Staying productive and efficient is part of running a successful medical practice. Here is a powerful method for organizing your ideas, projects, and information.
I used to outline my ideas and presentations with Microsoft Word or another word processing program. I could never get the software to create a layout I liked, and the formatting always got screwed up as I added things to it.
After discovering the process of mind mapping, I stopped using outlines. If you try it, I predict you won’t look back either.
What is mind mapping?
The mind mapping concept has been around for centuries, but has become extraordinarily popular over the last several years.
Mind maps are diagrams made up of ovals and lines connecting them, expanding outward from some central theme or idea in the middle. They can be hand-drawn, but are most commonly created with software.
Instead of using a list or outline format to display a concept, mind maps use a two-dimensional web-like framework that can easily be added to or modified as more ideas are generated, or as a project changes over time.
How to use mind maps in your practice
Uses for mind maps are as unlimited as your imagination. Because the process of mind mapping matches more closely how many people think and organize ideas, any process that requires organizing thoughts can be crystallized and clarified with a mind map.
Using mind maps for learning
Instead of taking notes at your next lecture or CME course, take out your laptop, fire up a mind mapping program like Freemind and create a mind map based on the topic being discussed.
Most software programs let you skip around easily using the keyboard, and are ideal for the note-taking process.
You can go back later and add details after the event, and the information is already in an electronic format, easily stored and searchable for future reference.
Image courtesy: Wikipedia.org
Use a mind map for organizing a project or presentation
Whether you’re planning a project as a group of partners or just sitting alone in your office, mind maps work brilliantly for organizing both big picture and small details of a complex undertaking.
You can include and number the steps, goals, and priorities of your project. Include relevant e-mail information, websites, and links to documents within the mind map.
Each branch, or node, of the mind map can have its own task list, ordered appropriately. Best of all, it can be easily added to or manipulated later as the project matures.
If you’re planning a PowerPoint lecture, you can even put in links to articles, references, or online pictures within the mind map as you do your research. Some programs even let you convert the mind map file into a presentation file.
Mind maps are ideal for brainstorming ideas
Free association is a great way to use mind maps in your life and in your practice.
As an example, imagine you want to create patient education articles for your medical practice website or blog.
You’d start your mind map with "patient education articles" in the center of the page. Then think of what related concepts you’ll have to develop to reach your goal of creating these articles.
Topics such as "type of article" or "research sources" might be branches coming off that main topic in the center. As you expand each subtopic, you’ll even find that those subtopics relate to one another, so you can link them together using colors or arrows or dashed lines, etc.
The final mind map lets you view the scope of your brainstorming session from a wide or narrow angle. Most mind mapping programs let you collapse and expand nodes of information to show less or more detail as needed.
How do you get started?
The best, lowest cost, and most robust program I know of is an open source software program called FreeMind. It’s available for almost any operating system.
Just download, open up the program, and start playing with it. Start with “Things I could use this mind mapping thing for.”
Soon you’ll have dozens of mind maps and a collection of well-organized information and ideas.
I have over 40 mind maps on my computer at this point, ranging in subject matter from writing projects to book summaries to marketing ideas for my practice.
Staying ready for spontaneous ideas
When you get a flash of brilliance standing on the street corner or waiting for an appointment, don’t risk forgetting to write it down later. I’ve made that mistake several times over the years.
A company called MindJet makes an iPhone, iPad, and Android mind mapping application you can download for free to get you started with mobile mind maps.
Find out more about C. Noel Henley and our other Practice Notes bloggers.