Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Mind mapping


As of my last post, I had decided to keep using OneNote for three things; mobile capture on my Windows Mobile phone, reference material filing system for digital media, and project planning. My reasoning was to that by using tools that interacted seamlessly, I could avoid the friction in the system that had caused me to lose track of things a little bit.  However, I was not at all impressed with the outlining features in OneNote, not that they didn’t work, but just that planning in that linear of a style was not how I approached problem solving,or any kind of planning for that matter. 

Enter mind mapping.  If you have spent any time on the web looking for an Uber-GTD system you probably know about the wealth of information surrounding mind mapping and it’s use in planning.  There are a multitude of free programs like FreeMind, Personal Brain, and Compendium, as well as paid versions like MindManager, and MindView. Being that this was for personal use, and I had a hard time justifying another $350.00 for software to my wife, I restricted myself to trying freeware versions only for now.  And really, after all is said and done, I am just learning how to mind map projects, so I don’t need a lot of bells and whistles…. yet. 

Almost every mind mapping software and web offering out there has a lot going for it.  And to be fair, many of the reasons why I abandoned certain platforms in favour of another, probably have more to do with my learning curve than any weakness on the part of the program.  But that said, I returned to the first software I tried, and I believe that I have found the product that fits my needs very well, Xmind.  You can find a review of the software here that explains many of the benefits and features.  My favourite is the drill down feature, which allows you to view only the downstream portion of the mind map from wherever you have chosen. 

In addition, because OneNote will allow you to copy hyperlinks to a note or a section, and you can paste those links into Xmind, you can easily move between your planning software and your reference software. (Note the small Globe to the right of the XMind task, and the corresponding page in OneNote.)




However , one major drawback to XMind, and most of the mapping software that I tried was the inability to print a text version of the mind map.  I initially thought that I would be able to map out a project, view it in an outline view, export the text to OneNote and Flag the tasks from there.  In fact this was one thing that I thought was going to be a deal breaker in my use of XMind, and I kept trying one software product after the other, almost to the point of distraction.  I would use a new one only to find either a similar issue or some other that would add to the friction in my set up.

It’s funny, as soon as you quit working so hard at figuring things out, not giving up mind you, but to just stop beating your head against the wall, solutions to things usually present themselves.   As it turned out I was so focused on what I perceived to be the solution, I was ignoring XMind itself and whether or not it could integrate with Outlook.  When I started looking at that, I found an  plug in called XMindLook.  This $50.00 plug in will sync XMind’s tasks to Outlook’s tasks, eliminating the need to print or transfer anything to OneNote.  In fact the plug in appears to have been designed with GTD in mind.

My thirty day trial comes to an end soon, and I think I will be purchasing the software.  As the software was not, however, designed to be used with the macros I employ in Outlook, I will have to make a few more adjustments. 

More to come…….

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