Personal Brain mind mapping software screenshot

Mind Mapping: Software Tools for Organizing Ideas & Life

If you’re a creative idealist as I am, you may often find yourself generating a range of new ideas as you move forward on existing projects. As you continue to progress, learn, and bring your creations into being, many more possibilities open up before you. Each new idea may generate 10 more thoughts.

If we try to hold all our new ideas in our minds, we may distract ourselves from our current work, slowing our progress. It may seem more exciting to drop the details of what we’re currently doing and chase after a brand new concept before it loses its novelty – or even worse, before we forget it! With too much “mind clutter,” remaining focused may become difficult.

So how can we keep track of our thoughts without having Post-It Notes stuck to every surface of an increasingly cluttered work or living space? Perhaps life coaching has helped us to gain clarity and focus, but there are still details that we just don’t have time to cover in our sessions. Perhaps we’ve already practiced some of the life organizing concepts outlined in Naked Idealism, and are now ready to move to a more advanced level.

Fortunately, several computer-based tools provide slightly different systems for visualizing, linking and acting upon different areas of our lives. They can represent the connections among our visions and other relevant items: supporting visions, tasks, contacts, internet pages, computer files, brainstorming ideas, and so on.*

I currently use Personal Brain mind mapping software (see sample screenshot above) and find that it suits many of my needs. While I do not expressly endorse any specific program and cannot provide specific recommendations, I’ve also explored Freemind, MindManager and OpenMind to lesser extents. The software descriptions and manuals usually utilize terminology such as projects and goals rather than visions, because the designers also seek to attract a traditional business audience.

If you wish to collaborate with a group, online collaborative mind mapping sites provide additional options: Mind42 and Mindmeister are just a few. This may be especially useful if you’re facilitating endeavors within an organization that has plenty of great ideas but only enough resources to tackle a few projects at a time. The same may hold true if you utilize a large number of volunteers who are rarely present in one location simultaneously. This is the case with many nonprofits. A mind map may provide a place to store all of your brainstorms, so that you can return to them and bring individual ideas to life as you obtain necessary resources.

Life Balance allows you to outline your highest level goals with several levels of subgoals and tasks, set up reminders, and view how much effort you’re allocating to each high-level goal via a “life balance pie chart.” This program, and those that follow, have a different format than most of the mind mapping tools above.

Alisar Charting is unique in that it is based upon Robert Fritz’s techniques, described in my book. It enables individuals or organizations to enter their vision, reality and action steps via an internet interface, incorporating additional details such as deadline dates and people responsible for completing each step. It allows one to expand action steps into lower-level visions so that progress on shorter-term action steps can be tracked as well. The software then sends automated e-mail reminders to the individuals assigned to each action step. It is an internet-based service that requires a subscription, as opposed to a program that is purchased and entirely downloaded to one’s computer.

If you prefer a simpler format, Dave Ellis offers an innovative and free online life planning tool. Somewhat similar to the “tasks” feature in Microsoft Outlook, it allows you to enter tasks and subtasks into a table and sort them by due date, priority and description.

Some upfront learning time is required with any of these products, but if you enjoy using computer-based tools, they may be a welcome alternative to those Post-Its around the edge of your computer monitor!

*I don’t currently have affiliate relationships with any of these companies.

Dave welcomes phone-based life, career, and transition coaching clients from around the world.

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