In 2019 I began work on a master’s degree, and I quickly found my workflow not up to the task. The last time I had written academically was in 1980 something or other. Back then, I used index cards to keep all of my research together. Thankfully as my handwriting has become more illegible, software for research and writing has improved dramatically. However, researching and pulling large amounts of information into a coherent form was a new series of skills I needed to learn.
Several software programs were helpful as I researched and wrote, and I wanted to write about a few of them. I’ll add whether I’ll continue to use these apps with my current writing/research workflow or if they are already deleted from my computer.
First up, MindNode.
Software: MindNode – MindMapping Software
Cost: $19.99/year for a family subscription (Apple App Store)
Platform: MacOS, iPadOS, iOS, WatchOS
What it does:
In the simplest terms, MindNode is mind mapping software that allows you to organise your projects and thinking. A helpful feature I quickly fell in love with was how MindNode creates an outline as you develop your mind map. As you move around the various nodes on your map, it instantly syncs the outline.
Why I began using it:
If you were in my windowless office during my last couple of months at the Ithaca Vineyard, you might recall seeing a large mindmap on one of the walls. Moving to another country and funding that move had many moving parts, so I created a mindmap. Writing down the various aspects of the process, grouping tasks together and noting connections and next steps made the whole project more manageable and less stressful.
Since then, other than an occasional sketch on a legal pad, I hadn’t done much with mindmaps—until I began writing essays for seminary. Although I had ploughed my way through the first couple of courses, I was not enjoying the writing process and knew I could be doing better work. While the researching part of my papers was going well, I had difficulty getting the information on the page in a way that made sense and felt like it was flowing. I’d outlined it, but it wasn’t helping.
Around the time I was working on my third and fourth courses, I read a blog post where the author mentioned using mindmaps to get your thoughts on paper before you write saves a lot of time and a lot of frustration because it helps you organise your thoughts and plan out where you wanted to go. I’d considered mind mapping software (and MindNode specifically) before. I just didn’t want to pay for it. But what I read sounded good, so I decided to give mind mapping another shot. Although this time on my laptop rather than my wall.
I tried a month-long subscription to MindNode and found it provided immediate benefit. I am currently on my second annual subscription. And since it is a family subscription, my wife has been using it a lot too.
How it Helped My Workflow
I had 16,000 words to write over three chapters for my dissertation. I had built nodes for each chapter (as well as an introduction and conclusion) and recognised that I had about 5500 words per chapter. Chapter one was going to introduce four or five key terms, which meant 1100 words per topic, give or take.
I am not great a math, and I know I could have figured that out without a mindmap. But as a visual learner, seeing it laid out like that was valuable. It also helped me realise there were specific topics where I had more than enough to fill that section and others where I wasn’t even close.
Mind mapping of the essay took it from a 16,000-plus word project on an amorphous topic to several smaller, clearly defined subjects.
Once it was mapped, I could add nodes for books I needed to read or ideas that seemed relevant. And with MindNode, it was easy enough to move nodes around when I realised a topic fit better in another section of the paper.
How does MindNode fit into my workflow?
Although the dissertation is completed, MindNode is regularly open on my devices.
- It gives me a place to get my ideas down quickly (before I forget them) and then sort them as I notice connections. I have a lot of ideas written down that never got anywhere near my dissertation…but they frequently served as an inspiration for better or more suitable ideas.
- I am a visual learner. If I have an interview, I will often scope the place out ahead of time because my stress level dropped considerably once I have a picture of it in my head. A mind map provides that same type of visual stimulation which helps me feel a project is manageable. That’s why mind mapping our move from Ithaca to Dublin was crucial. There were multiple elements, from finding a place to live, getting your kids into a school, figuring out healthcare and buying plane tickets. I can’t manage the whole process at once, but as it is laid out, I can notice and then focus on key pressure points that will make other parts of the process more manageable. Having an image of what I needed to write and where I was in that process kept things moving forward with fewer interruptions.
- I use it to keep track of various projects, work and family and have found it helping me to break down tasks rather than feeling overwhelmed by them.
Will I continue using it?
As I mentioned, I have signed up for another annual subscription, and I am currently using it for:
- Mapping our upcoming trip to the States.
- Taking notes on books that I want to blog about.
- Organising some writing, I’m doing for our [church plant](https://thetabledublin.ie).
- Thinking through some processes, we need to work through as we plant a church.
- Outlining some blog posts and other stuff I’m writing.
- Enrolling my daughter in secondary school.
After working with it for a year, when I start a new project, I find myself relatively early in the process, pulling up MindNode to organise my thoughts. The amount of time I save is worth more than $20/year.
All that said, when I downloaded MindNode, I wanted it for a specific purpose. I didn’t dig into all the features. I’m not even sure I could tell you how to change the colours of the various nodes…although I have done it. Now that my dissertation is finished and I have some extra head space again, this is a program I’m looking forward to digging into.
Affiliate link: no affiliate link. You can find it here: https://www.mindnode.com