Whenever a big project is at hand, making sure that you follow through with important details takes planning. Whether it's as mundane as cleaning out the garage, confusing as organizing your daughter's soccer team, or complex as reworking the goals for a team at your company, an outline, a list, or a strategy can help you focus on the over-arching goal. It might be because it's easier to have visuals of bulleted lists or linear strategies to easily convey the steps necessary to complete a project. Think of it this way: Not having a plan of action is kind of like going to the grocery store without a list; sure, you'll remember a lot of stuff you need, but once you get home you're bound to smack yourself in the forehead saying, "Butter! How did I forget butter?"
I recently came across a great program for both Mac and PC that helps make the planning phases of a project much easier. MindManager helps you map out your thoughts and ideas using an intuitive graphical interface. You can start your own mind map with a central idea to work outwards from, or you can choose from several premade templates that focus on a specific task.
To test out the software, I launched a mind map from the weekly planner template and started filling in my weekly tasks at Download.com. Each day was color-coded, with the days of the week fanned out clockwise on my screen. Adding each of my duties was as easy as selecting a topic, hitting return, and typing the task in. From there I could make notes about each task when I needed to add specific details. I was quickly impressed with how MindManager automatically resized the graphics according to the number of characters for each task, so the overall effect remained aesthetically pleasing (sometimes it's the little things that make software great). Tons of included graphics and icons helped me call out tasks that were higher priority than others or required help from other coworkers. Once I was done filling in my week, I realized how easy it was to plan accordingly for each article, newsletter, and product review with a visual representation right in front of me.
Don't assume MindManager is just a fancy weekly planner, though. Included templates can help you or your company with decision-making, events, marketing strategies, org charts, writing projects, and really just about anything. Flexibility and ease-of-use are its greatest strengths. Just about anyone could play with the program for a few minutes and understand how to make a map of their own. This makes project collaboration easy because people can add parts to the map or add notes to topics for extra details easily. Finally, when the mind map is finished you can export to several different formats depending on whether its going to be a slide in a presentation, a page for your Web site, or a printout for personal use.
It shouldn't be a surprise that this functionality comes at a price. The Windows version of MindManager Pro is about $350. The Mac version costs only $129. I'm not sure why there's such a big difference in price between the two platforms, but once you experiment with the trial, you might be surprised at just how useful this program is. Most people are visually oriented when it comes to projects, and with this program, you, your company, or your daughter's soccer team will definitely benefit from having your detailed strategy graphically represented in front of you.
Oh, and don't forget: butter.