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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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    Tony D. Clark

    Tony is the blog owner of "Success from the Nest". He aspires to help people do meaningful work and reach their dreams.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

    More About Goals Setting

    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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