February 04, 2007

Using MindManager concept mapping for personal journalling and CRM

Follow-up to What is concept mapping? – and how could it be vital to your work? from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

For the last 7 weeks I have been using a MindManager concept map as a personal work journal. Each day I record my meetings, activities and results into the map. This simple journal has now evolved, with little extra work, into a more sophisticated personal productivity tool and customer relations management (CRM) database. In this article I explain how it works, and how such an easy to use tool used smartly helps me to work much more efficiently.

Firstly, a quick note on MindManager concept mapping for those who have not seen it before. A concept map is an ad-hoc semi-structured database of related information. It contains many small but discrete items of information, usually organised into hierarchies of detail. Mindjet MindManager adds significantly to this basic idea, with a simple to use but extensive interface and feature set. Most importantly, it allows items of information to be keyword tagged with text markers. The map can then be filtered using queries based upon those tags. For more information, read this detailed article.

Here is a screen shot of the top-level topics in my journal concept map:

Journal map

The first of the topics that I developed was Week Commencing (date). This contains the 7 (yes 7) days of the week into which I can write details of my work. At the end of the week, I move this into the Archive section, and create a new blank Week Commencing copied from a template in the Templates section. Here is an example showing a couple of day’s worth of records:

Example days

Most events just contain a simple text title. However, more information can easily be added, such as:

  • hyperlinks (often linking to pages that I am working on or blog entries about the work);
  • file attachments (for example, to hold agendas);
  • email addresses;
  • images;
  • icons (the system contains sets of meaningful icons);
  • long text notes (for example to contain minutes of meetings);
  • task information (see the topics that have end dates underneath them, they have been turned into tasks);
  • “text markers”, or keyword tags.

With these tools I can very quickly build up a simple or a detailed record of what I have been doing. Note that all text entered on the map is searchable using a simple search tool.

The text marker systems adds much more power to concept maps. As I build up my map, I can create an ad-hoc keyword tagging schema by applying text markers to topics. These keywords are added to groups. For example, I have a group called People. This is very significant. I tag every event with the names of the people that it involved. Not only does this give me a simple list of all of my customers, but also a means to filter the entire map for events relevant to specific people. A filter query can be constructed using one or more text markers. Here’s what the filter control looks like:


If I wanted to get at details of all of my work with Sarah Richardson, I could filter the map to show all topics tagged with her name. The map therefore acts as a kind of customer relations management database. I plan to extend this further by tagging topics with the names of the departments with which they are involved, and the names of the technologies that they use.

This then tells me a lot of information about what I have done in the past. I can use it to easily find information about the many different projects in which I am involved. I can also use it for planning. Given that this journal is my main tool for recording and reflecting on my work, and for planning future work, and also that MindManager has some excellent planning features, it makes sense for my map to also have a To Do List section.

Tasks list

I can easily add to this during meetings, giving a visible indication of my agreement to undertake some action at some forecasted time in the future. Notice how this section of the map is divided up:

  1. Today – urgent work;
  2. Scheduled – tasks that have been given an end date (not all recorded on the map);
  3. Not scheduled but important (I try to work out a schedule for them and move them into 2);
  4. Not urgent – things I will do at some point;
  5. Blue sky dreaming – great ideas that may turn into great actions one day.

Note how some of the tasks have priority numbers set. I can also add from a range of other icons, including smileys. Filter queries can be constructed by selecting icons.

Once a task is completed, it gets recorded in the day’s records. I aim at least to get the Today and Scheduled tasks completed on time!

With it’s clear and simple presentation, easy to use and fast interface, and powerful tagging and filtering tools, I have found this to be the most effective approach to improving personal productivity and record keeping. I usually print the map off every couple of days, and annotate my print out when I am off in the field working. The next big step will be to work out how this approach can be adapted for teams. More on that soon.

Note: we have a site license for on campus use. For more information see this page.

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