We are trained early on to think that lists must be linear – one item after another, with cute little check boxes next to each. But what if your brain isn't the linear type? Many people, especially creatives, have trouble thinking in a linear fashion. Forcing themselves to create To-Do lists in a traditional manner makes them feel stifled and bored, precisely the wrong mindset in which to do your best thinking. 

Fortunately, you're not graded on your To-Do list. There is no one “right” way. In fact, some of the most productive people don't use traditional To-Do lists at all. They use mindmaps. Mindmapping is a visual way to get information out of your brain and onto a page, which also can create fully functional action “lists.” 
 
The basics for mindmapping are simple. There are computer programs that can assist you (google “mindmap software” for suggestions) and many people prefer those, but really all you need is a large sheet of blank paper and a pen. 
 
Start with a main idea in the center of the page, and brainstorm all the possible related topics around the edges of the page, with lines connecting each thought to the center. Chains of thoughts will link one idea to the next, and indicate patterns and possible links. The idea is that you're not forcing your thoughts into a pre-set format; you're allowing yourself to get all the information out of your brain before trying to group and organize it. 
 
Mindmaps are also useful for figuring out project timelines. Here's how it would work…
 
1.    Start with the goal in the center
(For instance, “Send new customers the latest autoresponder series.”).
2.    Ask yourself, “What would have to happen before I reached that result?”
(“I'd need to load the series into my email system”)
3.    Keep asking that same question, over and over.
(“Before that, I'd need to write the series.”).
4.    Keep going until you get to the first thing you need to do TODAY to get moving towards completion.
(“I'd need to create a new list in my email system and load the new contacts into it.”).
5.    Then add that item to today's list of activities. 
 
Where people fall down when using mindmaps is they never finish. They create the map and think they're done. But you have to actually take that information and add it to a strategy that includes tasks and deadlines. Otherwise, it's like pulling everything out of your closet and spreading it across your bedroom. Your closet is not clean and organized until you create a plan for the space and put everything according to that plan.
 
Mindmapping can be a fun and effective way to create sophisticated strategies and project plans. The key is to allow yourself free rein to get everything down on paper, and then go back and instill logical structure around those ideas. 

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