Have you ever had to tackle a project that was so large that it overwhelmed you? A book project? A dissertation? You just didn’t know where to begin, and you quickly tired of hearing people say: “tackling a large project is like eating an elephant. You eat just one bite at a time.” Who wants to eat an elephant, you might have wondered to yourself, and where would you begin that little exercise? The tail? The trunk? The left foot? You have a book to write, or a dissertation to finish (or some other large project), and the “eating an elephant” analogy just wasn’t working, and the next person who told you to “just start at the beginning” was going to hurt. (We at ProfHacker in no way condone violence.) Nevertheless, you remained overwhelmed.
A effective way to gain control over unwieldy amounts of data is the use of mind maps. Mind maps are an effective way to tackle large projects, as they help you visualize ideas that can be overwhelming. On a mind map, you can rank and order information, color code and label sections of work, and you can see (literally) how one idea fits into another. Mind maps allow you to gather, manage, and share a wide variety of information and resources quickly and easily. They are ideal for managing projects, solving problems, planning meetings, brainstorming ideas or collecting thoughts, writing an article or a dissertation, or even creating new courses and lectures.
When I was writing my dissertation, I used mind mapping software to help me outline what I needed to do. My subject was broad and I kept getting lost in my data. The mind maps helped me “see” my information differently. As I was writing, when I was tempted to veer off into an area that was outside the scope of my work, the mind map helped keep me in check. The image below is a mind map of my dissertation’s introduction. I did, however, use mind maps with each chapter of the longer work.
Uses of Mind Mapping Programs
Mind maps do not have to be tools we use only for dissertations or books. They have other uses. Chuck Frey, at Innovation Tools, created a list of applications that mind maps can support:
- Idea file: A mind map is an ideal place to store ideas related to your project. Better yet, you can maintain a separate mind map as your master idea file.
- Project objectives: You can use a mind map to list objectives of the project, and keep them close at hand throughout the project to help you stay focused on its outcome.
- Questions: A mind map is an excellent place to create a list of all of the questions you have about the scope of the project, questions you need to ask other people, and other related questions.
- Information needs: You can use a mind map to create lists of the information you need, research you need to do, resources you need to explore, people you need to contact for specific information or expertise, and other information needs.
- Links to project resources: You can easily use your favorite mind mapping program to create links to web sites, documents, reports and other project-related resources to which your team members need fast, easy access. I have found this to be a big time-saver for me: Instead of wasting time searching through my file directories, looking for a key document or spreadsheet, I can create a link to it within my project map — so I never have to hunt for it again!
- Define team roles and responsibilities: You can create a branch of your map that concisely summarizes each team member’s roles and responsibilities.
- Project notes: Most mind mapping programs enable you to attach notes to the branches of your mind map. You can use this capability to store additional information related to the items in your mind map. Storing them in this way keeps them out of view until you are ready to look at them. At any time, you can easily drill down to read the notes you have stored regarding that aspect of your project.
Mind Mapping Software
Two software programs, Inspiration and Mindjet MindManager Pro, are good programs to use for mind mapping. (A disclaimer: I have used these two programs. There are other equally as effective mind mapping software programs available. In the next weeks, we will have another ProfHacker post about mind mapping software, but this post will feature programs that are free and open source.)
Inspiration, often used by primary and secondary school teachers, is an easy program to navigate. In an educational setting, this is good program, as the learning curve is very gentle, and through the Inspiration website, users have access to videos and webcasts, resources, and learning communities. Inspiration has a 30-day free trial, but with the education discount at a place like Academic Superstore, the price is reasonable at about $50. The sample below compares Jane Eyre and Charlotte Bronte.
MindManager 8, the newest version of MindJet’s Mind Manager programs, also has a free 30-day trial. This software is much more robust than Inspiration, but it has a steeper learning curve (and a steeper price). The program is a little more complex to navigate because it can perform so many more operations (and this is a good thing). In MindManager 8, you can collaborate with colleagues on projects using mind maps. You can add hyperlinks, images, and other types of files to your maps. In fact, MindJet provides mind map templates — from project planning to preparing and delivering compelling class lectures — that guide you in using its program. The sample below is from MindManager Pro 8’s faculty template on lecture planning. Embedded in the map are expanded lecture notes and links to relevant websites. Each of the main points of the lecture are numbered. The educational price for this program, including templates, online support, and online community forums, is about $150.
You can use mind maps to implement GTD strategies (see other ProfHacker posts on Getting Things Done here, here, and here). The GTD concepts are not difficult, but they become clearer when you can see them.
MindManager 8 and Inspiration both have iPhone applications.
So, mind maps are easy to create and easy to read. In these maps, hierarchy and categorization are visually and clearly defined. You can present key ideas (without added verbiage). Additionally, you can use symbols and diagrams, hyperlinks and images. Using mind maps can help you save time by helping you organize your data. In short, mind maps are useful.
How do you use mind mapping software? What software programs do you recommend? Do you have uses for mind maps in the classroom? Please leave comments below.
[Images provided by Flickr user digitalart2 (elephant); Billie Hara, Dissertation Introduction; Inspiration; MindJet MindManager (GTD and Lesson Plan). Licensed under Creative Commons.]