Have you ever had a daunting task that just seemed like a nightmare to get your head around how to organize it? If you’re like me, you try to find some patterns in all the individual elements that make up whatever the topic is you’re trying to get a handle on. The patterns may not come easily, and even if they do, it’s usually a pain to try and re-categorize an element as you see fit (ever tried to create lists and categorize things in Excel??).
I came across a tool that one of my clients uses called FreeMind – it’s a Java app that allows you to enter a number of text elements and reorganize them in a hierarchical fashion.
Ok, one can do that with an unstructured word processor document or a spreadsheet, but FreeMind allows you to dump all these random ideas onto the page then drag and drop into categories or tags that make sense as you’re rearranging the elements.
So after about an hour of dropping in ideas around areas of improvement for the IT security of one of my clients, I had over 250 elements organized into 8 high level categories and about 18 subcategories. It was grouped well enough to lead discussions on what the current priorities for their programmes should be. If I had attempted this in a spreadsheet (and I had) it would have taken hours and untold frustration – not to mention I probably would have missed relationships that I could see in FreeMind.
If I had attempted this in a spreadsheet (and I had) it would have taken hours and untold frustration
You can add icons to each element to make labeling and categorization easier. Best to check out the FreeMind home page as it is a feature rich tool. From the project Wiki, typical uses include:
- Keeping track of projects, including subtasks, state of subtasks and time recording
- Project workplace, including links to necessary files, executables, source of information and of course information
- Workplace for internet research using Google and other sources
- Keeping a collection of small or middle sized notes with links on some area which expands as needed. Such a collection of notes is sometimes called knowledge base.
- Essay writing and brainstorming, using colors to show which essays are open, completed, not yet started etc, using size of nodes to indicate size of essays. I don’t have one map for one essay, I have one map for all essays. I move parts of some essays to other when it seems appropriate.
- Keeping a small database of something with structure that is either very dynamic or not known in advance. The main disadvantage of such approach when compared to traditional database applications are poor query possibilities, but I use it that way anyway – contacts, recipes, medical records etc. You learn about the structure from the additional data items you enter. For example, different medical records use different structure and you do not have to analyze all the possible structures before you enter the first medical record.
- Commented internet favorites or bookmarks, with colors and fonts having the meaning you want
What a great tool .. I’m sure I’ll find more uses for it!