Have you ever had so many ideas rattling around that it feels as though your razor-sharp brain has been turned into a lump of play dough?

Mia, one of my executive coaching clients was feeling overwhelmed. She had some major projects on hand and was struggling to get her head around where she should start. She's a very good list maker, but that didn't seem to help.

'Have you tried a *mind-map?' I asked. 'It enables you to chunk down the components into bite-sized pieces really fast. It's then easy to see the next steps.'

'No. I've heard of them and seen some very elaborate ones, but I'm not really a picture person. I'm not sure how they'd help.'


With pen and paper we quickly and roughly scoped out her current project, using a very basic mind-map. As I demonstrated to her, it's a really fast way to get rid of the 'cotton-wool' feeling that accompanies overload.

If you're like Mia, relax - there are no rules and you certainly don't have to be an artist. Words, lines, scribbles, stick pictures if you want graphics - anything goes. The key point is that you can rapidly get a handle on the key elements of any situation - in minutes.

I use this process to plan speeches of an hour, workshops of two days, any complex project, and even books. For example, I wrote my second book, About Time 120 time-saving tips for those with no time in three weeks. The mind-map was the working document that scoped the 12 topics and the 10 tips within each topic; it took me only about an hour to create the framework and select the tips in each section. Once the thinking was done it was comparatively easy to do the writing it became just a matter of working backwards from the publisher's deadline and tightly scheduling my writing time.

So you want more specifics?

A4 paper is fine if you're on your own. Flipchart paper is great for a group. Don't worry about what it looks like. The most important thing is that it has meaning for you.

Make a circle in the middle and inside it write your core topic. Then draw out branches going off, a bit like an octopus. Write one key element on each branch.

Now it's time to go deeper. Once sub-sets of the topics start to come up, write them below the 'branches'.

If you've never done it, you'll be surprised how quickly you glean the essence of a topic. The benefits, of course, are clarity, focus, and obvious first steps. You'll find yourself itching to get going, instead of wallowing in procrastination.


So, back to Mia. As I mentioned, she's a good list-maker. She also has great attention to detail, likes things looking nice, and is a bit of a perfectionist. She even admitted that she sometimes re-writes lists because things changed and she didn't want her lists looking messy.

Here's what she reported at yesterday's coaching session:

'I decided to practice by doing a list of chores for my 17-year old daughter.

She thought it was fun: I found it fast and easy. And the best bit was, when I remembered something that fitted into a category, I could just write it in under the relevant branch (because there was still space). I didn't have to push against my perfectionist streak of wanting to rewrite. I'm still a work in progress but I can absolutely see the benefit.

'The key thing I discovered was to get the top level topics right. Then the rest was natural and easy.'

* 'Mind-map' is a term first coined by Tony Buzan, one of the world's foremost experts on the way the brain works.
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