Mind Map is For Everyone and Even Beyond That

image Talking with one of our old friends, founder of the Biggerplate.com, Liam was amazing. He was direct and reasonable for the sharp questions, and open to share his tips in this special time. We were concerned about Biggerplate’s condition during the lockdown, and if their crew adapted the remote well, while Liam uncovered the mix & match magic of personal workflow and company routine for over these years and things were just fine.

Besides, Liam also brought up some of the business and personal habits that he strongly recommended to stick to, bits and pieces of the remote days, and his secret productivity tool during working from home.

Hint: Find mind mapping dashboard tutorial from Biggerplate.com


Do you think that mind mapping is suitable for everyone? Or, what kind of people do you think are more suitable for mind mapping?

Over the years, I’ve seen suggestions that “right-brained” people might be more suited to mind mapping, and “left-brained” people may not find it useful, or be as inclined to try these approaches. However, I have seen absolutely no evidence of this in over a decade of running Biggerplate.com. We have worked with thousands of people who might be labelled as “left-brained”, and whose jobs are viewed as more analytical, and less ‘creative’. Without fail, the moment they see a relevant use case for mind mapping that helps them solve a practical problem, they are just as interested in the tools as the “right brained” people who are supposedly more inclined to use mind mapping. On the flip side, I’ve seen just as many “right brain” types dismiss mind mapping because they have not been shown a practical use case that feels relevant to them. We need to get rid of this outdated idea of “left” or “right” brained people once and for all, along with the notion that this somehow helps us identify the most relevant audience for mind mapping. It is a gross simplification of people, an inaccurate understanding of the brain, and does nothing but distract from the practical problems that mind mapping solves.

Nobody ever asked for the neuroscience behind Microsoft Excel or Powerpoint… they simply saw tools that helped them solve problems. Mind mapping helps solve practical problems that everyone has, and as such is a technique that can benefit anyone and everyone. We view mind mapping software as the “missing link” and a must-have tool to support people in business and education. Regardless of your industry, job title, or seniority, we all face the same challenge: difficulty in developing and organizing ideas and information. Mind mapping helps to tackle this challenge, and as such, should sit alongside established tools like Word, Powerpoint and Excel as a standard part of the modern working toolkit. In many cases, a mind mapping tool is what you should open before you open those other tools, to help you think through what you need to do next, and/or to help you break down the information volume and complexity that these other tools often create or perpetuate.

What is your workflow of work from home? What are your tips for improving efficiency?

Biggerplate has been structured as a remote-first business for many years, and while we do have a physical office, we were normally working remotely 80% of the time, even before the virus lockdown. As such, both my personal workflow, and the company routines for remote working have been established over a number of years, and I think on both fronts, the key thing is to** focus on the conscious creation and monitoring of habits that support (rather than sabotage) your efforts**. For both individuals and businesses, it is important to establish easy to maintain, repeatable habits that serve your purpose.

In the business for example, that means an established mix of weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly meetings, each with a specific focus, which helps us minimize the number of times we need to interrupt each other during a day. We always try to ask ourselves “can this wait until the next scheduled meeting” before interrupting someone else, who may be in deep concentration on something else. Having the ‘habit’ of these meetings in everyone’s minds (and ensuring the meetings are effective in raising ideas/issues) is key to ensuring people do not establish destructive habits of interrupting each other constantly! Other habits in the business include blocking off certain times in calendars, and consciously switching to ‘offline’ or ‘unavailable’ so that we can individually focus on a particular task, without the risk of others accidentally interrupting us.

On the personal front, key habits include setting a ‘Top 3’ priority items for the day before I do anything else, usually while drinking my morning ‘get started’ coffee. I’m amazed how many people start their day by opening their emails… immediately putting themselves in a reactive state of mind based on what other people say, or want. Instead, start the day reviewing all of the competing priorities, and declare clearly to yourself which are the 3 most important to have progressed by the end of the day. From that point onwards, anything new that comes into your inbox should be compared to that Top 3, so that you can make conscious choices about whether it merits action or not. Our goal should be to make conscious choices about what to do (and more importantly not do) rather than drift from one task to the next simply because it’s next on the list, or someone asked nicely. This is where a mind map dashboard can be so invaluable, both for scanning the entire range of competing projects, and for visually declaring that Top 3 for the day.

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The ideal scenario of course is to have your daily ‘Top 3’ items aligned with the business ‘Top 3’ for the period you’re in (for example, the current quarter), which obviously requires that you establish regular habits of setting clear priorities in the business.

We are now working from home, which software (productivity tool) do you use often? Is there any difference when you use it at the office?

For me, everything is managed from a single mind map dashboard that helps me keep track of all the different projects in progress (or in planning) at Biggerplate. This is at the centre of my personal organization and productivity, regardless of whether I’m working at home, in an office, or traveling on planes, trains etc.

The mind map dashboard provides me with all the key information I need, and also gives me visual sign posts (using hyperlinks, attachments, icons etc) that help direct me to key information that exists elsewhere. Even though the actions might take place elsewhere (like send an email, or create a proposal document), the mind map dashboard is where everything starts. Creating your own version of this is extremely simple, and over time, it develops into your ‘second brain’ where everything you need to operate efficiently is stored and managed.

To see this in action, and to learn how to create your own Personal Organiser Dashboard in XMind, view our webinar here: https://bit.ly/3adElMT

The most important thing about work from home is communication and efficiency, but sometimes absent. What are your suggestions for work efficiently at home?

Actually, I’d say the most important is preserving your personal mental and physical health. This is important whether working from home or in an office, but is proving much harder for some people who are adjusting to working from home for the first time, or for longer periods than they have previously experienced.

One of the core things to recognize is that ‘home working’ often means working alone, even if your family might be in the house, and even if you’re connected to colleagues by a myriad of technological solutions. I know from my own experience as an entrepreneur often working extremely hard in relative isolation, that maintaining good physical and mental health can be challenging, and I also know that when I have failed to pay attention to it, everything else suffers, with communication and efficiency usually among the first things to deteriorate.

As mentioned before, my key advice is to** focus on understanding your habits**, and whether they support or sabotage your physical and mental health, as well as your working efficiency. Once you can identify your habits (good and bad), look to build a few easy, repeatable habits that nudge you in the right direction. Don’t look for one big win, as it likely does not exist. Instead, focus on finding and building seemingly trivial habits that will cumulatively add up to support the maintenance of good work routines, but also good routines for brain and body.

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For example, brewing the morning coffee is a habit I always had, but a few years ago, I decided to make it my cue to simply switch on my laptop in the morning. The coffee is my reward for taking the first action to start my work day, because now I can’t get what I want (coffee) without starting my day (turning on the laptop). In the time it then takes me to brew and drink my morning coffee, I review my mind map dashboard, identify my Top 3 priorities for the day, and start work on them, often by pulling into my dashboard key information that I know I’ll need in relation to each item. When the coffee is finished, it gives me another cue to get up from my desk (to clear away the coffee mug), and I often take this chance to step outside for a 10-15 minute walk, to get a bit of oxygen in my system (helpful for the mind), and get my body moving a little further than the bed-to-office commute (good for base physical health). The simple act of brewing myself a coffee in the morning (an easy habit), sets in motion a set of extremely small, manageable actions that not only help me get started on my work, but also provides a little mental and physical health habit (the post-coffee walk) that is also easily maintained.

Throughout my day, there are several versions of these loops going on, even as the busy day builds up. This includes a run in the middle of the day before I eat any lunch, which is a habit I established many years ago after I acknowledged that my motivation and energy to exercise at the start or end of the day was non-existent, and that I also had a habit of forgetting to eat lunch because I’d get distracted working. So now, I break up my day in the middle, go running for an hour or so, then reward myself with lunch, which I’m now craving after exercise, instead of forgetting while working!

My typical working day for many years has been 8:00 am - 8:00 pm, and that is a routine that I have found works well for me, after many conscious tests of what did and did not work in keeping balance in my life. Whether you’re working from home, or an office, getting clear on the habits that work for you (not against you) is a fantastic way to start improving your physical and mental health, which in turn, drives better performance at work in my own experience.

In addition to parents working from home, students are now having class at home as well. How do you think that mind mapping can help students learn efficiently?

I wish I had known about mind mapping as a younger student, as it really is an invaluable tool for learning. I’d suggest there are 3 key areas that mind mapping can help students, and those are note taking, knowledge building, and written assignments.

For note-taking, mind mapping takes away the need to write long sentences, by allowing you to capture just a few keywords at a time which makes it easier to keep up. In addition, notes taken in a mind map help you to more easily see how information connects together, and understand the big picture, and the small details, based on the branch structure. Even if the note-taking mind map is a little messy, it still has structure that linear notes does not, and this will be invaluable when you come to review and update them.

Knowledge building is where you take your mind map notes from several lessons, and start to combine them into a summary map (or several maps) that contain the key information about the subject. With software, you can connect up these mind maps, so that you can create an easy to navigate system of maps that contain all of the information you need about the subject. .

Finally, students who struggle with written assignments may find mind mapping extremely helpful in planning out the structure of an essay, or report. A simple mind map can help you think through the order of your written assignment, whilst also gathering your thoughts and research, all in one place. Often spending time mapping out your ideas and plan will save you lots of time (and frustration) in the writing phase that follows, so try it out!

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Mind mapping software can help you think more clearly and creatively but it can’t think for you after all. So how can we go beyond a productivity tool and think better?

Absolutely correct. The software is not the answer, but it can help you to discover the answers. “Thinking better” is a big challenge, but something that mind mapping can definitely help with. My own experience is that better organization of my ideas and information at the earliest stage invariably leads to clarity in my own mind about the tasks involved, action to be taken, or other things I need to consider or research before I start ticking off actions.

Abraham Lincoln is credited with saying “give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”, and this is a quote I use all the time when talking about mind mapping. The simple exercise of mapping out your ideas and information in relation to a project, task, challenge, opportunity etc is all about sharpening the axe. If you take just a little time to do that up-front thinking (or axe sharpening), you will find you are able to execute far more efficiently when it is time to do so. Furthermore, you will also be more confident that you are executing on the right things, because you have been prompted by the mind map to think broader, which in turn means you are chopping the right tree, not just the nearest tree…!

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