I am a mindmapping freak. I use the process of mindmapping for many of my projects, especially in the planning phases, but all the way up to keeping status on many projects at once. Have you tried it? Here are some thoughts:
Mindmapping is Drawing Out Your Ideas
Just to quickly level-set what we're talking about. Mind maps are those drawings (like the one in this article) that let you start at a main idea, branch out into sub-ideas or sub-topics, and then branch out even smaller. The basic idea is that by drawing (on paper or on the computer) your thoughts, you'll uncover things you weren't considering before. The act of mapping out your thoughts gives you a whole different visualization and taps a whole different part of your mind than when you use something like project management software, a spreadsheet, or a word document.
Mind Maps Help You See The Big Picture
In planning by mindmapping, you can see which categories of your process are considered major and which are minor. For instance, in the launch of my upcoming new business, I was having trouble defining what it was my company did in a succinct way. After a few tries drawing (and you can use software or paper, don't forget), I found that my best description was that I'm building a media and education company. This wasn't clear until I tried organizing my thoughts into the various branches of a mind map.
You Shake Out Little Details
In a much more detailed mindmap I drew the other day, I realized that I needed a whole new discipline added to my set of potential vendors, because a new business idea I was launching required some "real world" elements (most of my companies are online). It's moments like that, when in drawing out the little lists in the little branches, that I come to realize there are details missing. If you were mindmapping out a band, and you forgot the drummer, it'd be quite obvious quite fast. It might not be as obvious if you were using a spreadsheet, for instance.
Maps Let You Re-Think Decisions
When I map out my projects, I then realize how many steps and details it will take to accomplish some tasks. Sometimes, this gives me enough of a heads up that I can look for help, scale back the deliverable, or push out the deadline. If I hadn't mapped it out, I might not have really thought through the depth of the project. You can do the same.
You Can Talk Through Maps Faster
I had a meeting with my executive team in my new business, and Diane brought her own mindmap to the meeting. At first, she'd written down all her thoughts in a Word document. That ended up going 17 pages long. She read from the map, with the other document ready, should she find herself unable to articulate a point. Guess how it went? We used the map the whole time. We got through hours of information in under one hour, which let us focus on decisions instead of exposition. Sometimes, having a visual map is a much easier way to "see" all the information you need to make a good decision.
So What Now?
I sure don't want to pick which software you choose to use, but I'll tell you my experience. The high end of mindmapping software that I've used was by MindJet, and I believe it's compatible with both PC and Mac. On my Mac right now, I use MindNode. There's a huge list of mind mapping software on Wikipedia, too. You might even consider an online version, so you can access it from many machines, though I prefer offline, so I can use it while on an airplane.
What should you map out? Try solving a decision with it: should I stand pat, or should I expand? Something like that. You can't really tell how it works without trying it. And, if you find that it works well for you, it'd be great to hear about it in the comments.Chris Brogan is the New York Times bestselling author of the NEW book, Social Media 101. He is president of New Marketing Labs, LLC, and blogs at chrisbrogan.com.