productivity :: balance :: freelancing :: notebooking

Checking in (with me)

By December of 2014, I was in a better place emotionally than I had been in Part 1, and with my business. I was still working hard to pay the bills and living on less than was ideal, but at least things were moving forward. I had new clients, new potential opportunities, new side projects, and new ideas. I may have even been a little excited about the new year to come. It was time for a new mindmap.

I went to the art store and bought a cheap roll of white paper (in the kid’s section) and taped a big swath of it down on the dining room table. I got out my Crayola markers. I wrote “2015” in the middle of my canvas and decorated it with stripes.

This time, feeling more in control of my life, I made branches off the new year of representing areas I wanted to think about and work on. And I even gave each its own color.

Not all of these big branches are strictly congruous — they’re not each a major area of my life, per se, like you’d use in a “Level 10 Life” exercise. It’s more freeform than that, more intuitive and brainstorm-y. Some of the branches are traditional life areas like “health” or “finances” but others are projects I wanted to pursue or was working on. Others, like “art” are life areas important to me but not everyone (I can see my significant other putting “code” in that same slot!).

When I look back at this mindmap, it looks so simple. So many of the ideas and goals on it seem rudimentary now… the obvious steps you take as you’re climbing the bottom rungs of Maslow’s pyramid of needs. But that’s what I was doing in a lot of ways. I was rebuilding my life after a major upheaval and depression. I was re-establishing myself in a new world without job-security (i.e. working for myself) and cleaning up messes that had happened when I was depressed. In a lot of parts of my life, baby steps were in order.

In other parts, I was exploding with creative ideas. I was working on a book, an app, planning a documentary film, working on a bunch of art projects, considering hosting a craft night for friends at my house, amongst other things. I can tell I was excited about some of these things, because my handwriting is hard to read in places.

This map for 2015 is relatively simple compared to others I’ve drawn. It has fewer branches and twigs and diversions than usual. The section on work is pretty light… I was still recovering from burnout to some degree and doing what I needed to do. But I can tell I was getting excited about side projects (and possibly monetized side projects) and looking at ways to be enthused about making my living again.

I was at a place where I only had a certain number of things I could handle alongside the basics. I think I got them onto the paper, wrote some details, wandered around the ideas a bit and I was done. That year, that was what I needed. December ended, I rolled up the map and stuck it in the basket in my office.


The point of these mindmaps is not accountability, it’s brainstorming, dreaming and capturing. But I can tell you, looking back on this, that of all the big ideas I was excited about that year, I didn’t actually complete that many the way I thought they’d happen. (And I think that’s to be expected, psychics excepted).

  • I did finishing writing the book I was going on about. Someday I want to do a revised edition though, angle it differently and actually promote it.
  • I did go quite far down the path with the documentary I wanted to make. I did months of research, got some filming permissions, asked some people to help, took quite a few classes in filmmaking skills I wasn’t up to par on, planned the narrative (on a big paper!) and put a lot of effort into it. Then I decided it would be a boring-ass documentary that no one would like and shelved the project. A lot of this, I wouldn’t have known without all the research I did. I was looking for certain kinds of stories to tell, and I couldn’t find them. I am glad I learned all that I did, going through this process, and I hope I do manage to make films eventually. Maybe even come back to this idea somehow. Between what I uncovered in my research (or failed to) and my personal psyche at the time, it just wasn’t the right thing or the right time. But let’s chalk it up as a stepping stone to the next one.
  • I worked on some of those art projects. I got into Urban Sketching for a while and will come back to it now and then. Some of the other art projects I would definitely consider to be on my backburner to do list.
  • I traveled to some of those places (the easy, cheap ones).
  • I worked on the app idea I had with my SO. We got pretty far with it before deciding that an app was entirely the wrong format for what I wanted to do. But collaborating on something like this was a new and good experience for us, and we both learned a lot.
  • I got my finances more in order.
  • I did not read War and Peace in 2015. (But I did read it in 2016!)
  • I’m still planning on having people over for craft night.

And I don’t feel bad about the things I wrote here but didn’t do, or didn’t finish. These ideas were all MAYBES, with different degrees of importance, probability and feasibleness. Some have since become unimportant or uninteresting to me, a lot of them are still burning bright or burning dimly somewhere in my notebook. Point is, let yourself explore the possibilities for your possible future. You don’t have to play by the rules you write.

The annual mindmap story continues in Part Three.

Also published on Medium.

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