Two great ways to be more creative and productive

The professional world we live in is completely different from the one our parents knew. In the days of old, most workers had a fairly simple job description. But these days are long gone, specifically in the creative professions. Take mediamusic for example: you were either a composer or an engineer. But these days - for example in writing original soundtrack music - it's not uncommon to be composer, arranger, recording artist, engineer and producer (in addition to doing marketing, management, etcetera!). So you need to keep a lot of balls in the air at the same time. Also you need to be both creative and productive at a high level. So how do you keep your brain from getting fried? How can you stay on top of all your projects, current and those that are still "incubating"? Here are two great methods with related (free!) software:

Improving creativity

Mind Maps
A Mind Map is a fun, fast and easy way of structuring your thoughts. Simply put, a Mind Map is a graphical rendering of your thoughts according to the structure of your brain. Although Mind Maps are perhaps best known as a brainstorming tool, that does not do them justice. You can use Mind Maps for note-taking, outlining, as an aid to decision making. To get the most out of them, I strongly recommend reading "the Mind Map Book" by Tony Buzan, the inventor of the concept. Using the concepts from his book the usefulness is greatly increased leading to more creative ideas.

Mind Map

Free Mind Mapping software: Freemind
I personally use Mind Maps for creative brainstorming for new assignments, for keeping tags on my projects, for preparing these posts, preparing my marketing and often for decision-making. I have been creating Mind Maps for years, mostly on paper since the early software was too restricting. But today I mostly use the computer, since this makes it possible to link Mind Maps together, but also to link to files and websites. A nice example of the marketing use of Mind Maps is Roger C. Parker's post on "Guerilla Marketing with Mind Maps".

Freemind is the Open Source program (meaning it is free!) that I currently use for almost all my Mind Mapping. It takes a bit getting used to, but once you learn the basics it is actually rather intuitive. Since I started using Freemind, it seems too cumbersome to do a paper Mind Map! And the possibility to link to other maps, files and websites really adds value.
>> Download Freemind

Improving productivity

"Getting things done"
When I discovered "Getting things done" (or GTD as it is more commonly known), I discovered the solution to most of my productivity problems! As my workload increased, things started slipping through the cracks. Often minor things, but still. And one of the most frustrating things was that many interesting projects stayed on the shelf, as I never got to them. But by implementing GTD, I find that these projects now do get attention. GTD is not your everyday project planner and to-do list. David Allen introduces a new concept to work(-flow) management that assures that all your projects get attention. Another empowering concept is that this method makes it possible to feel good about the things you are not doing at a given moment, freeing you to concentrate on what you are doing.

Implementing GTD takes quite a lot of work and attention. And you have to stick to the method to get anything close to the full advantage. But even for those that don't follow GTD that thorough, there are still a huge number of time-savers to be found. And once you get your "system" up and rolling, that's when things truly change. That's when it gets fun to use. Many people seem to struggle with the "Weekly review", but I found this one of the most enjoyable things to do. It makes sure those shelved projects stay current and even moves them forward!

Free "Getting things done" software: ThinkingRock
You can implement GTD without a computer, and adept it to your needs. Also, you can use your current organiser with GTD and that will work just as good. However, ThinkingRock was designed from the bottom up to implement GTD, and this gives you the advantage of automatically staying true to the method. It's very easy to review your tasks in any context you wish so you can take quick advantage of any opportunity that arises. You can even put the program and data on a USB stick so you have access to it on any computer running Java. And just like Freemind this is absolutely free software. If you use GTD, then I highly recommend it!
>> Download ThinkingRock

A word of caution: as both programs are written in the Java language, they rely on the Java Runtime Environment. It's probable that you already have one installed, but you need to make sure before installing the software. If you don't have a runtime installed, I recommend using the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) 5.0 Update 12 as Freemind 0.8.0 has some problems with release 6.

If you suffer from overload at work or in your life, you should give both these methods a try. GTD can do wonders for your productivity and Mind Mapping can do the same for your creativity. I do recommend buying the books, since they are essential in getting the most out of these methods. It's a small investment that can yield a great return. Please share your thoughts, I'd love to hear about your experiences!

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