Saturday, August 30, 2008

Of Mind Maps, Outlines And Personal Brain

I cannot recall the first time I used mind maps to do brainstorming. I do not even recall when I first became familiar with the term. I do remember however that early in my career (not that it has been that long), I started drawing mind maps in my notebook during long and boring meetings. I realized I remembered more of what was said in those meetings compared to the ones where I took down notes in the usual manner. Still, I didn't even know they were called mind maps.

Later on, I learned to use mind maps when conceptualizing a short story or an article. I found it was often better to draw mind maps before coming up with an outline especially for short stories. Because I didn't know exactly where to begin or how to end, making use of the tool somehow led me to discover the path where I wanted to go -- serving like a real map. It not only helped me with figuring out the plot but it helped reveal the connections between the characters as well.

At the peak of the conceptualization process for articles or blog entries, when ideas race through my mind and the need to capture the them quickly before they permanently dissipated was of the extreme urgency, I find that a mind map is more appropriate than an outline. It was simpler and faster to do because I didn't have to worry about the hierarchy at that stage. I just kept adding and connecting one thought to another, key word after key word. I also find mind mapping more stimulating as it seemed like new ideas popped out more easily than during outlining. Perhaps the linkages and the drawings tapped something in the brain that was left unstimulated during outlining. By the way, the picture imposed at the right of this paragraph was a mind map I did to plan this entry.

When I was new to it, I still had to write an outline after drawing the mind map to better organize my thoughts. There were also times when I just went straight to outlining because it was pretty much clear in my head what I wanted to do. Over time, I became more proficient with mind mapping and could afford to skip the outlining process. But then, a lot of my mind maps began resembling that of an outline, like in the case of the one in the image above that I had created using a free software called Personal Brain. I do have ugly drawings on my mind maps when I do them on paper though. Software or paper, my MMOHs (mind map outline hybrids) have been an indispensable tool for me.

I also learned to use mind maps in other areas that needed a bit of planning and thinking. I used it when making presentations, putting together technical papers or documentation, preparing for a brief talk and even studying. I wished I had learned the technique earlier so I could have applied it in school because I seem to retain more useful information from a books I've read after I've drawn some mind maps on what I just learned.

As for the software, I found Personal Brain 4.0 by TheBrain Technologies through Google Ads in my Gmail. It offered a free download so I thought I'd give it a try. Upon installation, I found out that Pro Edition features are available for 30 days.

I think it's a cool software and it looks pretty promising. I haven't finished trying out all the features but it looks to me like it has other practical uses apart from my original intention. I think it can even be an answer to a project I was proposing to a friend who is working for the media -- I was telling him it would be great to come up with a page in the news site that featured a visual linking system that can show how politicians are related to one another, including other prominent people in society. Anyway, some other interesting features of Personal Brain include being able to incorporate notes, link web pages, attach files, make use of a built-in calendar and integrate with MS Outlook. Of course, a lot of these will be deactivated when my trial period is over. But even with the Free Edition, I think it will still be quite useful. If it becomes something difficult to live without in the next few weeks, I may just purchase an upgrade.

Who could benefit from mind maps? Well, anyone who needs to write, plan, think or study. That's practically everyone. Need to build a web site, answer an RFP, plan a project or a trip? If you haven't tried it before or you've always made use of outlines, I urge you to do so and see how it works for you. Software or no software.

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