Jan. 8, 2014
I bet you have a lot of incomplete projects hanging out there that you’ve been trying to work on, when you have time. If so, then you are probably feeling a bit guilty about being behind on some of them. Given that it’s the beginning of the New Year, perhaps you’re ready to move some of those projects ahead. But first, you need to get them sorted out or back on track again to do that.
Rapid Mind Mapping
Here’s a method I’ve used over and over again to get my projects sorted out—or to restart a project that has stalled out. It uses a rapid form of mind mapping to paint the big picture, find all the moving parts, and to then zero in on what tasks need to be done next. By the way, this process finishes by creating some tasks in your to do list, so the process assumes you’ve got a 1MTD or MYN task list already in place.
Mind Mapping is What?
Mind mapping is basically outlining in a radial fashion, working from the center outwards, and it’s a great way to brainstorm the overall goals and components of a project. It’s also a good way to uncover missing parts of a project, and identify next steps. You’re going to make a mind map starting at a very high level and working down to the next action task level for the project.
You can do this on a whiteboard, a blank piece of paper (the larger the better), or in mind mapping software like MindManager by Mindjet.
General Principles of Rapid Mind Mapping
The idea is to work fast and record thoughts quickly, in an unstructured free-form manner. Do not get hung up on getting the hierarchy just right, or including everything at first. When you stall out in one section of the map, draw your focus out and scan over the map as a whole and look for parts of the map that inspire you to generate more ideas, adding them as you go. It’s the ease with which you can zoom in and zoom out quickly in a mind map that tends to generate ideas more fluidly, so do that a lot.
- Write down the name of your project in the middle of the page. Draw an oval around it that just encloses the name.
- Then ask yourself these questions: What are the desired major outcomes for this project? What are the major pieces of this project that require work? What big things need to be done for this project? As answers to these questions come to mind, write a few words for each of them in little circles around the center circle. Draw a line from the center circle to the new ones. Don’t worry that you’re mixing goals with work products in this list; you’re not trying to get a perfect outline of the project. Rather, you’re just looking for big things to think about.
- After you have all the major components and goals that initially come to mind recorded, step back and look at the map. Did you forget anything? If nothing else comes to mind, next focus on each of the outer circles you just wrote down. Ask yourself: are there any smaller parts of each one of these? What will it take to complete each one? Do I have any other thoughts about each one? Summarize each answer in a few words around each of those circles with a line connecting back.
- Repeat this process, working farther and farther from the center, until you get to discrete next action tasks that are small enough to be written on your to do list. That may be at the second level as above, or it may be farther out. Mark those somehow differently: put a little box next to them, use a different color, or use a different kind of outline shape around them.
- Do not move all of these to your 1MTD or MYN task list yet. Rather, examine the list and identify two or three which need to be done right away and only move those two or three to your list. You don’t want to overload your task list with too many things that you can’t do yet.
- Once a week, examine the map and move more items to your to do list.
Save the Map
You’ll probably save, update, and continue to use this map for a few days, weeks, or more, and then after that the project will have enough clarity and momentum that you can use more traditional tools (Gantt charts, Excel outlines, or other project plans). But this is a fantastic way to restart and dig out of a confused and neglected project. Every time I use this approach I’m amazed at how powerful it is.
By the way, one thing nice about using software for this is it allows you to move things around easily and make room for new topics. And you never run out of room horizontally or vertically as your map grows—important for very big projects. MindManager is what I have used for years, but there are other titles out there.