MindNode

Yesterday I downloaded MindNode for iOS because I was looking for a different way to organize a talk outline. I’ve only used it on iPhone, and I have to say it’s a pretty fantastic mindmapping tool.

Mindmapping

This organizational method focuses on the relation of ideas, or nodes, to one another. It’s more visual and freeform than a traditional, linear outline. Some people find it very difficult to construct and process information this way; others find it essential to thinking clearly.

iOS app

The iOS app is extremely capable while being easy to use. It has most features of the macOS version; you can compare the feature set using this chart.

Formatting

  • Themes: There are several pre-made themes to choose from, but you can also create your own from within the app.
  • Colors: There’s a decent palette of colors to use; you can also set a node’s color using hex codes.
  • Fonts: You can change the font of individual nodes.
  • Linetypes: You can vary the thickness and continuity of lines and arrows. You can also choose from a few shapes for your nodes.
  • Styles: Once you’ve applied these options to 1 node, you have the option of applying the style to all nodes or selected ones.

Outline Mode

As you build your mind map, MindNode builds an outline off of the content. This is something that really appeals to me. The mind map layout forces me to minimize my words, but this mode allows me to quickly see the ideas in a more linear way when that’s more useful.

Export options

There are about 15 different exports; here are a couple surprising, extremely useful options.

  • Markdown outline: Create a mind map, then export it as Markdown to Ulysses (i.e. your Markdown app of choice) to flesh out a post/essay/novel.
  • OmniFocus: Plan your project in MindNode. Mark actionable nodes as tasks. Export to OmniFocus, and items are added to your inbox with hierarchy and completion status intact.

Pricing

iOS: $10; definitely worth it. Get it on the App Store.
macOS: $30; I’ll probably get it later. Get it on the App Store.

The Binge Breaker

Bianca Bosker wrote a very intersting article on Tristan Harris and his Time Well Spent initiative, which aims to get individuals and companies thinking about ethical design and reducing the interruptions and distractions from our “‘WMDs’ (the planners’ loaded shorthand for wireless mobile devices).”

Self-control is definitely involved when it comes to using technology, but Harris points out:

“there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”

Many apps, along with the entire concept of notifications, seem designed to keep us checking our phones, hoping for a dopamine rush. And while it’s easy to think we’ll get right back to whatever we were doing,

research shows that when interrupted, people take an average of 25 minutes to return to their original task.

Self-defense Tactics

Some of his own methods for minimizing mobile distractions included:

  • turning off almost all notifications
  • setting a custom vibration for messages
  • relegating black-hole, time-sucking, and colorful apps to folders
  • using search to launch apps

I do much of this already. My notification-enabled apps are:

  • OmniFocus
  • Squarespace Commerce
  • Fantastical 2
  • Skype for Business
  • Find Friends
  • Google Hangouts
  • Mail, but only for VIPs (0) and Thread Notifications (currently 0 enabled)
  • Messages
  • Facebook Messenger
  • Phone
  • Slack
  • Voxer
  • Whatsapp

Now, that seems like a lot of messaging apps, I know. But Hangouts, Voxer, Whatsapp, and Messenger are the sole means of contact with 1-2 friends per app. The key here is that I am notified only when someone is directly contacting me, or I have something very important to do (OmniFocus, Fantastical 2, Commerce). Messages has a custom vibration I call Double Tap. My homescreen looks like so. And I constantly use search or Siri to launch apps.

Time vs. Value

I like the idea of tracking how much time I spend in an app on a weekly basis and comparing it to the value I get from each. A rough way of doing this would be to schedule a time each week (perhaps during my weekly review and planning session) to reflect on this. The time data is available on iPhone:

  1. Go to Settings > Battery > Battery Usage
  2. Select Last 7 Days and the clock icon.

As much as I’d like tech giants to step in and make ethical design choices, I still assume primary responsibility for my usage, as we all must.

Time and Task Management

Thanks to people like Chris Bowler and Ben Brooks, I’ve come across some articles recently about evil to-do lists and putting everything on your calendar instead. Ben thinks it’s stupid, and Chris wasn’t inclined toward it, but seems to think some of the arguments make sense.

The basic gist of the articles against to-do lists is they leave too much choice and allow too little commitment. Putting everything on your calendar forces you to make time to do it, allows you to see availability, and forces you to say “no” more often. I’m loosely trying it out, and I do like that I am more aware of my calendar and time allotments.

In school, everyone received a paper agenda, and we were trained to use it, to rely on it. A mix of calendar and task list worked well. I don’t feel like it’s so easily implemented in apps, though.

Task and Calendar Apps

I’ve tried both 2Do and Omnifocus when it comes to task apps. They each have things I like, but I didn’t work well with either one. I failed to check or add to them regularly. So what would happen? Most of my important stuff would get done, and the less important—or unimportant!—ones would be left to languish. Meanwhile, Fantastical 2 is the only calendar app I’ll bother using; it’s especially nice on Mac, but I’ll talk about it more soon.

Brass Tacks

Regardless of the method you use, the key is to get things done without delay. Use lists or don’t. Use a calendar or don’t. Use paper, or apps, or don’t. But when it comes to things you need to know, know what they are, when they’re due, and who’s expecting. And know when to say “no” to other things.

Productivity: The How

Yesterday I shared a definition of productivity:

Productivity is quality work done is the shortest amount of time because you: 1) know your tools, 2) schedule tasks, 3) minimize interruptions, and 4) ask for help.

Know Your Tools

By knowing your tools, you reduce the time needed to complete a task. Your most common tasks are automated. You make good use of keyboard shortcuts. Your workspace is organized so that your most needed tools are close at hand. And even your packing and shopping lists are standardized!

Schedule Tasks

  • Call people when you are most likely to reach them.
  • Check email at set times rather than continually checking it throughout the day.
  • Set aside time when you are most alert for tasks requiring concentration.
  • Avoid allotting a specific amount of time for a task. You’ll find a way to make the task take that long.
  • Make good use of waiting time by reading, writing letters, or taking care of some essential task.

Minimize interruptions

Recognize that flow, or being in the zone, is extremely valuable. If you have reached the state of flow, don’t answer the phone!

Schedule meetings at the beginning or end of work periods to limit interruptions (managers and team leads, you should be doing this out of respect for your team members’ flow). If you can see someone is in the zone, do not demand they break out of it to assist you.

Make use of deadlines. Setting a limit on a project can prevent you from procrastinating.

Ask for Help

No one knows it all. Truly productive people are modest (meaning they recognize their limitations), and rather than fretting over what they don’t know, they make a point of know who to ask. Further, a modest and productive person delegates tasks to others, freeing themselves to do other things.

Other Tidbits

Recognize that at times, there are unenjoyable tasks that must be done, and that the best course of action is to get them over with rather than procrastinating or thinking about how badly you don’t want to do them.

Adequate rest and relaxation is critical for reaching your maximum productivity. People who work longer hours are not more productive, partially because they miss this key ingredient. On the other hand, you are not obligated to accept every social invitation.

Don’t be a perfectionist. (Insert something about the 80/20 rule here.) There is always room for improvement, but there is not always time for it.

These tips can all help you to become more productive, but your level of productivity can only be measured against your goals and values. So the important question is, what’s your end game?

Productivity: What and Why

Lately, my thoughts keep swirling around how to make more effective use of my time, what my goals are, how best to achieve them. I find that’s it’s a lot easier to “think” about these things in a stress-inducing way rather than developing a plan of action.

Very conveniently, I recently watched a talk centered around the principle, ‘make the best use of your time.’ (Ephesians 5:16) The talk was based on a 1980s issue of Awake! magazine. There were a few key points I especially appreciated.

1. Why Productivity is important

Each day, we have a limited amount of time to accomplish a veritable heap of tasks. No one can provide us with more time; we can only allot the time so as to make the best use of it. Productivity is the key to making the best use of our time.

Productivity is quality work done is the shortest amount of time because you:

  1. know your tools,
  2. schedule tasks,
  3. minimize interruptions, and
  4. ask for help.

I’ll dig into this definition more in an upcoming post.

2. Hard work does not equal productivity.

Working hard does not mean the end product is valuable. If you and another person are given the same task, but she accomplishes it in 1 hour while you labor on it for 8 hours, who was more productive?

3. Productivity can only be measured against a clear set of values and goals.

Working in a hospice, I recently learned some of people’s most common dying wishes (these came from a Guardian article I can’t currently locate):

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

While imminent death may crystallize a person’s values and goals for them, we live a much more productive and happy life when we set clear goals and values early. Knowing where we want to end up (our goals and values) is the key to setting daily priorities (what steps to take—and not take—to move forward).

What I’m beginning to realize is that I need to set clear goals rather than just thinking to myself, “Oh, that sounds like a good goal.” And I need to start implementing some of these ways to save, or make the most of, my time. I’ll cover some of these methods soon.