My Ideal Day

Why Visualisation

Visualisation is a powerful technique which helps achieving goals, reducing stress and seeing yourself succeed. It’s widely used for example in sports, where during the intense hours of training athletes imagine themselves performing to their best and then winning the race. Since I’ve started to take part in triathlona and marathons I’ve used visualisation to picture myself going throughout different stages of the event. I think about the water, I see myself getting into transition area, etc. It’s very effective and it helps to reduce stress, calm the nerves and eases things off.

In his most recent book ‘Your Best Just Got Better‘ Jason Womack uses this technique to creating an ideal day. Jason asked me whether I would be interested in sharing my ideal day. Funny enough, I’ve just recently done this exercise.

My Ideal day

This is the first time I’ve done this visualization and I’m planing to repeat it regularly and observe the changes, notice what’s new and what remains unchanged. I think that over time this will be a source of great insights. So here it is – My Ideal Day:

I get up at 5:55 am and jump straight into my running gear and go for a very easy 5K run, enjoying the morning weather in the Irish countryside. When I’m back, I take a quick shower, have a light breakfast of organic porridge, milk and banana and enjoy my first cup of freshly made latte. After breakfast I go to my home office/study room, sit at the computer and write for 1.5 hours. I then take a short break and spend some time with my wife as she gradually gets on with her day. Then I go back to writing and work for another 90 min. Once I’m done I go off to meet with my clients. We talk, exchange ideas, look for solutions to problems. Then I’m going to a local coffee shop for a lovely gourmet sandwich and the second cup of coffee. I quickly scan through my messages and check my calendar and tasks. I’m back at my home office where I work on a presentation that I will be delivering later that week to a group of freelancers and entrepreneurs. I finish work at around 6 pm.  At that point I move my focus onto my family, spending time playing, talking and cooking. In the evening I sit down in a nice comfy chair  and I enjoy an interesting book.

Even though it’s not true yet, I’m working towards making such day my reality. I realize it might take me some time yet I firmly believe that one day those things will be true.

If you haven’t read Jason’s book I highly recommend it. It’s packed with actionable ideas and food for thought. I encourage you to find out if your best can get better!

Jason also offers a chance to win your ideal day for details head over to WIN Your Ideal Day.

Projects and Remember the Milk

Managing Tasks in Remember the Milk is easy. You simply input one, add necessary meta data, like context or due date and you’re done. Item will appear on you list waiting for you to do it.However if you’re a practitioner of GTD methodology you know that projects are very important element of it. In fact per GTD any item that takes more than two actions steps is a project. If you follow this definition then you have a lot of projects to work on.
It would be ideal if you could use Remember the Milk to manage this aspect too. Unfortunately that’s not possible out of the box. But don’t loose your hopes! There are two solutions which can help you maintain integrated project and task system within RTM.

Fixed list

Firstly there are lists, with each representing a single project. This way all your specific projects are separated from other tasks thus making it easy to see the full scope.
I don’t recommend this approach as it’s cumbersome and requires setting up list via settings panel. It also makes the page quite crowded with different tabs. Perhaps it’s not a big thing but I prefer to keep things as clean as possible.

Project tags

The second solution, which is my preferred, is to use tags to indicate whether a task is part of a project or simple next action. The way it works is very easy.  When I’m adding a new project I create a tag which looks as follows “p_name” where “p” indicates project and “name” a short name to indicate what’s it about.

The reason I prefer this approach is that the list view remains minimal and clean, letting me keep the key list in front of me. Also having all projects starting with “p” I can clearly see them and access them via the tag cloud on the right side of the screen.
With tags it’s much easier to create a project, as all I need to do is create a new “p_xxx” tag. Adding new task to your project is easy too, thanks to the auto tagging which adds current list’s tag automatically.

Where tags are provide more flexibility over a fixed list view is a creation of different views via smart lists. This way I can create a list based on very specific set of tags and have all relevant tasks displayed there regardless of project they are assigned to. Very handy when looking at context or areas of responsibility across your system.

Project list

In order to see all of my open projects I have a project list which shows any task with a “@project” tag. This way I have a handy reference point to see whether I’m not overburdening myself.

Here it’s how it works. When I’m due to file taxes for 2011 I will open up a new project and add task called “File taxes 2011” and add two tags @project and p_tax11.
Now this task will appear on my project list as an active item then when adding additional task related to this project I will use p_tax11 to keep things organised.

Large projects

For larger projects you may want to organise your tasks in sequences, unfortunately this requires another little hack as RTM can only sort using priority, name or due date.
My suggestion is to use numbering sequence to make task appear in a certain order. You can use various formats for that purpose from simple 1-10 to more complex 1.1.1, 1.1.2. It all depends how you want to organise your projects.

I hope this gives a good overview of how you can manage project using Remember The Milk. If you have any favorite solutions please share them in the comments.

When less is more

Very briefly I wanted to share few excelled blog posts examining the benefits of reducing the number of project and work you take on.Reducing the amount of stuff you focus on lets you channel more energy onto a the thing you hope to achieve. Your attention is not divided between multiple items hence you can produce better results and paradoxically achieve more.

The Einstein Principle: Accomplish More By Doing Less

We are most productive when we focus on a very small number of projects on which we can devote a large amount of attention.

Fixed-Schedule Productivity: How I Accomplish a Large Amount of Work in a Small Number of Work Hours

I keep two project queues — one from my student projects and one for my writing projects. At any one moment I’m only working on the top project from each queue.

The Art of the Finish: How to Go From Busy to Accomplished

Real accomplishments require really hard pushes. GTD style, “one independent task at a time” productivity systems make it easy to avoid these pushes by instead doing a lot of little easy things.

Freestyle productivity

High-tech and highly-structured solutions are best for capture.
Low-tech and loosely-structured solutions are best for planning.

Too many changes

Boeing’s latest commercial airplane called Dreamliner is a great engineering achievement. This plane incorporates some of the latest most innovative technology available.

Building Dreamliner required a lot of changes some were small incremental other were gigantic. They were more shifts rather than changes. All this created risks, some were anticipated others were not possible to be foreseen. When changes are added one after another after another the probability of problems multiplies dramatically and things can go astray. It can happen to a small company and it can happen to a giants like Boeing with year of practice and experience:

Privately, Boeing officials admit that an all-new plane, a new technology and a new way of working with manufacturers (which involved risk-sharing), was too much novelty all at once.

Read on the full article on The Economist: Nightmareliner

Considering the scale and complexity of the whole project I’m sure there will be some great lessons learned.

Guest Post: How to accomplish any project

Note: This is a guest post by Ivan Hernadez

 

Everything you do in life is a project. Everything!

Taking care of your bills? … project
Going on holidays? … project
Any deal with your Clients? … project
All the work-related stuff you do at the office? … project
Your career? … project

E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G

So … I suggest you to get (very) good at managing and accomplishing projects.

Here below is a brief and simple explanation of what I have learned from people such as Seth Godin, Tom Peters, Scott Belsky and others.

How to accomplish any project

  1. Set the deadline, or in other words the “D-Day”.

    "How to accomplish any project"

  2. Once you have the deadline established, identify all the important things that must be done in order to be able to accomplish the big/scary/challenging project on “D-Day”. Then break-down the big/scary/challenging project into smaller chunks containing all those critical actions that must be done and set milestones.

    "How to accomplish any project"

  3. Now that you have your milestones established, you don’t need to worry about having to deal with a big/scary/challenging project. You just have to focus on putting all your energy and effort into accomplishing the next milestone.

    "How to accomplish any project"

  4. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    "How to accomplish any project"

  5. On D-Day, regardless of what is the actual status of your progress …. you ship. No last minute extensions, no excuses. You deliver.

    "How to accomplish any project"

  6. Feel good. You are officially an achiever. Now go and get another cool / challenging / scary project.

    "How to accomplish any project"

 

About Ivan: Ivan Hernandez is an entrepreneur, educator, keynote speaker and business consultant. He’s a passionate social media evangelist. You can read his writing on his personal site Ivan Hernadez or follow on twitter @IvanHernandez_.

GTD Projects – summary

This is a last post it the series describing basics of GTD projects. While I don’t think I’ve covered everything that’s there it should be just enough information to get you started.IMAG0063

Below is the list of topics that I’ve covered.

  1. GTD Project Series: Natural planning model
  2. GTD Project series – project tools
  3. GTD Projects series – software list
  4. GTD Project Series – executing a project

Just to summarize in couple sentences the main concepts.

Firstly everything should be a project,  at least every outcome that takes more that two steps. Why is that? Mainly because it forces you to keep track of all your open projects and secondly in your busy life it’s easy to drop a ball when you juggle a lot of them.

When ever you finish something you can check your project list and see what’s out there. If you’ve been tracking your projects even on a simple list, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be better at completing things and following through.

We all want clarity and whether we realize that or not, we like the routines and to follow a path. By referring to the planning model and establishing the purpose, vision and actions we are getting a clear vision of what we want to achieve and how to go about it. No need to re-think what’s next, just use the plans.

You will hear that tools are not they factor to increasing productivity and that’s true. No tool will enforce the right behaviours as you rather abandon the tool then change your habit. Yet finding a good set off applications can reduce the friction of tracking projects and actions. So as long as you don’t obsess with finding the perfect tool and master what you have spending some time searching good software will payoff.

I hope you’ve found this series useful. Please share your best practices or problems you’re facing when working on projects.

GTD Project Series – executing a project

IMAG0063The main premise in GTD’s understanding of a project is that you can’t do a project. Project is just an outcome you want to achieve. What you can do are the actions that form your project. Once they are done the outcome is achieved the project is done.
Three weeks ago I’ve covered the natural planning model which describes how a project comes to life from defining the purpose to listing out all next actions. The end result of this is a project plan which outlines necessary details and action sequences etc.

The remaining element is the execution of the plan. Often times all planning and brainstorming makes us very excited about the project but when it comes to doing our energy goes down and we things falter.

How do you tie project plan with actions and make progress? There are two ways you can approach that.

Big chunks (all you can eat approach)

Since you’ve already spend some time planning your project plan contains majority if not all of necessary tasks. Make an appointment with yourself for 3-4 hours and get to work.
Use project plans as your task list to complete different elements of the project. In order for this approach to work is a very little number of dependencies and people involved to there is no unnecessary holdup and waiting for other to complete their part.

I find this approach useful when you have a relatively small project which needs to be finished quickly. The main reason it works well is that I have planned my steps and rather that think of what I need to do is just execute one after another.

Chipping away (small bites)

Majority of us have a number of open projects at one time. In most cases these can’t be completed on one sitting as we have to wait for other people to do something for us. Once that is done we can mover another part of the project. As different demands press on us it’s difficult to move things forward and often thing stale for weeks. One of the ways to overcome that is to work in small increments and finding couple minutes to 1 hour to complete a single action should be within your reach.

Rather than use project plan as your immediate task list start by reviewing your project list and establish what are the projects you want to focus on this week. I suggest that your pick between 3-5 items. This small number will be easier to fit into your schedule especially if you have a large number of meetings.

Once you decided on your key projects review the plans for these and extract 1-3 next actions per project and put them on your relevant action list.

Make sure that they are on top of your list and tackle them early in your day.

By sticking to this routine you can make a solid progress on 3 to 5 projects in a given week. It may not look like a lot but it’s definitely better that agonising over the number of open project and not making any progress at all.

GTD Projects series – software list

IMAG0063Last week I went through a list of different tools that you could use for managing different stages of project. This week I wanted to continue this topic with an actual software picks.

As you can imagine different people will use different tools to manage their task and bigger outcomes. The actual choice will be driven by couple factor that include project needs, price, complexity of the tool.

I personally think that first three categories will be sufficient for managing any personal or small projects that require a limited degree of planning and tracking. If however you’re assigned with organising a conference or building a house then you need to consider more powerful solutions.   

My current tool of choice is Evernote and Freeplane. I also play a bit with GanttProject to better grasp concept of Gantt chars and it’s benefits.

One of the simplest ways for kick starting a project is opening a simple document dumping all the ideas and then putting them in the right order. Great way to do that is to use an outliner. The choice of applications for that purpose is massive however the more popular are:

Notepad (free)

Notepad++ (free and open source)

Microsoft Word (commercial)

Onenote (commercial)

Evernote (free/commercial)

 

If visual thinking is your domain there are countless mind mapping solution available online and for you desktop. If you want to start playing with the concept and use them for managing projects good choices are:

Freemind/Freeplane (free and open-source)

XMind (free/commercial)

Mind Manager (commercial)

 

As I noted in my last week’s post Gantt charts are fantastic way to put all the tasks involved in completion of a project into a time line. This can be further analysed for dependencies, critical paths etc. If you want to dive in and test few applications

GanttProject (free and open source)

Microsoft Excel (commercial)

Google Docs (free/commercial)

Toms Planner (free/commercial)

 

For big projects where you need to track a multiple things like tasks, milestones, people, resources, budget etc., you may need to refer to some power horse applications:

Microsoft Project (commercial)

OpenProj (free, open-source)

 

Saving documentation and research material can be integral part of the project so you need a tool to handle that too:

Basecamp (commercial)

Onenote (commercial)

Evernote (free/commercial)

 

Do you use different tools for managing project? Please share your experiences in the comments section.

GTD Project series – project tools.

IMAG0063
This is part two of series of posts focusing on GTD and project. Last week I’ve covered the natural planning model. This week I want to focus on some of the tools which you could use to make the process of managing projects a lot easier. Having the right tools around can assist in making sure that the project was fully captured and we can access the plan to review next actions and track progress.

When working on a project there are three categories of information that need to be taken care of.

  • Brainstorming – this is where you collect all your ideas that are related to a project. Key element in the idea creation stage is to let them flow freely and record as quickly and easy as possible.
  • Project plans – once you’re collected all your ideas related to a project you can start organising them into sections, components, next actions.
  • Project support material – a major project will require a lot of research, planning, idea creation sessions, setting up new relationships, testing documentation etc. All these documents need to be kept on file and in one place so one can always refer to them when needed.

There are 7 tool types that can handle any project.

  • Pen and paper – pen and paper is one of most versatile project tools. It’s dead simple and readily available. However the key of it is that it can be used for any aspect of project flow. You can use if for brainstorming, for organising your ideas into project plans. As you go on your research again pen and paper that can help you capture the stories behind things, the images, the details etc. For me almost every project starts with some scribbles captured on paper. I find it super easy and super simple to get things going. There is nothing distracting me. To kick off any project simply grab a pen and some paper that’s around you and start writing.
  • Text outliners – another simple way to work your projects is to use text outliner. This application allow you to create multilevel structures that can be very easily reorganized and reshuffled when needed. For people who are fast typists using outliner can be a great way to dump all their ideas very quickly and then rearrange into a plan. There is no need to rewrite thing as you would do it on paper which some of you might find discouraging and waste of time. Due to simplicity text outliner can fulfil any purpose in project workflow. Although I’m no longer a big user of outliners I had some great results with applications like MS Onenote, Evernote and simple text file. If you’re big MS Word user the outline mode is pretty powerful.
  • Mind maps – if visual representation of your projects is important for you than mind maps are definitely a place to explore. The concept of mind map is very simple and it basically describes creating a web of ideas interconnected with lines and relationships starting from one central point. If you use mind maps on paper they are a great way to brainstorm an idea, flesh things out and clear your head. However if you go a step further and start using mind map on a computer the possibilities expand greatly. You are not only able to brainstorm but you can manage the whole project from establishing the purpose to tracking next actions. You can move things around, drag and drop them between branches. There can be added almost infinite amount of detail as you add layer after layer additional points. As maps can be expanded and collapsed you can set the see only the relevant amount of information. The reason I like mind map is twofold. First I like the visual side of mind maps including web like structure, colours and lines. Second element is flexibility to organize things exactly as I want.
  • Excel /Gantt charts – if you’re looking for little more advanced ways for managing projects and want to capture an lot detail associated with a task that later is analysed for various criteria excel and other spread sheet solutions might be for you. As oppose to mind maps this type of tool is most appropriate for actual tracking and laying out task rather than any creative work. It allows seeing the sequences and dependencies of various sections and elements of a project.
  • Project management software – if you need to do some heavy lifting in terms of managing projects you may turn to a specialised applications. These programs allow tracking multiple steps, dependencies, resources, critical paths etc. For most individuals and smaller companies using this type of software wouldn’t be necessary and more likely would require more work to manage to system than it’s worth.
  • Whiteboards – I must admit I don’t have a lot of experience with this tool but It’s inevitably great way to kick start a big project when you have to deal with a group of people. In a team or group setting the key is to make sure everyone has access to information. Whiteboard allow precisely that.During the brainstorming process every member of the group can see other ideas, build on them, purpose new solutions. Once the plan has been put in place whiteboards can become project dashboards communicating progress, current focus, obstacles etc.
  • Document databases – some project require gathering a substantial amount of information and research that need to be stored and accessible by the team of kept for archiving purposes.One of the easier ways to manage this is to use already existing file and folder structure to save documents, notes etc. The key element is to make sure that information can be easily located and retrieved and act as a trigger for further idea generation or project development.

Managing a project can be an art of itself and it’s super easy to get focused on little details, finding a 20th way to organise the actions. As result you end up using project management software to keep track tyre change. The key is to use tools that are just right enough and for majority of people and project they have to deal with a simple sheet of paper or text file with ideas will bring more clarity and progress than the fanciest management tool.

GTD Project Series: Natural planning model

IMAG0063Do you have projects that are stale and not going anywhere? Do you have new great idea but not sure how to implement it?
In the series of upcoming post I’ll cover various elements of running projects using GTD methodology and hopefully help you finding a good solution.

Taking on any project without a plan is a recipe for disaster. With dozens of other things coming your way and no plan to refer to it’s easy to lose a track, purpose and direction of any task.

David Allen in his Getting Things Done book outlines a five phase model called natural planning model.As you will see below many of the steps are simple common sense. Unfortunately often times we forget about them and search for new ways to get on track rather than really get back on it.

For most of us planning happens in our head quickly and effectively. Actually we barely notice it. However it’s worth to examine what are the stages of planning process.

Purpose and Principles

This is first and second step of the planning process. It’s about finding an answer to question “why do I/we do it”. It’s about defining what the purpose of the project is. It’s very simple but powerful question that brings clarity and direction to any project or endeavour. Getting this question straight acts as catalyst in defining following:

  • success – if you know what done looks like you can then tell when project has been successfully finished.
  • decisions– knowing why you do what you do makes the decision process a whole lot easier.
  • resource allocation – there is never enough resources available, there are time limits, people limits, budgetary limits. Having clear picture of why let you find best ways to use available resources and align them in most effective ways.
  • keeps your motivation – it’s not uncommon that we do things on autopilot, never knowing why we do it. “We always did that” you can often hear. Clarifying with your co-workers and employees why they do the project helps them better understand it and make the effort rather than slog through it.
  • clarity & focus – it’s so easy to be distracted by feature creep, by adding new services, options, variations. You could always change something even by a tiny bit. In the end the project starts to drag on and on without end on horizon. Setting the why straight will get you focused on the core functionality of a product or service.
  • more options – this is a paradox but defining purpose brings focus on one side and permits for greater creativity for designing the how element.

When setting up a new project I try to spend couple minute figuring out why I want to do it and what do I expect to deliver. Just to give you an example. I’m planning a weekend trip to London which is a gift for my wife’s birthday. Why am I doing this, first you give her the gift I promised, then to spend some quality time visiting museums, galleries etc.

Vision/Outcome

Where the Purpose and Principles describe the “why” the third element of the process is focused on defining “what”.

It’s about creating a clear picture of the success, the end state where a project is deemed finished. To make that picture more real try to see the success, smell it, feel it.

vision provides actual blueprint of the final result

Seeing yourself completing the project allows brain to create and discover new ideas, information and connections that are stored on subconscious level. Often times that lack of knowledge of how to do things is holding us back and we hope that someone will tell us what to do. Developing the skill of visioning we can bridge the gap of how by letting our creativity to do the job.

The result of outcome visioning can be a single line statement or paragraph and more. It all depends on your needs and the project you want to tackle.

Three steps of clarifying the outcome:

– view the project from beyond the end date

– envision WILD SUCCESS, total completion

– capture all features, elements, qualities of the image.

Going back to my London trip example the successful trip will be having spent 3 days enjoying the culture, sights, food and atmosphere.

Brainstorming

At this stage you know the answers to what and to why so it’s time to figure out the how.

This process is designed to allow you to fill all the blanks between where you are and where you want to get.

Brainstorming is a fantastic exercise that lets your creativity to go wild; all you have to do it note all the ideas.
Completing this in a group setting is really good as people have different experiences, knowledge, views and may contribute things you wouldn’t have come up with.

Let them flow out of your head for as long as necessary. Don’t judge or analyse go for the quantity not quality.

There are plenty of tools that can help you with brainstorming. Many people use text files and mind maps on their computer. My preference is pen and paper but I also swap it for a mind map.

Again I will use the London trip as example. As with any trip there is a lot consider, flights, time off at work, accommodation, transport, opening hours, money, places to see etc. I will jot down all these items and then use them to create a more concrete plan.

Organising

Once you’ve emptied your head you will start notice that natural order emerges. You will start to see patterns, sequences, connections between all those ‘random’ thoughts.

You can start with identifying larger parts and key elements. Than you can drill down to see if there are any sub-tasks or deadlines or other details that need to be added. The level of granularity will depend on you preferences but you should aim at creating a small enough chunks that you’re comfortable to complete in a single sitting.Once you finish organising process you will have a complete project plan.

I usually do it in a mind map or text outliner on my computer as I like the visual effects and ease of manipulating. But to be honest anything will work if you prefer pen and paper you’ll as well.

Next Actions

The final step of the planning is to decide on next actions that need to be taken to make things happen. This is a critical stage where your commitment to completion of the project is tested. There is no point in planning if you’re not intending to take any action.

When scanning your project plan for things to do you’re most likely to come across three categories of tasks:

  • working on the steps – basically this is an actual thing to do like: read a book, email John, call Mike.
  • doing more planning – sometimes you are still not 100% clear about the project, it’s plan etc. In such case you need to spend little more time fleshing things until you’re happy that you’ve captured everything.
  • waiting for someone – some actions will belong to other people, so before you can move forward with anything you need to get an approval, receive a quote etc. For larger projects, parts of it are allocated to groups of people or outsourced and they become responsible for all next steps.

This is a basic overview of the workflow. Each time you’re facing a large task that can’t be fishing in one go try break it down in to smaller pieces. Setting up a project plan and action lists will help you keep track of things and make progress when possible.

Next week I will look at some of the tools that can assist you in managing projects.

Projects, mind maps – the workflow

A Thousand Gates 
photo by : -ratamahatta-

A week ago I posted that I’ve moved my projects to MindManager. I outlined there why I did it and what benefits I’ve been noticing.

What I would like to share now is the impact of mind map on the workflow aka how things work.

Feeding the project list.

All new projects big or small come via to sources email or paper notes. As new items arrive I review them every couple of hours and make necessary decisions. If things are classified as projects then they get added to my project list. When I know what’s required to complete the project I would quickly jot down key actions/tasks and outline them as subtopics.

For projects that came via email I usually drag the original message into my map. This way I have the original message handy so I can extract any important or useful information.

Project list & current focus

I split currently open projects between two lists or branches on my mind map.
Current focus branch includes projects that I actively work on and that I want to push forward. This list usually contains between 4-5 items.
When deciding what goes on that list I try to balance the important and the urgent.
Project list branch includes all other project that I have open and I should finish. These include things were I wait for others to complete their part or projects that I started a while ago but were pushed to a side due to other commitments. What I also do when I’ve completed actions from current focus list I usually refer to project list and try to find items I could work on in that moment. This way I’m able to chip away some of the open items.

Actions, Outlook sync & text markers

As I mentioned above if project is simple and I have good idea what I want to do I usually jot all related actions as subtopics. This is way I have a full overview of the necessary work.
Once I outline the tasks depending on their status I would sync them with outlook which is default piece of software in any corporation. This is one of more powerful features of Mindmanager. All next actions can be pushed into Outlook without too much hassle or re-typing.
In addition to sync I’m using a couple text markers. Text markers allow you to assign image/icon to a topic to highlight certain pieces. At the moment I’m using two of these one to indicate waiting for’s and one to highlight ideas. I’m considering introduction if third marker to indicate those projects that are directly related to my year-end goals.

Alerts

Although I try to keep reminders of events, to-dos, information items in Outlook I find more and more that assigning alerts to elements of my mind map really helps to draw attention to important items. Also by setting a reminder in the dashboard itself once it goes off it brings up the topic and provides context to it. Rather than see “John due to deliver X” I can see “John to deliver X” as part of project Y etc.

Daily and weekly checks

To keep the projects dashboard current and relevant I need to makes sure that the information if fresh and accurate. To do that I make sure I review it at least once a day to extract relevant next actions and follow up items and move items between ‘current focus’ list and my ‘master project list’. I try to do it each evening before I leave work.
Then as the map stays open whole day I update it as I work on different items. When I process my notes or email I add new projects to the list, when I’m done with one I move it to my ‘Projects_Closed’ branch.

Focused view

As my map grows in size it’s easy to lose focus and get distracted by the sheer volume. This is one of the reasons I’m using ‘current focus’ list also the Mind Manager itself has a very neat feature called focused view. What it does is basically zoom all the attention on selected topic. All other branches are closed the the higher possible level. All you can see is the topic you’ve selected and any subtopics. This way if you need to get into the zone and push that one project ahead you can bring up that one item and hide the rest.

I mentioned that I use text markers to highlight some parts of my projects. Mindmanager allows me to filter branches and topics based on a specific text marker. This way I can get an overview of my waiting fors, some ideas that I might be developing or how I progress toward my goals.

At the moment I’m at the end of first month of using this setup and so far I’m very pleased with it. There are still some issued that I need to iron out but overall it works very well.
I will be replicating this approach for my home workflow as well although I will use Freeplane rather than Mindmanager. At the moment I can’t justify the cost.

Do you use mind maps for managing projects? If you do, please share them in the comments section. 

Projects and mind maps go hand in hand

image

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been discovering how well projects and mind maps work together.

I subscribe to the GTD based notion that anything that takes more than two steps is a project. As result my project list grows at a very fast pace. For the moment I’m fine with that and using a mind map to manage that really makes a difference.

Also projects from a key element of my work so it’s easy for me to think and work “in projects”. As in my workplace pretty much everything is a project setting up my workflow around this makes much more sense.

In the last couple years I’ve been using Outlook to manage projects and actions. Outlook is great for creating action lists, unfortunately projects don’t fit into it well.

I’ve tried many different approaches to handle projects but was not very successful. Unless you buy a special add-on (not possible in my workplace) your choices are limited. Finally, I’ve settled on using categories to separate actions and projects and waiting for’s. Project details were recorded in the notes section. That was sufficient but not great.

I had my project list in plain view but nothing more, unless I’ve opened each project I couldn’t see what’s next, where the project was, etc.

Recently I’ve discovered that I can get installed a Mindjet’s MindManager Pro on my work computer. I immediately requested access and began transferring all my stuff into a mind map.Thanks to embedded Outlook sync I’ve exported all my projects and tasks into a single dashboard like map.

Initially I thought I’ll be using a single map for everything, projects, actions, ideas, calendar etc. Unfortunately I quickly discovered that this only lead to visual overload and makes managing tasks more complicated. I’ve settled on creating a dashboard like map which includes my current, future and closed projects. In addition I’ve added links to other maps which include my current goals, someday/maybe items etc.

My projects reside in mind map however actions are synced/inputted to Outlook. It’s purely practical reason. Outlook is open whole day for me so it’s easier to focus on the actual things to do in there.

Why I moved from Outlook to MindManager? and

Why MindManager or any other mind mapping software will work?

  • Single place. Having all in one map provides better overview of my commitments. I can see straight away how many projects are there and what’s their weight. In addition projects can be broken up by tasks so I can see how big is the project or what’s involved in it.
  • Focus. I can select a project with it’s sub tasks and move to new branch This way all I’ll see is that one item I should be focusing on. There is no distraction from seeing other items on my list.
  • Defence against distractions. Having an outline of tasks necessary for each project makes it easier to jump in and work on it for 15 to 30 minutes. And when ever someone interrupts I always know where I was and what’s next.
  • Tracking. Adding a quick update to mind maps is very easy. Something happened, an idea occurred, new task I can simply add those things when needed. Very often projects change direction and so the related tasks. Using mind map allows to capture all these things so that your list is current and up to date.
  • Archiving and reference. Once project is done I file away with all it’s notes, completed subtasks etc. If there is a need to go back and check what was done I can always do that and have a clear overview.

I’m still at a stage of refining the whole setup and workflow but the results are very encouraging. I can see that I’m handling a lot of stuff. This is good for two reasons I can show that I’m doing a good job and juggle a lot of projects. On the flip side if I struggle to keep up rather than let things slide I can ask for help and pass a well defined project to a colleague.

If you have access to any mind mapping software my suggestion is to try it out, see if you can improve on your work performance.