Note: “Ask Charlie” is a new category of posts where I answer the questions people send me via email, Twitter, or wherever else we interact. After trying to figure out the best way to get these going and what to name them, I decided to just roll with it the easy way and revise as necessary.
Jonathan Goins asked me the following question on Twitter recently:
Can you explain your method re: mind-mapping and purging?
A few other people chimed in and/or asked a similar question afterwards, so I thought I’d give it a shot.
This will only be a partial answer because I’ve been a bit bottlenecked on how to explain part of the process for a while now – you’ll see it when it comes up. I hope to work on it earlier next year, as it’s one of those things that has been a key component to my effectiveness and creativity.
Before I explain how I go about purging, it’s probably helpful to talk about when I know I need to purge. I tend to go through the process on Sunday or Monday or when I’m feeling overwhelmed about all the ideas swirling around in my head. Let’s take each in turn.
The time-based purges closely match when I’m thinking about what I’ll do for the next week. There’s an incubation period that happens after I do my Friday checkout, and it’s during this incubation period that all the different things I’ve got going on coalesce. Sometimes that incubation period is a day and other times it’s three days, but it’s happening nonetheless.
When it’s done cooking, I start feeling a lot of intuitive tugs while at the same time feeling unclear about what I need to be doing. So the purge is just getting everything out of my head and figuring out where those tugs are coming from and prioritizing what I need to do.
Purges That Occur When Ideas Reach Critical Mass
Over the course of a week, I’ll consume and process a lot of different ideas. Some of these ideas come from the books I’m reading, others pop up as I’m writing or creating stuff, and I get a lot of ideas and experience from connecting with my clients and friends. That’s a lot of ideas to process, synthesize, and integrate.
If I’ve balanced the 3Cs well enough, it’s manageable, but if I don’t, then it’s easy for all those conversations and ideas to be too much for me. Though I’ve grown a lot in my ability to tie together ideas and answer those lingering questions, when ideas reach critical mass, I just start to flit from one problem to the next.
During these times, I know my mind’s not really getting anywhere and I get frustrated – I’ve described it as being pregnant with ideas, and though I have no idea what it feels like to want to give birth to a child you’ve been carrying for nine months, I’d like to imagine that there are some similarities in the feelings. So the purging process in these cases is just giving birth to those ideas that are ready to come out.
How I Purge and Mindmap
Inevitably, it starts on paper. I have a regular-sized notebook that I do most of my mind-mapping and listing on, as I’ve learned that the Steno pad that serves as my runway becomes overwhelming if I do it there. (Remember, I use paper to scaffold my momentum – I hope to write more about this soon.)
Sometimes the purge has more ideas than a single page will carry, so I’ll either make multiple maps over different pages or I’ll upgrade to the larger 11×14 sketch pad that I have. I tend to prefer going the latter route since, from a creativity point of view, a larger canvas helps you see relationships better than having them spread out over several maps, and, additionally, it’s not uncommon to have to flip back and forth between the pages as new ideas hit you. That’s a pain in the butt and a barrier to the purge.
I’ve recently started using MindNode Pro as my mind-mapping solution, and though it’s still not as good for me as pen-and-paper, it lets me avoid having to mess with two different notebooks. At other times, I’ll open OmniOutliner and dump stuff there. I try not to ask too many questions about why I feel like pen-and-paper, MindNode Pro, or OmniOutliner and allow myself to purge using whatever method feels right – it’s more important to get the ideas out than to figure out how to get them out.
Earlier, I mentioned that I was bottlenecked about expressing how I mindmap, and here’s where that bottleneck is. After hating mindmapping, giving it a shot, and then tailoring the framework to be more whole-minded, I have a somewhat different process that I call integrated mindmapping. I need to talk about this a lot more, but it’ll have to wait for another day. (Pester me about this if you’re interested – it helps me determine what I’ll work on.)
After I’ve done the purge, I’ll loop back around and determine whether the ideas from the purge go in an idea garden or an action list – this is part of the integrated mindmapping process, for what it’s worth. The key to doing this is to be clear about the point of the purge: it’s not about coming up with a bunch of stuff to do, but instead about getting clear about what’s going on in your head. That’s a huge difference, and I’ve seen a lot of people go wrong by doing a purge and then getting overwhelmed because they think they need to do something with everything that they’ve mapped out.
This is why I said “Neither” when someone asked me on Twitter whether I was going to try to write out all the different post ideas I had or just start cutting them. Just because I’ve charted out the landscape in my head doesn’t mean I have to go and do something with the landscape. Those things that require action will find their place, and those ideas that just need a home somewhere outside of my head get that home.
If I do the purge right, I end up with a clear head and very little additional overwhelm. I think this is a key reason why I find the process so enjoyable; I used to resist purging/reviewing because of the overwhelm, yet at the same time I was frustrated about the lack of clarity and perspective I had by not doing the purge and review. When you take a process or habit that’s helpful and make it enjoyable, it’s a lot easier for that beneficial habit and process to stick.
So, Jonathan et al, I hope this answers your question. Thanks for asking!