For the most part, my life is all digital. I take meeting notes electronically, my entire book collection lives in the Amazon Kindle cloud, and every document that is important in my life is scanned and uploaded to Google Drive. It is fair to say, I live a 99% paperless life.
There are several reasons I prefer to keep my life as digital as possible, but I will admit that sometimes there is absolutely no replacement for good ‘ole paper-and-pen. For me, that time is when I am mind mapping.
For those of you who are not familiar with mind mapping, it can best be defined as a diagram that visually organizes information and relationships between different types of information. Mind maps start with a single concept, and then supporting ideas are branched off of that single concept. Complex mind maps can have many branches off the main concept, and then branches off of those sub-concepts, and so on. Mind maps can be simple, complex, colorful, include images, be analog, or digital. Mind maps are meant to be meaningful to the creator(s), so they can be designed anyway that can be imagined. The image to the right is a great example of a mind map focused on the game of tennis.
With the unbelievable advancements in technology over the years, more and more mind maps are being done in digital formats. I have tried several of them, but my favorite of all has been The Brain. For a list of some of the best mind mapping tools, check out my “Complete List of Digital Mind Mapping Tools” blog post.
While there are countless digital tools for mind mapping (including software, webware, and mobile app solutions), personally I have never been able to connect my thoughts and their relationships on a screen. The best reason for this that I have concluded is that digital mind mapping tools still have too many features that get in the way, and require you to spend time moving objects and the relationships between those objects around the screen, trying to make the whole picture look perfect. Mind mapping should be compared to brainstorming in that it should not be subjected to too much over-thought and vanity. Mind mapping works best when accompanying a stream of consciousness, and I have found that to be best done with paper and pen.
I carry a classic size Moleskine notebook with me everywhere I go, strictly to capture the random thoughts and ideas that are not best captured digitally. This includes, among many things, all of my mind maps. They don’t always look very clean, which bothers me sometimes, but I remind myself that brainstorming can get messy. Often times, when I am completely done with a mind map, I will re-draw it so that I can scan a clean copy into my digital system. That is the great part about my personal productivity system… long after my Moleskine notebooks fill up, my mind maps can still live digitally.
Analog mind mapping can extended well beyond paper and pen. I have done mind mapping on whiteboards, chalkboards, and even using Post-It Notes on a large conference room wall. These analog tools allow for great collaboration, not to mention, also allowing you to capture the mind maps using your smartphone to store your maps digitally.
Despite spending my entire 17-year focused on transforming experiences through software and web platforms, and creating personal systems that are completely digital, I still find my best mind mapping comes from the analog world.
If you are interested in learning more about mind mapping, here are some resources I recommend:
MindMapping.com - Central repository for all things mind mapping.
The Mind Mapping Show - This podcast is no longer running, but the back-catalog of episodes give great insights on how different people use mind mapping techniques.
TonyBuzan.com - Who better to learn mind mapping from than the guy who invented it?
Bob Stanke is an information technology project management and business process management professional based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Currently, Stanke heads up digital strategy for the Minnesota Timberwolves, a member of the National Basketball Association since 1989. Bob is a regular speaker, panelist, and blogger in the areas of technology, project management, and business process management. You can learn more about Bob and follow his blog at http://bobstanke.com.