One Trick I Use to Turn "I'm Completely Overwhelmed" into "I'm Relatively Calm and Productive"


When I have too much stuff bouncing around inside my brain, my go-to reaction is to freak the eff out, which isn't exactly the most productive or rational response. 

Luckily, I've found one thing that generally calms me down: mind mapping.

So what's a mind map?

Essentially, it's a dumping ground for whatever's in your head. You put something in the center (for instance, if I'm making a mind map for my biz, I'll write "to do" or something along those lines, surrounded by a puffy white-cloud-esque outline).

Then I write related subtopics around the center puffy cloud topic (ex. blogging, client work, website updates, social media), and from each of those subtopics, I'll write details that I need to remember for each one. 

My mind maps typically look something like this: 

I made this one a few months ago when it seemed like I had a zillion things to do and I was, per usual, flipping out. (This was when I was first getting my biz off the ground.)

I made this one a few months ago when it seemed like I had a zillion things to do and I was, per usual, flipping out. (This was when I was first getting my biz off the ground.)

When I was conducting research for this blog post, I learned something interesting. The guy who came up with the term "mind maps," Tony Buzan, has a surprisingly specific list of guidelines for creating mind maps. From Wikipedia, source of all knowledge:

  1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least 3 colors.

  2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your mind map.

  3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters.

  4. Each word/image is best alone and sitting on its own line.

  5. The lines should be connected, starting from the central image. The lines become thinner as they radiate out from the center.

  6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image they support.

  7. Use multiple colors throughout the mind map, for visual stimulation and also for encoding or grouping.

  8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping.

  9. Use emphasis and show associations in your mind map.

  10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy or outlines to embrace your branches.

Oooookay. Like I said, it was surprising specific (at least to me) because I had always thought of mind maps as something with a whole lot of flexibility for each person's own creative touches.

So yeah, I don't do it exactly like that. Turns out my "mind maps" are more along the lines of "concept maps" if you're sticking to strict definitions, but whatevs. Same diff.

Regardless of what it is I'm actually creating (I'll stick with calling it mind maps), this process helps me enormously because it gets all the tasks in my head down on paper in an organized, logically laid-out way.

Note: I like to further organize my mind maps by color because my brain really responds to color coding. (I "blame" my creativity.) But color-coding isn't necessary if your brain doesn't really respond to it, of course.

I hope this method helps you sort out the jumbled to-dos in your mind. If you have other tips on how to reduce overwhelm and get productive with yo' bad self, please post in the comments below! I'm always on the lookout for more productivity hacks!