Why I Hated Mind-Mapping, And How I Overcame My Bias

Different people call them different things – mind-maps, webs, concept maps – but they really all refer to the same concept. The point of mind-mapping is to get all the information about some topic onto a piece of paper, and to use lines to connect them. It’s a graphical (pictoral) way of representing information. Of course, this is a good idea in theory, because the brain needs to make these connections in order for it to retain information. However, I always felt that mind-mapping is  for people whose brains work graphically. And mine doesn’t.

I am a very linear person. I like lists and outlines. When I take notes, I make lists of points, often with indenting to show sub-points. If I can, I actually go so far as to outline. (You know, the one with the Roman numerals, and the letters, and the numbers, that all have a specific hierarchy and lots of indenting. I love that.) I always assumed that mind-mapping just doesn’t work for my way of thinking.

To be honest, part of my prejudice against mind-mapping is probably due more to the fact that I’ve never been taught how to do it, than to it actually not working for me. I’ve never really done it. When I teach it to students at the tutoring center I work for, I glance over their work to see if they got the major points, then declare it “good enough” because I don’t really know what I’m looking for.

One of my classes this semester is a small Philosophy class. The professor runs it in a discussion-oriented format. We are reading An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, by David Hume, and we sit in a circle and talk about it. Now, how am I supposed to take notes on a discussion?

I tried lists of points, but the problem is that it’s impossible to know if I should leave room after a point to add more information, because of course I can’t tell if someone will say something useful later. One day, my notes were simply a list of disjointed points, that probably won’t help me at all when I go back to them to study for the midterm.

Yesterday, I had an epiphany. I realized that mind-mapping is probably the perfect way to record information in a discussion-formatted class. I flipped a piece of notebook paper over on its side and wrote the topic of the day in the middle. As the class progressed, I added relevant information on the sides and connected them to the parent topic with lines. My result has all the information regarding a (very short) section of the book on one page, which I can go back later an turn into an outline, if I want.

IMGP6797.JPGThis is the final result. I have a random point floating around in the bottom there because I wasn’t sure what to link it to. It’s not really related to yesterday’s topic, but it was important to remember for the future.

I know there are many websites and programs designed to facilitate this, but I don’t take my computer to class anymore. For one thing, I find that putting pen on paper goes faster than finding the right button to click to tell the computer what you want it to do (although I do type faster than I write). Also, as a general rule, if I have my computer, I’m not taking notes or even paying the slightest bit of attention to the class. Facebook and Twitter – they call.

I learned some things yesterday. First, I learned that I can’t discount a note-taking technique just because I’m not familiar with it. Second, I learned that sometimes new ways of doing things can result in better note-taking and, in turn, better recall.

Finally, I learned that it’s easier to draw rectangles around my points than the traditional circles. And it looks nicer.

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School Year Resolutions: Part 1

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this next school year. Due to a combination of not choosing a major til my second year of college, not taking as many credit hours each semester as I should have, and key courses not being available, my next two semesters are going to be the busiest ones of my life. In the fall, I will be taking 15 credit hours at the university, as well as 4 at the local community college, because I just need one more semester of Spanish to have all my Gen-Eds done. In the spring, I am expecting to be enrolled for another 15, not including the internship that I need. One of the classes each semester is notorious among music students for being the hardest in the entire major. I will be responsible for massive amounts of homework, as well as knowing long, involved classical pieces inside and out. Also, I still have a part-time job teaching. So like I said, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to prevent myself from losing my mind this year.

Better yet, I made a list.

11 resolutions for surviving my school year

Part 1 – The academic resolutions. Read the rest of this entry »

Coming Soon…

…my last year of undergraduate education. (Hopefully.) I always qualify that, because I know that with the way things tend to work at the University of Arizona, something could very well go wrong that requires me to take one or two more classes just when I thought I should be done. I’ve spent a lot of time agonizing over reviewing the requirements for graduation in my major, and a little bit of time getting my advisor to check and make sure I’m right, so hopefully, everything will be fine, and I will obtain my BA in Music in May 2009.

I’ll stop with the self-congratulating now.

Unfortunately, before I get to graduate, I will have to endure what should be the two hardest semesters of my life so far. (Note that I’m leaving room for grad school in there.) Since my typical method of organization could be accurately described as non-existent a month into the semester, I’ve been brainstorming ideas for how I’m going to survive this school year.

Over the next few days, I will post these plans as a two-part series. The first part is going to be related to the academic aspect – keeping my life organized – and the second part is going to deal with my health, both physical and mental.

I’m also going to be blogging about my success, or lack thereof, as incentive to keep up the good work. I will post something once a week, indicating my progress with my stated goals. Public exposure is an excellent motivating factor, after all.

Posted in Organization, Planning, Resolutions. Tags: , . Comments Off on Coming Soon…

Print Your Index Cards

I have been using a combination of Google Calendar and Remember the Milk to keep track of my daily schedule and tasks lately. I recently took Doug Ireton’s advice on the RTM blog on how to set up RTM as a GTD system, and all of my lists and tasks are now GTD-ready. (For more information on Getting Things Done, click here or here.) One of my favorite things about both RTM and gCal is the ability to text your tasks to the service. With gCal, you set up your phone and text GVENT with your event, and with RTM you direct message on Twitter. If it weren’t for this, I’d forget most of the things I have to do before I get anywhere near a computer. I very highly recommend checking out both of these services if you haven’t already done so. But I digress.

I’ve also been using PocketMod as a way to carry all my weekly tasks around with me in paper form. I decided, however, that I have no use for all 8 pages that PocketMod will give you, as I was only using about 2 on a regular basis, and that I really like 3×5 index cards better. (I don’t do a full-on Hipster PDA, however. As a female, I’m forced to wear clothes that don’t have pockets designed to carry ANYTHING, so I carry a purse instead. Actually I hate “purses”, so I really carry a small backpack. But again, I digress.)

I only need a few index cards, one for this week’s schedule and one for next week, and one for my Next Actions list in RTM. Rather than handwriting these each week, I decided to see if I could get them to print to 3×5 index cards. Now, to warn you, I use a MacBook, and on Macs, printing preferences are very easily customized. I’m sure it can be done on a Windows machine, with the right printer, but I’m not sure how easy it would be.

On 43Folders, I managed to find a tip for printing the week from Google Calendar to a 3×5 card, which was very helpful. After doing this, I realized I’d want a To Do list as well, and figured my Next Actions list from RTM will be perfect.

For the record, I’m doing this in Safari, and printing on an HP Photosmart C3100-series printer.

The process for printing from gCal is a little more complicated than RTM, so I’m going to do the easy one first. In RTM, select the list you want to print. Click the “Print” icon in the info pane to the right of the list. It will open up a new window (or tab, if you’re running Firefox and have that preference selected) with the list header at the top of the page, and the list with neat little check-boxes. It also lists due dates for the tasks, what list the task came from (because my NA list is a composite of all my lists) and the priority, pictured by little bullet points. Select Print from the File menu, and in the Paper Size drop-down menu, choose Index Card 3×5. Deselect the checkbox next to “Print headers and footers” so you have more space. Now change the scale to the desired size. This will change depending on how many items you have on your list, and how big you want it. I try to scale it down so it’s all on one card, but as big as it can be. Make sure you put the index card in the printer tray, and click Print. See, that wasn’t so hard.

Now for the fun.

To print from gCal, first choose Week view, then select only the calendars you want to print. Click the “Print” icon at the top of the page, right next to the view tabs. This will open Google’s version of a print window. In this window, change the font size to “Biggest” in the drop-down menu. Trust me, your eyes will thank you. (Although, honestly, it could be even bigger.) DO NOT click Print. This window does not allow you to change the size of the paper, so instead, click Save As. This will cause the browser to download your calendar as a PDF file. Open this file, and open the Print dialog. Now change the paper size to Index Card 3×5. In Preview, I had to tell it to automatically scale the image to fit the paper size. Once this radio button was selected, however, it sized and scaled the image perfectly. Again, make sure you put the index card in the printer tray, and click Print. Also not too hard, but there is an extra step or two.

If the Hipster PDA isn’t quite right for you, but you want to carry index cards rather than a planner, and you’re too busy (or lazy) to handwrite your cards, hopefully this will give you some insight on how to print them. Let the computer do the thinking for you. Or at least the writing, since this does involve some thinking on your part. 

Software Review: Schoolhouse

Every semester I get into productive/organization mode.  I start looking for ways to simplify my life, especially the school and homework parts of it.  At the beginning of this semester, I did some research and found a few different programs designed to help students keep track of their assignments.  This was mostly in honor of my new computer – I wanted to be able to use it as much as possible, so I figured I’d keep my assignments and other related information on it.  Since my MacBook is a lot smaller than my old PC notebook was, I knew that I would be more likely to bring it to class with me, and therefore would have the ability to keep my life organized on it.  (I also make extensive use of iCal and its ability to sync to my iPod for everything outside of school, but that’s another story.)

The program that I finally downloaded and used is called Schoolhouse.  At the beginning of the semester, I copied all the information from my syllabi into its database.  It has places to put all sorts of information, including the names and email addresses of professors, which then syncs to Address Book, and allows you to weight all the assignments.  This was the feature that I really appreciated.  Once the end of the semester comes, I’ll know how much failing that one minor quiz at the beginning of the semester really affected my grade.  Each assignment is labeled as a certain “Kind”, like Quizzes, Exams, and Projects, and each “Kind” can be weighted according to how much it will count toward your final grade.  You can have as many kinds as you want.  Each is custom labeled and weighted.

Once your kinds and weights are set up, you can go through and enter all of your assignments.  When you do that, there are options for giving the assignment a start date as well as a due date, so you know that project that’s coming up hasn’t technically been assigned yet, so you don’t have to work on it yet.  Or something like that.  Each assignment also has a priority level – not important, important, and very important.

One of the aspects of this program that could be very useful for large projects (I just haven’t had very many of those this semester) is the Task List.  Within each of the assignments you create, another tab shows all of the Tasks you have to complete to finish the assignment.  Each of these tasks can be given its own due date, whether that be a professor’s due date for the first draft of a paper, or your own date that you want to have that first draft completed.

Each assignment and task also can incorporate a list of Partners, with names and email addresses.  The Partner lists are searchable, so you can find Dan from your biology lab a little bit faster.  This list also syncs with Address Book.  Partners and professors can be emailed directly from inside Schoolhouse, using the little “Email” buttons that are all over the interface.

The final tab associated with each Assignment is the Files tab.  It allows you to search for a file on your computer, and link it to the assignment so you can find it whenever you need it.

The only problem I have had with the program so far is that it seems a little buggy.  I added a course to the course list at the beginning of the semester, but as it turned out I’m not taking that course.  When I try to delete the course, though, the dreaded Mac “beach ball” shows up and the program stops responding.  I have to Force Quit and restart it.  There have been one or two other times that the program stopped responding or did something else weird too.  I have emailed the developer, asking for advice on this problem, and will post updates on how that works out.  This problem didn’t start until recently, so it worked very well for a couple of months.

Except for the problem I mentioned, I feel that Schoolhouse is an excellent way to keep track of assignments and grades, and may mean I actually know what grades I’m getting before they get posted online at the end of the semester.

Schoolhouse is freeware, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger or later, only.

Update: No response from the developer. I’ll be looking into another option for next semester. The commenter below, Alex, is right. In the Get Info pane, select the option to “Open with Rosetta”. After I made this switch, I never had another crashing episode.