My personal tool box

Over the years I’ve always had a tool box in the closet like the big one pictured above.  It’s pretty basic – a screwdriver with a variety of heads, a hammer, some picture wire, some duct tape.  Any heavy jobs require assistance from a family member or professional.

But my personal organizational tool box contains some good ones which vary as I acquire more and more digital technology.  The contents here really makes a difference.

First of all – paper journals – even though paper sounds out of date.  Recently I recycled about 25 from past lives pondered and agonized about.  If I were a novelist they might have been fodder for a set of future neurotics , but dipping into them revealed somebody who was self-absorbed and rather silly. No doubt the journal I am filling now will seem the same way later.  But I do find it essential to record what’s on my mind.  A journal gets the ideas and problems out there from inside.  It can be reviewed, laughed at or cried over later when I have better perspectives.  I keep these hand written journals for a while – but not forever.  Sometimes I have a look and copy the best notes from reading or personal insight into another one and those journals are longer keepers.

In addition to the big journal – usually black – and Moleskine or a comparable cheaper brand with a bookmark and an elastic –  I have a couple of other books.  One is for ideas for blogs and things get written down if and when they come to me – (it contained the suggestion of this article among other things).  The third one is a notebook for taking notes at meetings or seminars.  I prefer to do this by hand – and try to capture the main ideas with verbatim phrases or even mind maps.  I’ll later transfer the contents to a report if they are something like minutes and meant to be shared.  Generally people who take notes during meetings capture nearly everything but don’t take the additional step of reflecting on what matters in the content.

Second – Synchronized stuff.  We move between laptops, tablets and smart phones and we need to have it all in hand and as portable as possible.  If I need reference material for a meeting, I’ll want to have it available when and where I need it.  A recent meeting had an advance portfolio of over 500 pages.  I had the option of reading it onsite on a tablet by either using wi-fi or a previously uploaded copy. In another situation I needed the combination to open a safe.  It was in a Gmail folder in message saved to a folder three months earlier.

Third – Mind Mapping.  I’ve been a mind mapper since a son responded in the early nineties by giving me Tony Buzan’s The Mind Map Book for Christmas.  He had heard me complain about a client‘s proposal.  As an arts consultant at the time I was helping plan a major civic arts facility housing performing, visual and media arts.  There was a lot of blue sky thinking and it was our role to introduce a few clouds.  Suddenly there was talk of taking one of the three components out of the plan without understanding the financial effect on operating revenue.  “If only there were a way to show how one change affects everything else – but on one page,”  I wailed.

Mind mapping does that.  I later went down to Palm Beach and became a Buzan certified trainer, but you can actually learn mind mapping in 10 minutes here. Hand maps can be visually beautiful and works of art.  Digital maps have the advantage of reordering and restructuring with ease.  Either technique organizes and structures your thinking.  That’s how this article started and got organized in a very few minutes using Mind mapping software called VisiMap.

Fourth – Graphic Tools.  For any long term plan or project, you have to use something to see the big picture as well as the details.  Most of us think both logically and intuitively and have a preference for one or the other.  We’re exposed to a growing number of messages and an infinite number of words.  When someone says, “Do I have to draw you a picture?” out of frustration, they may be indeed on the right track.  There are many examples of digital canvasses and some of these like Canvanizer are now available for collaborative use.  They are a simple way of uniting those with different ways to think because they combine the textual and the visual and relationships among the components are easier to see.

I also invented a hand written to-do format combining Robert Fritz‘s calendar idea and post-it notes.  In one of his books Fritz  he suggests ranges  for things that have to be done in columns – within one day, two days, three days, five days and two weeks.  It helps see life in a bigger frame and you can even do some stuff earlier if you have time.  Very small post-its are great to write the tasks – and I keep those that tend to repeat – like “pay credit card’ or “prepare meeting agenda” – I just throw the one-time ones away and it feels even better than stroking them off a list.

Fifth – Password Savers.  My current password count is 86. The list might be missing a few or have some that should be deleted.  I still have a small paper book where I wrote these down and had to look them up frequently – until I discovered that there is software that stores all of them securely and can access any of them. Basically all I have to remember now is one – which will allow me to keep all the others on file and synchronize them to my other devices.  It’s really fun to see them automatically open anything from bank accounts to online courseware – and that pause even gives a few seconds to relax and reflect.

Sixth – for now – because there will always be more to explore – Subscription Collectors.  We sign up for things all the time – and then forget about them.  Suddenly our mail boxes are jammed with incoming distractions.  Suddenly an hour has past and we forget what we came to the in-box for in the first place.  We don’t want to give subscriptions up entirely – but we have met the enemy – and it is us.  I used to put incoming ones in a Gmail folder called @Parking-lot with the intention of looking at them on Friday afternoon.  I would usually forget to look – and then after a month there were more than 100 things to read and I tended to delete the whole lot of them –  time saved perhaps, but also opportunities lost to learn anything.  Then I discovered an app called which first checks out what I have subscribed to – all 87 of them –  and allows me to clean out my list.  Then it asks me when I would like to look at incoming mail – morning, afternoon or evening.  After that, it lets me choose a list or a graphic format for all the entries and sends me the whole lot once a day at my preferred time.  This allows a better balance between attending to what has to be done – and still exploring new things at an appropriate time.

These serve me well and I’ll keep using them for now.  What’s in your tool-box?



Real Republishing

See What You Think (2)When a colleague introduced me to Smashwords – she republished her husband’s excellent book book that originally came out in 1990 – I couldn’t resist doing the same with one  of mine that came out in 2006 – though a manual dates almost immediately, unlike the well written history of a Toronto landmark.

My book was written to help those interested in real life applications for mindmapping software – using the software program, VisiMap, as listed in the menu above.  The ideas in it apply to any software or hand drawn maps in this now broad software class.  So if you would like a free copy you can access it here.

Why Visual Tools?

I’m enjoying Mindmeister as an online mapping program.  It follows the principles Tony Buzan espouses by making it easy to add colour and image to the key words on the map.  The one thing that I wish the programmer would do would be to make it easier to access the images from the menu.  It took a few trials before I got it into my head where to go for that.  VisiMap also makes it even easier to add new branch material by just starting to type on anything highlighted.  I’d like to see that improvement too.  But otherwise the design is very attractive. I notice that the images that I am using takes rather a long time to load. I like to use quality photos and the kind of embedding going on make the map images slow to load. Too many people having fun perhaps?

A small group of colleagues are starting to develop a number of digital samples.  So this one is the first to go into a new category. Have a look at the new map.

A new year of possibilities

Happy New Year!

And a quick reminder – thanks to Creative Confidence from the Kelley brothers of the famous Ideo – a company renowned for its innovative design. It’s a good read.

The brothers remind us that Mind Mapping is a great tool to expand and generate new ideas – making notes instead of taking notes.  The further you go in adding words and ideas to each branch the more innovative the ideas because of the mind’s incredible ability to make links and associations.

Lists, on the other hand, are excellent reminders of what you know already.

In a recent session where the objective was to generate new ideas, the facilitator suggested that we make lists first – and then turn the contents into a mind map.  but the reverse process will actually work better.  If you are using mapping using software, of course, you can turn any map into a list with the flick of a button or two – a way to deal with your list loving friends.

I’ve started the year by making a map of all the things that I want to do in order to have more fun.  That’s different than making resolutions and we’ll see how it works.

Mapping is a good way to start the year

The beginning of the year is a good time to rediscover what counts.  While mapping with software has the advantage of live links to content – and I’ll expand on that soon – hand drawn maps have a good deal of value, not the least of which is their uniqueness.  Here is one the shows the summary of Twyla Tharpe’s The Creative Habit. I made it some time ago but it still captures the essence of what I read.  This one and others are included in the Maps and Diagrams section on the above menu.