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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 October 15, 2019

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

    Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

    Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

    There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

    Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

    Why we procrastinate after all

    We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

    Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

    Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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    To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

    If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

    So, is procrastination bad?

    Yes it is.

    Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

    Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

    Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

    It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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    The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

    Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

    For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

    A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

    Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

    Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

    How bad procrastination can be

    Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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    After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

    One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

    That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

    Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

    In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

    You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

    More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article:

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    8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

    Procrastination, a technical failure

    Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

    It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

    It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

    Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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