MindManager for mac has changed how I work

A number of months ago, the fine folks at Mind Jet were nice enough to include me in their beta group of the long awaited Mac version of their popular mind mapping software, “MindManager”:http://www.mindjet.com/us/products/mindmanager_6_mac/?s=6.

I’ve been using the software for a while now, and have this to report:

It has totally changed the way I use my computer.

In fact, it’s changed the way I work.

Mind maps are incredibly effective tools for brainstorming. Traditionally, when I’ve wanted to brainstorm a concept, I’ve pulled out my giant pad of newsprint, sat down on the floor, and started riffing on related concepts.

In and of itself, this just rocks. I was very wary of doing the same exercise on my computer. For one, I thought screen real estate would limit my ability to “see the big picture”.

This proves to be quite the opposite in practice, for a couple of reasons: type doesn’t take up nearly as much room as my messy handwriting, and MindManager allows you to collapse nodes that aren’t in use.

The software also does a great job of adapting the map as content is added, and the canvas size changes on the fly to fit everything in.

Using the program in full screen mode works beautifully. Not only does it give me more than adequate space on my 15″ powerbook, it very effectively blocks out the 19 other applications I usually have running, allowing me to concentrate fully on the job at hand.

Maybe it’s because my handwriting is so messy that  I find that I need a big space to create a mind map. As a result, I tend to use them only when necessary. Since I’ve started using MindManger though, I’ve started mind mapping everything. Even this post.

Given my proclivity for stripped down word processors (I usually write in TextEdit), I’ve found it very easy to use the notes feature in MindManager to do all my writing as well. It’s a one-stop shop for idea generation and polishing.

In the past, I’d have used “Omni Outliner”:http://www.omnigroup.com/applications/omnioutliner/ to organize my thoughts. I love OO, as a search through my archives will attest. But MindManger is a better tool for capturing and managing ideas. It’s flat, where OO is linear. In MindManager I get a broader view of the whole concept I’m working on. I can better establish relationships between sub-topics.

What I like most about MindManger is it’s speed. It’s not quite up to par with OO for sheer “think and capture” ability, but it’s close. The keyboard shortcuts are mostly intuitive.

My biggest complaint has to with a couple of non-standard key activities that are driving me a bit nuts. First, after creating a topic, one has to hit return twice to start the next topic – once to close the topic you’re entering, and once again to start the next one. I can’t think of another program where hitting enter _creates_ a new topic. Failing to do this means that I overwrite whatever I had previously written. Luckily cmd-z comes to the rescue, but this is a pain in the ass I could live without.

The second complaint has to do with the space bar. For reasons I can’t comprehend hitting space (when not entering a topic) _also_  creates a new topic. I’m used to holding down the space bar to switch to “hand” mode in photoshop and illustrator. MindManager would really benefit from this feature.

That said, these two annoyances are minor in the greater scheme of things. If you’re a fan of mind maps, I highly recommend MindManager. “They’ve got a 21 day trial available.”:http://www.mindjet.com/us/products/mindmanager_6_mac/?s=6

An update on The Blog Studio

I’m long overdue with updating you on the progress of The Blog Studio. For those of you who are new to this site, let me quickly bring you up to speed. “Last spring”:http://peterflaschner.com/archives/99, I launched a new business aimed at the newly emerging blog design niche. I’ve documented the start-up process, and have been sharing the success and pain of growing from a concept to a full-time gig. It’s hard to believe my last update was just over a “month ago”:http://peterflaschner.com/archives/260. So much has changed since then…

The biggest news is that I’ve taken on a business partner. Lucia Mancuso is an amazingly talented woman. Fate threw Lucia at me. Check this out: I met Lucia in Vancouver at the “Emily Carr Institute for Art and Design”:http://www.eciad.ca/www/, where we were both studying design. We were both from Toronto, and had attended the same high school. We knew a bunch of people in common, but were sufficiently distant in age that we had never met each other.

In school, Lucia impressed me with her project management skills, dedication, and overall energy. We had a fair bit in common, and hung out together a bit. Fast forward 12 months, and I’d left Vancouver, and was struggling to keep up with my workload. Lucia called out of the blue one day with news that she too had moved across the country to Toronto. Honest to god, I knew at that very moment that we’d be working together…

There are six of us working full time now, and we’re actively looking for another designer and a coder. We’ve outgrown my basement, and will be moving into new offices asap. Our capabilities have grown enormously, barely keeping pace with demand. My own skills as a designer and coder(!!!) are growing daily. I’ve been interviewed on national TV (twice!), and asked to speak at a number of events (sxsw included). To think that it’s been barely six months since I started doing this full time…

I want to give a huge thanks to my team, to my clients, to my friends, and to my family. It’s been a very bumpy ride. But thanks to all of you, it’s beginning to get a bit smoother. Thanks also to the folks at “zencast”:http://amberstar.libsyn.com/ for helping to teach me the tools to keep this thing on the road.

Habit forming

The past three months have been amongst the most difficult days of my life. I’ve learned a lot – most of it the hard way. Mistakes were made, often out of exhaustion and good intentions gone awry. I’ve reached a point in my life and career though where I can look at my actions with a measure of objectivity. What I see when I look back is that I was totally unprepared for the onslaught that my company and I were about to go through.

Unprepared is a broad term. Not knowing the future, it’s impossible to be prepared for all situations (insert collective duh here). Even knowing the future, one may not possess the resources (financial or otherwise) to prepare adequately. That being said, I could have better handled the stress and pressure had I developed certain habits prior to opening the floodgates.

Habits are incredibly important, especially during periods of high stress. Habits come naturally – one needn’t think about a behavior that’s become habit – that’s what they’re all about. That being said, habits can be consciously set. Do something, anything, with regularity over a long enough period, and it becomes an ingrained behavior.

So what behaviors would I set in place, if I had the ability to go back 120 days? There are three in particular that stand out. All are incredibly easy, and incredibly helpful.

1. Write a journal entry every day. I initially developed this behavior years ago, after reading “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”:http://www.drawright.com/. Writing for 20 minutes to half an hour every day is possibly the single most powerful tool I have ever encountered. How’s that for a statement? I write with nothing other than the love of the *action* of writing in mind. My rules are these: I write with the specific intent that no one would ever read my words (ie there is no need for proper grammar, spelling, or even legibility), and I start each entry with no particular topic or direction. I just write what comes. And what comes is ultimately whatever is most important to me at that moment. Writing my thoughts as they occur, watching the stream of words flow from my fingers gives me perspective on the issues that doesn’t exist when the thoughts exist only in my head. I’ll write more about this in the next couple of days.

2. Wake up early. As my work load increased, I stayed up later and later, and woke later and later. Until it became a habit to wake at 9am and go to sleep around 2am. Just last week I made the decision to change this habit, and the effect has been pronounced. I’m getting up at 7 now, and my productivity and sense of well being has soared. I’m blogging again. And thinking again. I have a couple of hours to myself every morning to meditate, read, and set the tone for my day. After only a couple of days, I’m finding that 7 isn’t early enough. I’ll be setting the alarm for 6 tomorrow. It’s early, and I am *so loving it*.

3. Read. Go to “change this”:http://www.changethis.com. Print any one of the manifestos. Read a couple of pages before bed. Feel empowered. Rinse. Repeat.

These three changes are barely a week old, yet their impact cannot be overstated. Be aware that your behavior is mostly a series of habits. Know that you can change your habits by simply deciding to do so. And do it. More on this to come.