work life

Solve Anything by Mind-mapping

One of the tools I've always got in my back pocket which suits almost all occasions is mind-mapping. This versatile tool and approach is a quick and easy way to break up a problem or pain point, find out new items to work on and to also plan out bigger topics. One of the fundamental benefits of the tool is that it enables all participants to gain a new perspective. Instead of viewing topics head on, you're somewhat removed from the situation and placed in a birds-eye view. The perspective enhances your abilities to break things down into smaller chunks and to identify key areas to tackle. 

Tools of the Trade

The market is full of different mind-mapping tools. For me I've tried 3:

  1. FreeMind (Multi-platform)
  2. Xmind (Multi-platform)
  3. MindNode (Mac + iOS Only)

FreeMind // Website - €FREE
FreeMind is an open source piece of software which is very basic but provides all the functionalities that you would need to get started with. You are also able to export it in a number of formats including image files and PDFs. 

Xmind // Website  - €FREE to €99
Was my daily driver for over a year, not only was the free version easy to get a hold of and multi-platform the Pro (paid) version also had a lot of benefits. But what I started to notice was that any medium to high complexity maps were running very slow on Xmind and when demoing the tool and software to colleagues at work it was the first thing they said and noticed. Because of this very reason I had to stop using the software.

MindNode // Website  - €10 (iOS) to €30 (Mac) 
I'm currently using MindNode, and I have to admit I love it. It's soo easy to use, fast and fluid. It enables you to export it to many different mediums (including a FreeMind file). It has another cool ability which is uploading it to their cloud platform; this enabled anyone with the link to look and to use the mind-map (but not edit) which is very useful as asking someone to install something to look at a file is usually a significant pain. My only complaint is that you cannot password the could version and that there is no Windows version (I'm a Mac user, but some colleagues of mine want to use it but are Windows users)

One Approach

The first thing I do is write the problem or pain point in the middle. The approach I usually take is the brainstorming one. I just get all my ideas and thoughts down; this includes every aspect which affects the topic or slightly touches it. This way I get the fullest possible view. 

What I do then is to categorise the various points into smaller categories. This approach gives me the pillars to work with and helps later on with communication on the topic.

With that done you can clearly see from a zoomed out view:

  • What are the action points moving forward //Right Most Points (Solutions)
  • What are the fundamental problem areas // Key Pillars (Communication, Organisation and Strategy

The later also gives you the core areas which can be used in a possible next step pitch presentation to get management buy-in for moving forward on the topic.

Conclusion

In a work environment the mind-map is a very versatile tool that not only enables you to get a new perspective on possible issues but allows you to break down points until the smallest layer and helps to figure out where to start. You don't have to get a super fancy qualification as its straightforward and makes sense. Of course the more experienced you are with mind-mapping, the better you will be in the initial phase of creation and identifying groups. I can highly recommend the approach.

Calendar Management - Managing in a modern business

I'm not sure about you, but my work life revolves around Outlook and especially the Calendar. These days a lot of companies have a very harsh meeting culture internally, what I mean by this is that you are forever running between meetings and switching topics within only the time it takes you to switch the meeting room. I know, I lived this and still do to some aspects, but here is how I try and cut down on my meetings and also treat my non-meeting time just as important.

The Basis

Below is a rough look on how yours & my calendar looks like on a typical week:

The first thing I recommend if you haven't already is to create categories for various meetings. Remember you can add more than one category to a meeting. I would also create one or two so you can highlight there importance + if attendance is 100% required. Don't be afraid to miss some meetings and just ask for the meeting minutes afterwards.

Once you've done this your calendar now looks more like this:

For meetings that are low to mid importance, I would ask yourself if weekly attendance is required or should you recommend the meeting to be bi-weekly or just a 10 - 15 minute slot. You can communicate in relation to the short slot that if there is additional action points you could schedule another meeting on that specific topic. I find the later helps a lot as it forces you and others to keep to the points with not much fluff due to the limited timeframe. You will most likely also realise that there is very rarely a need to add an additional meeting to follow up on other topics.

Meeting & Work Balance

Now the meetings are structured in a way in which you can really see what is highly important and what is not. Hopefully you have cut some meetings down to bi-weekly and / or to 15 minute chunks. The next step is to try and assign yourself a target, this should be flexible, as in you shouldn't try and live it exactly but its a good basis to start with. The target is percentage of your time in and out of meetings. This is a very trivial KPI but one that you should always beware of subconsciously. I try to aim to 50% - 60% of my time in meetings, I used to aim for 30% but I realised this wasn't practical as I would be forgotten on a lot of topics.

So my weekly aim is to spend no more than 50% to 60% of my time in meetings. You can measure this in a multitude of ways from manual counting, to using timers or creating an excel spreadsheet, that is completely down to which ever style suites you best. 

Personal Meeting for Work (Work Block)

So now we have the meetings categorised, optimised and also a soft target in terms of a KPI to keep a handle and track of our personal meeting culture. The next step is to fill in the various gaps in your calendar and assign your own tasks + projects to it. I usually title the appointment like "WORK BLOCK - xxxxxx" this way if someone needs me in a meeting or something comes up people can easily see that I'm not in a meeting and so can grab me. I would also block time out for lunch, its such an important break to get away from the desk, meetings and to refresh your mind.

Setting up the work blocks also helps on a conscious level. If Bill wanted to book a meeting with me, he opens Outlook, goes to the scheduling assistant and sees that I'm completely blocked. If its super urgent he would see the work blocks and book into these if not he would just send me an email with the topic and then allow me to define the timeframe for the meeting. This is how we can leverage others to also help keep our calendars in check. 

Of course, there is no perfect solution. You'll always get someone or a group who just go ahead and do what they want, but now you have the tools to be able to handle it much better.

After Thoughts

So that's how I use a simple system to make sure I stay focused on my tasks & projects, as well as making sure I'm still visible in the company and making the best use of my time. Remember that time is a finite resource and you should budget your time even more stricter than budgeting your money (of course don't spend too much time on that). There are plenty of other methods such as completely blocking your calendar forcing people to contact you to arrange a meeting but I usually find it adds to the workload and is counter productive, but then again every one is different and you should try different approaches and to see what works best for you. I'm not afraid to tear a process down and try something new and you shouldn't be either.