productivity :: balance :: freelancing :: notebooking

Colorful clouds

If you read the “Spoilers” section in Part 2 you know that I did a lot in 2015. Maybe not everything I hoped for, but I made a lot of progress. By December, I was ready to look at 2016, and had a lot of ideas.

I got out my big paper from the kid’s department again, and taped a stretch of it to the dining room table.

I was moving fast, being messy. I was using a mix of different markers I had around (Crayola, Bic Mark-it, highlighters — this is a notebook blog, I have to tell you what markers I used). I drew demented clouds around the topics of main branches of thought, and I kept adding branches in later, when new ideas came up. I think it may be a good sign, when something like this is disorganized… it means I was coming up with new stuff and thinking fast.

Like the year before, main branches of the map were divvied between “life areas” like Finance or Home and random topics like Content Marketing (honestly, I’m not sure where I was going with that at this point, but I seemed to have been excited about it).

Some topics that were one branch the year before, became multiple ones this year — notably, several different branches for areas of my business. I think this is where I started really codifying the difference between work in my business and work for my business. Of course, I’d always done both, for my current company and for the ones I’d run before, but I never thought so separately of the client vs. non-client activities. This mindmap may be where I started referring to non-client work as my “meta” work. (Hey, it makes sense to me.)

I added some new side projects I was working on, and, I think, significantly, when I look at it now, added a couple topics that are about doing things purely because I enjoy them (e.g. Hobbies) not out of any obligation or goal-seeking.

Getting granular

Looking back at this map after looking at the one for the year before, I see I just had so many more ideas — and “actionable” ones at that. (That is an annoying word, I apologize). Even in boring topics like Finance, I had lots of plans and aspirations. I even brainstormed plans for different client projects in particular — how to make them better, how to make them happen faster and more efficiently — like I cared. Sure, I’ve always done the best by my clients, but what a difference from a few years before!

I even have a small Goals section there, with some overarching wishes for myself and my year (“Stay healthy”).

There are places in this map where there are ORs and I give myself options as I come up with better ideas. There are also some very specific lists of steps to take for the better ideas, labeled 1, 2, 3, or A, B, C.

It’s got all the good parts of other mindmaps, the brainstorming and probing into ideas. Asking a few “why” questions and coming up with alternate solutions to reframe sticky issues. But what I like about this one, in particular, is that after I felt done, that I’d spewed out all the stuff in my brain as Mr. Allen would have one do for peace of mind, I thought to myself, “there’s some good stuff in here.” And I went back with a yellow highlighter and found all the things I really wanted to do — the things that were “action steps” — and I transferred them to real to do lists in my notebook.

So, this year, when I rolled up my mindmap on New Year’s Day, and stuffed it in my basket of scrolls, I felt like it wasn’t just a catharsis, it was also a plan. Having come from a place, a few years ago where I didn’t feel capable of making a plan, or having goals, or thinking about anything beyond the bare necessities, I think this is cheery progress.

In Part Four I’ll list out some tips for doing your own annual mindmap.


Also published on Medium.

Please share.