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Be More Productive Using A Mind Map As a Task List

Be More Productive Using A Mind Map As a Task List

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!

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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.

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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.

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    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.

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    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!

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    Piotr Nabielec

    Author, CEO, Consultant

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    Last Updated on April 19, 2021

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    The Art of Taking a Break So You Will Be Productive Again

    Think of yourself as a cup. Each day, you wake up full. But as you go about your day—getting tasks done and interacting with people—the amount in your cup gradually gets lower. And as such, you get less and less effective at whatever it is you’re supposed to be doing. You’re running out of steam.

    The solution is obvious: if you don’t have anything left to pour out, then you need to find a way to fill yourself up again. In work terms, that means you should take a break—an essential form of revitalizing your motivation and focus.

    Taking a break may get a bad rap in hustle culture, but it’s an essential, science-based way to ensure you have the capacity to live your life the way you want to live it.

    In the 1980s, when scientists began researching burnout, they described this inner capacity as “resources.” We all need to replenish our resources to cope with stress, work effectively, and avoid burnout.[1]

    When the goal is to get things done, it may sound counterproductive to stop what you’re doing. But if you embrace the art of taking a break, you can be more efficient and effective at work.

    Here are five ways on how you can take a break and boost your productivity.

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    1. Break for the Right Amount of Time, at the Right Time

    When I started my first job out of college, I was bent on pleasing my boss as most entry-level employees do. So, every day, I punched in at 9 AM on the dot, took a 60-minute lunch break at noon, and left no earlier than 5 PM.

    As I’ve logged more hours in my career, I’ve realized the average, eight-hour workday with an hour lunch break simply isn’t realistic—especially if your goal is to put your best foot forward at work.

    That’s why popular productivity techniques like the Pomodoro advocate for the “sprint” principle. Basically, you work for a short burst, then stop for a short, five-minute break. While the Pomodoro technique is a step forward, more recent research shows a shorter burst of working followed by a longer pause from work might actually be a more effective way to get the most out of stepping away from your desk.

    The team at DeskTime analyzed more than 5 million records of how workers used their computers on the job. They found that the most productive people worked an average of 52 minutes, then took a 17-minute break afterward.[2]

    What’s so special about those numbers? Leave it to neuroscience. According to researchers, the human brain naturally works in spurts of activity that last an hour. Then, it toggles to “low-activity mode.”[3]

    Even so, keep in mind that whatever motivates you is the most effective method. It’s more about the premise—when you know you have a “finish line” approaching, you can stay focused on the task or project at hand.

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    There are many applications and tools that can help you block distracting websites and apps (such as social media) for specific periods of the day. Similarly, you can also use some mailing apps like Mailbrew to receive all the social media content or newsletters you don’t want to miss in your inbox at a time you decide.

    So, no matter how long you work, take a break when you sense you’re losing steam or getting bored with the task. Generally, a 10-15 minute break should reinvigorate you for whatever’s coming next.

    2. Get a Change of Scenery—Ideally, Outdoors

    When it comes to increasing a person’s overall mental health, there’s no better balm than nature. Research has found that simply being outside can restore a person’s mind from mental fatigue related to work or studying, ultimately contributing to improved work performance (and even improved work satisfaction).[4]

    No lush forest around? Urban nature can be just as effective to get the most out of your break-taking. Scientists Stephen R. Kellert and Edward O. Wilson, in their book The Biophilia Hypothesis, claimed that even parks, outdoor paths, and building designs that embrace “urban nature” can lend a sense of calm and inspiration, encouraging learning and alertness for workers.

    3. Move Your Body

    A change of scenery can do wonders for your attention span and ability to focus, but it’s even more beneficial if you pair it with physical movement to pump up that adrenaline of yours. Simply put, your body wasn’t designed to be seated the entire day. In fact, scientists now believe that extended periods of sitting are just as dangerous to health as smoking.[5]

    It’s not always feasible to enjoy the benefits of a 30-minute brisk walk during your workday, especially since you’ll most likely have less energy during workdays. But the good news is, for productivity purposes, you don’t have to. Researchers found that just 10 minutes of exercise can boost your memory and attention span throughout the entire day.[6]

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    So, instead of using your break to sit and read the news or scroll your social media account, get out of your chair and move your body. Take a quick walk around the block. Do some jumping jacks in your home office. Whatever you choose, you’ll likely find yourself with a sharper focus—and more drive to get things done.

    4. Connect With Another Person

    Social connection is one of the most important factors for resilience. When we’re in a relationship with other people, it’s easier to cope with stress—and in my experience, getting social can also help to improve focus after a work break.

    One of my favorite ways to break after a 30-or-so minute sprint is to hang out with my family. And once a week, I carve out time to Skype my relatives back in Turkey. It’s amazing how a bit of levity and emotional connection can rev me up for the next work sprint.

    Now that most of us are working from home, getting some face-to-face time with a loved one isn’t as hard as it once was. So, take the time to chat with your partner. Take your kids outside to run around the backyard. If you live alone, call a friend or relative. Either way, coming up for air to chat with someone who knows and cares about you will leave you feeling invigorated and inspired.

    5. Use Your Imagination

    When you’re working with your head down, your brain has an ongoing agenda: get things done, and do it well. That can be an effective method for productivity, but it only lasts so long—especially because checking things off your to-do list isn’t the only ingredient to success at work. You also need innovation.

    That’s why I prioritize a “brain break” every day. When I feel my “cup” getting empty, I usually choose another creative activity to exercise my brain, like a Crossword puzzle, Sudoku, or an unrelated, creative project in my house.

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    And when I’m really struggling to focus, I don’t do anything at all. Instead, I let my brain roam free for a bit, following my thoughts down whatever trail they lead me. As it turns out, there’s a scientific benefit to daydreaming. It reinforces creativity and helps you feel more engaged with the world, which will only benefit you in your work.[7]

    Whether you help your kids with their distance learning homework, read an inspiring book, or just sit quietly to enjoy some fresh air, your brain will benefit from an opportunity to think and feel without an agenda. And, if you’re anything like me, you might just come up with your next great idea when you aren’t even trying.

    Final Thoughts

    Most of us have to work hard for our families and ourselves. And the current world we live in demands the highest level of productivity that we can offer. However, we also have to take a break once in a while. We are humans, after all.

    Learning the art of properly taking a break will not only give you the rest you need but also increase your productivity in the long run.

    More on the Importance of Taking a Break

    Featured photo credit: Helena Lopes via unsplash.com

    Reference

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