A mind map is a great tool for capturing ideas quickly, presenting them in a nice, graphical and hierarchical form. But can it be used as a task list?

Your task list can exist in many different forms and you probably already have it on a sheet of paper, sticky notes or captured in some electronic device. Some people use good, old Notepad, but there are many applications to help you capture your tasks, such as Remember the Milk, Evernote, IQTell, OmniFocus, or simply Microsoft OneNote.

I have been successfully using mind maps to store my tasks for several years and there are a number of people that have liked and adopted this idea. I believe there are some great advantages: just try it!

Starting out

First, you need an application to build and manage the mind map. It can be used on a computer or 10″ tablet (smaller devices don’t work that well). If you don’t know where to start, try FreeMind, which is free and can be used on different platforms and operating systems.

Name the root of the map as “Tasks”, “ToDo”, or simply your name, and add four basic sections: “Urgent” and “Projects” on the right-hand side, and “Delegated” (or “Awaiting”) and “Done” on the left-hand side.

Mind Map Structure

Using the mind map

The whole process of building the map and the operation is described in this video:

As you can see, the rules are simple and very intuitive, and using a mind map as a task list has some advantages over traditional techniques, as follows:

It’s visual

Your task list is no longer just a flat list with some text — some people hate task lists because of that. By using a mind map, you can preserve the hierarchy and priorities of the tasks, nest them and reorganize easily. You can also apply different fonts and colors, or make hyperlinks. It’s your list, so you can organize it your own way.

It involves emotions

With just one look your mind map can show you where you are. You can see it and you can feel it. Sometimes you can see that one of the projects is overloaded, that you have far too many delegated tasks, or there is one task that has been there since forever because the goal was not clear. With each completed task you can see your progress by simply noting how the “Done” section grows. It is great to look at it at the end of your week and be proud of that!

It tracks delegated tasks

I can often see that many people struggle because their task lists do not have the ability to track the task that was delegated to someone else. It is either marked as “Done” (I’ve done my part) or stays there, calling for action and making the picture blurry. Dedicated section for delegated tasks solves the problem and also keeps the list visual.

It tracks the progress

Because there is a separate section for already completed tasks, you can see how this grows and feel good about it. With just one look you can see where you are and how much you have already accomplished this week, and it is much easier to write reports or summarize your work. These small achievements are your small victories.

It calls for retrospectives

After one week, the “Done” section is probably quite large and this is the moment to clean it up. Of course you can simply delete the tasks that were completed from the mind map, but you could also spend half an hour, or even just few minutes, and reflect on them. Which gave you the most satisfaction? Which drained energy from you? What could you do better next week?

When you are done, delete them, but it will give you the feeling of a small victory. Many people are really surprised when they see that list at the end of the week!

It can be personalized

Another great thing is that you can apply your own format to it. You may change fonts, apply different colors or add images to different projects. You may add icons to some tasks, for example when you think there is some risk associated with it. The mind map is all yours, when you think something can be done your own way, just do it!

Summary

I believe this technique has many advantages over traditional, “flat” task lists. It can be used on any device using any mind mapping application you like. There is no special magic behind this. You can easily improve it over time and fine tune it to your personal style. You can see and you can feel the progress.

If you try this technique, I would love to hear your comments about it below!

The problem of working in the 21st century: How to Use a Mind Map to Organize Your Life

Featured photo credit: seeincolorsvia Flickr

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