I’ve made reference to mind maps more than once in these pages, but until now, I haven’t really gotten into much detail about what they are and how they work. There are a few reasons for this.

For one thing, I assume you have access to Google and Wikipedia just like I do, and a search at either of those sites for “mind map” would get you up to speed pretty quickly. So anyone who was curious and even a little motivated could learn about mind maps easily on their own. Also, it’s been a while, but The Simplifier’s own Shawn Tuttle has written about mind maps here and there in the past. So I didn’t want to belabor the point.

Really though, the main reason I haven’t gone deeper into discussing mind maps is that it seemed only natural, since it’s been my mind map that I’ve been talking about all this time, that I would show and discuss my mind map if I wrote a column that dealt directly with the subject. But my main “My Life” mind map is a complicated thing. More importantly, it’s a private thing—containing both things that I may never end up showing to the world, and things that need to remain confidential until I’m ready to show them to the world. I have notes about clients, all my main screenplay and creative ideas, and lots of other stuff that I probably wouldn’t show to anyone unless they signed a confidential disclosure agreement.

Plus it’s not exactly done, per se, either. My mind map is getting big and full, but it’s not nearly what it will be once I truly flesh through, index, and interlink all my notes and loose ends. Aside from the first two months, 2010 was assistant-free, sadly, and when it’s just me, I’m only able to chip gradually away at the mountain, while trying to stay focused on the few main balls that I’m juggling in any given week. So the comprehensive, all-inclusive mind map that truly represents my entire universe-tilting to-do list remains a work in progress. (Not to mention, the true ridiculous scope of it calls into question the issue of whether I should even be allowed to wander around unsupervised. Which I guess we’ll have to deal with later. Or never. MUAHAHAHA!!)

However, in the grand tradition of pretending that things end on December 31st and start on January 1st, I have created a mind map for myself that is focused just on 2011, and it should serve nicely as a way to discuss some mind map basics. Whenever I do explain mind maps to folks who don’t know about them, they seem to really like the idea—so maybe 2011 could be the year where mind maps revolutionize your life, starting right now! (Insert fanfare—a chorus of medieval buglers, let’s say.)

This is what my 2011 mind map looks like when it’s mostly compressed:


Mind maps can take a lot of different shapes and forms. (Seriously, do check out these Google and Wikipedia links for a wealth of info and options.)

My 2011 map is a very dry and simple use of mind-mapping software. It’s intentionally that way, because it’s intended to get me to focus in on the things I most want to spend time and energy on in the coming year. The competition for attention in my brain is very fierce, and this 2011 mini-map will help me keep my eyes on the priorities that I thought were the most important on December 31, 2010.

Which would be these:

(Click the image for a larger, clearer version. Click here for an interactive version where you can open and close the various branches.)

There you can see that I’ve narrowed it down to the 24 most important projects in my professional life. (Some of the names have been changed or generalized to protect my awesome ideas.)

“Just 24 Lance? What are you, on vacation?”

I know, I know. Trust me, you’re preaching to the choir. But everyone says “focus focus focus”, so I’m focusing.

That’s me, focusing. Big time.

Hopefully you got a sense of mind maps from those pictures without me having to spell it out. They can go way beyond just simple expanding outlines like my 2011 one (though that is the core functionality of a mind map). With most of the software out there, you can use colors and icons and sizes and shapes to help differentiate things; you can drop in pictures and links to files and to web sites; you can link the “nodes” (i.e., branches) of your map to each other, with arrows and such to show connections between things; you can add notes, and flags, and reminders,  etc.

My all-inclusive “My Life” mind map uses a lot more of those bells and whistles, as I try to maintain order among the chaotic bustle of my ever-accumulating ideas and passions. As I try this year to use the narrowed focus of the 2011 map to keep me on target, I will continue to use and reference the ultra-super-mega one too. With the software I use (Freemind, cost: $0) you can link one map to other maps. So rather than adding more levels or nodes to my relatively simple 2011 map, I’ll just link back to the overall map for the deeper picture, or create new maps for those projects that seem to deserve their own.

Not only will that allow me to keep the 2011 map from getting too big and hairy to look at all at once—which my gut tells me is key to my survival—it makes it so the other 90% of my dreams and to-do items have a place to gather and feel purposeful.

And to prepare for 2012.


Lance Brown can be found at http://lancebrown.org. Archives of his column can be found here.