There are many ways to plan out projects, ideas, and plans. You could use a simple piece of paper, a digital planning tool, or you could use a mind map.
I first came across mind mapping when I was at school. One of my teachers showed us how to structure an essay, and his method was to create a mind map and develop arguments using the branches of the map, so you never lost sight of the question.
The next time I use mind maps extensively was when I began creating presentations in the early 2000s. As an English communication teacher teaching business executives in Korea to better communicate with their English speaking partners, I was not teaching vocabulary, grammar, and structure—my students already had that. I was teaching more about the culture of communication in the English speaking world.
I found mind maps allowed me to explore ideas and learning points before building the presentation. And since then, I have used mind maps to discover new ways of handling difficult problems, develop online courses, and plan out what I want to accomplish over the next twelve months and longer-term.
In this article, I want to show you how you can benefit from adding mind mapping to your productivity and planning tool kit.
How Does Mind Mapping Work?
Mind mapping works by giving you a visual means to brainstorm your ideas while, at the same time, giving you the foundations of a structure you can use once you have completed your mind map.
You start by writing down in the middle of a page what it is you want to answer. The best mind maps have a question as a title, although you do not have to use questions. The reason questions work best is because every time you look at your mind map, you engage your brain’s problem-solving abilities.
For example, you could ask the question, “What do I have to do to earn $1 million every year?”
When you use a “what do I have to do to…” question, your brain begins searching for ways you can achieve whatever it is you are asking.
If you ask the question “how do I earn $1 million every year”, your brain is likely to give you unrealistic or unclear answers, such as becoming CEO of a global company, winning the lottery, or investing in high-risk stocks on the stock market.
Those answers do not tell you “how” you will do it; all it does is tell you “what” to do. You will still need to drill down further. What you want to do is fine-tune the question so the answers you get are things you can do that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be in the future.
If you were to use a mind map to create a presentation, you could use the question, “what do I have to do to explain how to build a successful podcast to an audience who has never created a podcast?”.
This will engage your brain far better than asking “how to build a successful podcast” because it helps you remember who your audience is—which is a key part of the whole presentation experience—as well as remind you that you need to keep things basic.
Once you have spent time developing your mind map, you will have a list of ideas that you can use to build your project, goal, or presentation. It allows you to prioritize and organize your thoughts, so it is easier to move to the next step of doing whatever it is you want to do.
How Do You Create a Mind Map?
Knowing how mind mapping works is different from applying it. Here are the 4 steps of mind mapping and how you can apply it in your life.
1. Start With Your Question
Before you start, think about what it is you want to mind map about. If we take the example of presenting to an audience, ask yourself, “what exactly do I want to tell my audience?” and “What do I want them to leave knowing?”
The clearer your question, the better answers you will get.
For example: “What do I have to do to explain how to build a successful podcast?” This is an excellent question because it will elicit some good points you can then develop into your presentation.
Once you know your question, write that down in the middle of the page.
Although I love technology, I still prefer to do this on paper, but you can use mind mapping software for this, too. It depends on how you like to work.
For many of the mind maps I create today, I use my iPad and Apple Notes to create mind maps. But for more in-depth, complex mind maps, my go-to is still pen and paper. There’s just something about having a few colored pens and a highlighter to sit down with and start brainstorming ideas.
2. Let Your Mind Go and Write Whatever Comes to Mind
Once you have your question written down, let yourself go. Don’t try and edit yourself. No matter how crazy, wild, or stupid something may seem at first, get it down onto your mind map. You can remove ideas later.
In these early stages, you want to brainstorm ideas. Editing yourself at this stage will not produce your best ideas. Out of what may seem a stupid idea could come the killer idea.
When I developed my Time Sector time management system, the original idea came to me while I was at the gym. As soon as I got home, I began a mind map of the original idea.
The question I used was: “how do I build a time management system for the 21st century?” and I spent around two hours scribbling out all the ideas I had. There were all the things I knew about why people struggled with more traditional systems and what was needed for the way we work today.
At the end of those two hours, I had a lot of points, ideas, and solutions. Many of which were silly, but everything I had been thinking about came out plus a lot more because ideas sparked other ideas.
3. Leave It for a Few Days
This part is an important step. After your initial brainstorm, leave it for a few days. You want to engage your subconscious mind to develop your thoughts and ideas.
Unfortunately, your subconscious mind is slow. It analyzes, thinks, and connects new ideas to old experiences, and all that takes time. Giving yourself a few days will generate more ideas and expand others.
After a few days, come back to your mind map and give yourself another hour or two with it. You will find you have a lot more ideas to add and you may also see ideas that don’t work—you can delete these if you wish, although I prefer to leave them just in case they spark more ideas later.
After this session, you will have a lot of ideas, answers, and steps. The next stage is where you fine-tune these ideas and start to structure the next steps.
4. Number Your Ideas by Importance
Whether you have been developing a project, a solution to an existing problem, or preparing a presentation, you now need to decide in what order you will move forward.
If you have been developing a project, what needs to happen next to start the project? That’s number one.
Go through your mind map and number all the points. If you were mind mapping a presentation, what order will you bring in your points? If you were developing a podcast, what needs to happen next? Perhaps it would be to begin writing a list of twenty topics.
Once you have all your ideas and points numbered, you can then move those to your to-do list manager, slide deck, or project plans and place them in the right order. You may find that as you begin working on your project, you change your order round. But by having an initial order from your mind map, you will at least have a place to start.
Mind mapping is a great tool to get a lot of jumbled and disorganized thoughts out of your mind and into the open and once there, you can easily organize these thoughts and ideas so that you can take the first steps to build something exceptional.
Mind mapping is a great way to encourage your brain to develop ideas and brainstorm solutions to existing problems, create new product ideas, and build engaging presentations.
Mind maps are a visual representation of your thoughts, and they encourage you to go deeper with your ideas, so they are thoroughly thought through and developed.
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When it comes to being effective vs efficient, there are a lot of similarities, and because of this, they’re often misused and misinterpreted, both in daily use and application.
Every business should look for new ways to improve employee effectiveness and efficiency to save time and energy in the long term. Just because a company or employee has one, however, doesn’t necessarily mean that the other is equally present.
Utilizing both an effective and efficient methodology in nearly any capacity of work and life will yield high levels of productivity, while a lack of it will lead to a lack of positive results.
Before we discuss the various nuances between the word effective and efficient and how they factor into productivity, let’s break things down with a definition of their terms.
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Effective vs Efficient
Effective is defined as “producing a decided, decisive, or desired effect.” Meanwhile, the word “efficient ” is defined as “capable of producing desired results with little or no waste (as of time or materials).”
A rather simple way of explaining the differences between the two would be to consider a light bulb. Say that your porch light burned out and you decided that you wanted to replace the incandescent light bulb outside with an LED one. Either light bulb would be effective in accomplishing the goal of providing you with light at night, but the LED one would use less energy and therefore be the more efficient choice.
Now, if you incorrectly set a timer for the light, and it was turned on throughout the entire day, then you would be wasting energy. While the bulb is still performing the task of creating light in an efficient manner, it’s on during the wrong time of day and therefore not effective.
The effective way is focused on accomplishing the goal, while the efficient method is focused on the best way of accomplishing the goal.
Whether we’re talking about a method, employee, or business, the subject in question can be either effective or efficient, or, in rare instances, they can be both.
When it comes to effective vs efficient, the goal of achieving maximum productivity is going to be a combination where the subject is effective and as efficient as possible in doing so.
Effectiveness in Success and Productivity
Being effective vs efficient is all about doing something that brings about the desired intent or effect. If a pest control company is hired to rid a building’s infestation, and they employ “method A” and successfully completed the job, they’ve been effective at achieving the task.
The task was performed correctly, to the extent that the pest control company did what they were hired to do. As for how efficient “method A” was in completing the task, that’s another story.
If the pest control company took longer than expected to complete the job and used more resources than needed, then their efficiency in completing the task wasn’t particularly good. The client may feel that even though the job was completed, the value in the service wasn’t up to par.
When assessing the effectiveness of any business strategy, it’s wise to ask certain questions before moving forward:
- Has a target solution to the problem been identified?
- What is the ideal response time for achieving the goal?
- Does the cost balance out with the benefit?
Looking at these questions, a leader should ask to what extent a method, tool, or resource meets the above criteria and achieve the desired effect. If the subject in question doesn’t hit any of these marks, then productivity will likely suffer.
Efficiency in Success and Productivity
Efficiency is going to account for the resources and materials used in relation to the value of achieving the desired effect. Money, people, inventory, and (perhaps most importantly) time, all factor into the equation.
When it comes to being effective vs efficient, efficiency can be measured in numerous ways. In general, the business that uses fewer materials or that is able to save time is going to be more efficient and have an advantage over the competition. This is assuming that they’re also effective, of course.
Consider a sales team for example. Let’s say that a company’s sales team is tasked with making 100 calls a week and that the members of that team are hitting their goal each week without any struggle.
The members on the sales team are effective in hitting their goal. However, the question of efficiency comes into play when management looks at how many of those calls turn into solid connections and closed deals.
If less than 10 percent of those calls generate a connection, the productivity is relatively low because the efficiency is not adequately balancing out with the effect. Management can either keep the same strategy or take a new approach.
Perhaps they break up their sales team with certain members handling different parts of the sales process, or they explore a better way of connecting with their customers through a communications company.
The goal is ultimately going to be finding the right balance, where they’re being efficient with the resources they have to maximize their sales goals without stretching themselves too thin. Finding this balance is often easier said than done, but it’s incredibly important for any business that is going to thrive.
Combining Efficiency and Effectiveness to Maximize Productivity
Being effective vs efficient works best if both are pulled together for the best results.
If a business is ineffective in accomplishing its overall goal, and the customer doesn’t feel that the service is equated with the cost, then efficiency becomes largely irrelevant. The business may be speedy and use minimal resources, but they struggle to be effective. This may put them at risk of going under.
It’s for this reason that it’s best to shoot for being effective first, and then work on bringing efficiency into practice.
Improving productivity starts with taking the initiative to look at how effective a company, employee, or method is through performance reviews. Leaders should make a point to regularly examine performance at all levels on a whole, and take into account the results that are being generated.
Businesses and employees often succumb to inefficiency because they don’t look for a better way, or they lack the proper tools to be effective in the most efficient manner possible.
Similar to improving a manager or employee’s level of effectiveness, regularly measuring the resources needed to obtain the desired effect will ensure that efficiency is being accounted for. This involves everything from keeping track of inventory and expenses, to how communication is handled within an organization.
By putting in place a baseline value for key metrics and checking them once changes have been made, a company will have a much better idea of the results they’re generating.
It’s no doubt a step-by-step process. By making concentrated efforts, weakness can be identified and rectified sooner rather than later when the damage is already done.
Understanding the differences between being effective vs efficient is key when it comes to maximizing productivity. It’s simply working smart so that the intended results are achieved in the best way possible. Finding the optimal balance should be the ultimate goal for employees and businesses:
- Take the steps that result in meeting the solution.
- Review the process and figure out how to do it better.
- Repeat the process with what has been learned in a more efficient manner.
And just like that, effective and efficient productivity is maximized.