one.

I know that I need to very deliberately slow myself down in the planning stages of writing, so turning my to-do list item into a mind map before I get working on the text itself is a great way to keep myself firmly in the planning stage.

In my own workflow, creating a mind map is an important step in slowly, organically turning an idea into something with a bit of structure. If I start writing in a traditional word processor straightaway, I impose a structure instead of letting one develop.

A mind map works well for me because it’s a canvas rather than a linear page. In a mind map you can create nodes, physically move around your ideas, and see how everything might fit together. Because it’s so different from linear text, I don’t think of my mind map as writing yet and therefore have no hesitation in killing my darlings.

mindmap_example

To do this, I use the open source mind mapping tool FreeMind to play around with my writing ideas.

Free_Mind

I start with the to do list item at the centre of the canvas, and then build out the idea from there. I make lots of sibling and child nodes, shift them around, add symbols, delete them, then add some more. I try to make it a very active process to get my mind really working with the concepts in my head.

There are many ways you can use FreeMind to fit with how your creative mind works, so be sure to look at the documentation here.

Spending time making and fiddling around with my mind map stops me from deciding on any aspect of the writing project too early. I use its creation as part of the writing process; the goal isn’t to create a nice print-out as soon as possible, but to take time thinking about the evolution of the map.

When I’m happy with the mind map there’s not only a funky document to admire, but I also know how I got there – which combinations worked, and which didn’t.

After I’ve played with my mind map, created some nodes, and seen how the ideas might fit together, I can then start working on an outline. A structure has begun to emerge – a project is born.

[I’ll generally use TextEdit for early drafts and outlines, which I’ve written about here.]

1 reply
  1. Ruth Walker
    Ruth Walker says:

    Hi Nick! Great article, it’s really great to read about how mind mapping helps you in planning and productivity! Would love to see any of your mind maps shared on Biggerplate, and also it would be great to have you provide a case study for our blog or even have you appear as a guest speaker for our Business Club? Looking forward to hearing from you!

    Reply

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