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Trial By Fire Productivity – Brainstorming And High Level Planning Tools

Trial By Fire Productivity – Brainstorming And High Level Planning Tools
Mindmap

    This post is part of the Trial By Fire Productivity series.

    I plan in my head.

    Back when I was getting started as a freelance designer, I waited tables to help pay the bills. I was one of those waiters that kept orders in his head. I never wrote them down, and very rarely made a mistake. It was when I tried to write things down that I got slowed down, and screwed orders up. Instead, I’d take the order, absorbing every detail, and then go dump it into the system. That worked for me.

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    Keeping things in my RAM is how I work best. I learned to work with it, rather than try to conform to another process. So when it comes to brainstorming and high level planning tools, I need a quick and dirty solution. It also has to have the flexibility to become the framework for a larger plan, if it is needed.

    My favorite planning tool has always been an 11×17 grid pad, and a Sharpie. This is what I start with for business plans, seminar and workshop planning, interface design, and graphic design.

    I’ve also looked at the Levenger planning pads, but for the price, I like a cheap grid pad. To me it’s more of a true “throw-away” solution. So I can free-plan, and not feel obligated to perfect things.

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    For planning on the computer, I’ve mostly used FreeMind. It’s written in Java, so I can use it on both WinXP and Linux.

    I also recently received an invitation to the beta for MindMeister, and have been trying it out. I like it because I can easily share between computers and platforms, since it’s Web-based:

    MindMeister brings the concept of mind mapping to the web, using its facilities for real-time collaboration to allow truly global brainstorming sessions.

    Users can create, manage and share mind maps online and access them anytime, from anywhere. In brainstorming mode, fellow MindMeisters from around the world (or just in different rooms) can simultaneously work on the same mind map – and see each other’s changes as they happen. Using integrated Skype calls, they can throw around new ideas and put them down on “paper” at the same time.

    For simple plans, it’s perfect. It’s easy to use and even in beta, feels very stable. (I have 20 invitations to the beta, if you would like to give it a try. Let me know in the comments, and be sure to use a valid email address, because that’s where the invitations will go. I’ll send them out on a first come, first serve basis.)

    The Verdict: At least for the duration of this experiment I will use a large grid pad and either FreeMind or MindMeister. Right now, I’m leaning towards MindMeister, because it’s Web-based and was available this week when I had a hard drive crash. Being able to access things from any computer definitely has its perks.

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    Alternatives: For paper planning, there’s Levenger Oasis Isometric Pads and Oasis Concept Pads. These are really nice and perfect for a little more structured approach. I’ve also been playing with the Project Emphasis template from the D*I*Y Planner Kit. For computer-based high level planning, there are tons of tools available – commercial, free, and open source. Some have a lot more features and are more robust, but I prefer simple and basic. For another look at Web-based mind mapping tools (including MindMeister) Anne Zelenka has a review of 3 over at Web Worker Daily.

    Other Entries in this Series

    Tony D. Clark is an entrepreneur, writer, and artist who spends a lot of time talking others into profiting from what they know, being creative, and doing what they love. His blog Success from the Nest provides inspiration, tips, and advice for the home-based entrepreneur and those aspiring to be one – all served up with humor and cartoons.

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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