Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Reflect on the old year, plan the new year

Last week, I wrote about Beeminder, to help motivate you to keep your New Year's resolutions, and a few weeks ago, I reviewed the book "Your Best Just Got Better," which is a great book to read to figure out how to set meaningful goals.

This week I want to share some tools and methods to get past the "writer's block" that often stalls people when they sit down to write their goals and resolutions.

Getting your goals out of your head

It's pretty common for people to carve out a few cycles this time of year to make plans, new year's resolutions, and such.  I'm a very visual person, so I find that using a mind map helps me organize my thoughts and stimulates my thinking.  My tool of choice is MindManager from Mindjet, but you can find lots of other mind mapping alternatives on the other end of Google (FreeMind, for example, is free and Open Source).

I organized my map into three main "zones" (which you can see in the diagram below):

  1. A review of last year, where I identify highlights, lowlights, and missed opportunities
  2. A look ahead to help me frame my main areas of focus (more thematic or directional in nature)
  3. Making more concrete commitments I want to achieve (specific commitments and projects I want to focus on)

I've included my blank map below, and you can download my "New Year Reflection" mind map here.  You can also launch an interactive (but not editable) version of the "New Year Reflection" mind map via this link (give it a bit of time - it has to download a Flash-based player).

Feel free to customize it so the prompts are more meaningful to you.  And, if you use this approach, please let me know how it works out for you.

Still stuck? Try thinking about it another way...

If you'd rather think about your goals in terms of the roles and "categories" in your life, I have another template that may be useful, as well.

You can download my "2013 Success Planning" mind map here.  And, if you don't have MindManager or a compatible alternative, the interactive (but not editable version of 2013 Success Planning can be accessed via this link (give it a bit of time - it has to download a Flash-based player).  In this map, the "writing prompts" are in the Notes attached to each of the major categories - click on the little notepad icons and you'll see the prompts over in the notes pane on the right.

Do You Have A Permanent Record?

One skill I wish I could acquire from someone else is to be more disciplined about writing things down.  OK - so I do write a lot of ideas and tasks down (thanks to GTD I’ve gotten much better at this).

What I mean is “bigger” things, and writing them down more explicitly and earlier.  I have a friend that is very good at writing ideas down even while they are vague, then refining and clarifying them over time.  I, on the hand, tend to wait until I think the ideas are almost “done” before I write them down.  That means a lot of things get thought about, talked about… but not recorded.


You’re only hurting yourself with this rambunctious behavior…Right?

As a consequence of this tendency to leave things open-ended, it seems a lot of my grand  ideas don’t go anywhere because I never finished developing them, or I just move on and forget about them.  This, I believe is caused by a combination of:

  • my introverted thinking style (I’m an INTJ / INTP on Myers-Briggs),
  • my love for “fluidity” in the options I pursue, and
  • fear of failure (or dislike for being held accountable?), at some level.

Until recently, I didn’t think of this as a big deal.  However, I have been very introspective lately and thinking about a few problem situations where I can see the negative consequences of not writing things down…and it bothers me.  You see, I have seen situations where the lack of a written record of ideas, commitments, and such has led to ambiguity that caused problems later.

Revising Verbal History Is Pretty Easy

In my opinion,the problem lies in the fact that human memory is fallible, and is much weaker than the human ego.  In the situations I’ve observed, this inherent conflict has led to things like:

  • people not getting credit for some great ideas, because others didn’t remember where the idea came from;
  • people not being held accountable for commitments they’d made because the commitments were never documented;
  • people “adjusting” what they committed to, bringing it more in line with where things actually ended up;
  • people moving accountability to someone else, when that wasn’t the original intent (sort of a scapegoat maneuver);

and things like that.

In most of these cases, the “revisionist historians” weren’t malicious – they were just trying to turn things to their own advantage and, I believe, in some of the cases they actually believed the altered back-story was true.

Permanent Records Are Harder To Change

What do I take away from this?  Writing plans and “big ideas” down is important – even when they are in their formative stages.  That will help you hang on to your ideas so they don’t drift away, help you keep track of where the good ideas (and bad ones) came from, ensure accountability, and – perhaps most importantly – give you the means to compare what happened to what you thought was going to happen so you can learn from your successes and failures.

So – my question to you:  what’s your advice to someone trying to develop this habit?  How do you overcome a tendency to take life as it happens and move to a more concrete model where plans, goals, and intentions are actually written down? 

Do tell.   And in writing, please!

Need a GPS for your mind map?

A few months ago, I started working with Adam Sicinski’s amazing mind map diagram called the “MasterMind Matrix.”  I’d like to tell you a little about it, since I think it is a very interesting and useful self-coaching tool.

At first glance, I felt that Adam’s work was impressive – this is one of the largest and most comprehensive mindmaps I have ever seen.  You see, Adam is a Life Coach, but is also a guru/student of self development.  He set out to find a way to allow himself and others to answer questions like:Mapgrab1

How do my emotions interact with my beliefs, values and other building blocks of my personality?
What influence do other people have over the development of my personality?
How does my Brain interpret what I do? And how does it consequently influence my future decisions & actions?
How do each one of my choices and decisions influence all other aspects of my personality and life?
How do I know if I am on track moving towards fulfillment, or off-track moving towards disappointment?

The result is a terrific tool that helps you drill down on various challenges and strengths so you can improve your performance and break through bottlenecks by better understanding how your strengths, blind spots, and emotional tendencies interact.  It’s tough to describe without experiencing it yourself, but I found the process to be very intriguing and invigorating.


You can get a PDF version of the file (that’s what I’m using), or you can order a wall poster.  I am thinking about going for the wall poster, since I can’t interact with the PDF as easily on the screen (though I’m glad I have the PDF for use on the road).

If you want a taste of what this tool is like, you can download the accompanying MasterMind Matrix mind map for free.  This is kind of like an index that can guide you to the right places on the bigger map.

I recommend you read Adam’s “Journey through the MasterMind Matrix” for his perpective on this tool.

You can find out even more about the matrix at the IQMatrix site, or get your own copy at the IQMatrix Shop.

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David Allen: Making It All Work

As you may know from my past writing here, I have been a follower of David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD)  methodology for many years.  It’s been a cycle of awesome productivity, interspersed with frustration and thrash.  Why?  I tend to get bored with repetition and systems, even when I see their value and GTD has been no different.  Well, to be fair, it’s been a bit different because I’ve noticed that I am able to stick with GTD much longer than many other processes.  But it’s still a bit of a struggle.

The promise of a book

MIAWcover When I heard about David Allen’s new book, “Making It All Work,” I preordered my copy pretty early.  I was intrigued by its premise (promise?):

“Making It All Work” addresses: How to figure out where you are in life and what you need; How to be your own consultant and the CEO of your life; Moving from hope to trust in decision-making; When not to set goals; Harnessing intuition,spontaneity, and serendipity; And why life is like business and business is like life.

So, now I’ve read the book – did it deliver?

First, this book is not a substitute for the original.  It’s more like a sequel, building on the solid foundation of GTD and extending it with some of the lessons and new perspectives David has learned since his methodology has become a phenomenon.

If you have read the first book, you’ll find some useful thought in this book from David himself, some of which may help clear any stumbling blocks you’ve encountered in your adoption of GTD.

Some of the things I picked up in this book are simply shifts in perspective – like thinking of your lists and notes as “bookmarks” to help you go back to where you were later.  I don’t do anything differently, but I find I’m more likely to “bookmark” with my lists now, and I often treat the bookmarks more like pointers than dissertations (and pointers are quicker, also making it more likely I will do this).

I was pleased to find that there are some new topics and methods in this book.  For example, the section dealing with Capturing has been expanded to include quite a bit of detail on brainstorming, processing, and clarification of what you’ve captured.  This section includes quite a collection of best practices.

A clearer map

David also includes quite a few mind maps that helped me, due to my visual thinking tendencies. There are maps showing how to make more effective lists, become more output-focused in your thinking, better cope with projects and reference materials, and quite a few other areas that often felt mysterious to me during my GTD journey.

There is also some solid material about weekly reviews (which I knew about but certainly haven’t perfected).

All of this converges in the book with the goal of helping you become better at managing your life by becoming better at GTD.  Of course, a book can’t provision good habits and consistent practice.  That’s the tough part.  And that’s where my trouble lives, I realize.

If you’re committed to GTD, you’ll get a lot out of “Making It All Work.”  If you’re new to GTD start with the first GTD book, then pick this one up after you have the basics down.

Out of sight - out of your mind?

I have been working on a wide variety of projects lately, and keeping track of the details and status of them all has been a bit nerve-wracking. Putting them on project lists helped a lot with what to do, but I still found myself searching for status information such as:

  • What have I done on this already?
  • Who am I waiting to hear back from?
  • What's left to do?
  • What's in process but not complete?
  • etc.

Managing this with context lists in the "GTD way" wasn't quite cutting it for me (or maybe I'm doing it wrong). I found myself going to multiple lists very frequently to try to get a holistic picture of where each of my projects stood. To solve this, I turned to my old pal Mind Manager to help me create a "status map."

My "real" status map has too much work-related information that I can't share publicly, so I have mocked up an example of one here. For each project, I map out things such as:

  • Desired outcomes
  • Research
  • Next actions
  • Other
  • Completed actions
  • Waiting for
  • Calls to make
  • To be done

You can (obviously) customize this in any way you'd like. I find that I can keep multiple projects current on my status map (I currently have 4 major "domains" of activity on my map - 3 for work, 1 for home). When I have status meetings, I can print a particular "branch" of the map if the status meeting is about a particular project, or I can print the whole map (I use 11" x 17" paper for better readability). I print the whole map (with the "Home" branch collapsed) when I go into one-on-one meetings with my boss, so I can take him through what I'm working on and where things stand.

As we go through the project review, I write on the printed copy of the map and re-integrate my notes back into my Mind Map later.

This is working pretty well for me, and makes it a bit easier to keep the plates spinning without letting any of them drop.

Here is another mocked-up section of a project to give you an idea the kinds of things that might be in some of the buckets (you can click to zoom in).

If you want to see a blurry, unreadable, zoomed out picture of my real map you can see it here, just for grins.

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