Better capture, processing and next action organization

I’ve been using mind mapping in combination with with OmniFocus for better capture, processing and next action execution. Let me tell you a bit on how I got there.

My brain is chaos

Sometimes, I have chaos for a brain. I’m not kidding. In the past, this has led to those well known and recognized moments of quiet, significant desperation and the feeling of impeding doom and trepidation as deadlines approached. I hope at least some of you have on occasion felt the sudden realization hit that you completely forgot about one crucial aspect which will be discussed by your boss, peers or colleagues that very same day. That one element that you needed to contribute, and forgot about.

Now, that’s the kind of situation I really wanted to avoid. So I did all the required reading. I started with the 7 Habits. Interesting, but I missed the bullet list telling me what to do. What can I say, I’m an operationally minded guy. I read Getting Things Done, even became a paying member of GTD Connect, and reaped some of the benefits, although I really didn’t use it enough. I filled Moleskine after Moleskine, and still things slipped through the cracks.

The breakthrough

Then I discovered mind mapping. And started to understand some of the power of a tool like OmniFocus.

The capture list – visual thinking applied

Now, I’m a very visual thinker. I think in images. Mind mapping has always helped me to formulate thoughts and ideas. I use it even to blog. Most of my blog posts, even this one, have been at least partly mind mapped before I start to write. Developing my capture list in a mind map was a revelation. Note I call this a capture list, not a next action list. My capture list is about exactly that: capturing.

What I do in this mind map is true brain dumping. The free format works for me. Free thinking about stuff I need to do or deal with, or even not but that is still on my mind. I feed it with notes I have taken when I was not in the opportunity to work on the mind map directly during the day. These notes are in my trusted Moleskines. Hey, I spent the money on them, better use them. So if it doesn’t go directly on the mind map, it goes in the Mokeskine.

Oh, by the way, I use the GTD completion checklist as an important weekly backstop to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything. It’s an excellent tool, and this way it does not get in my way.

OPML as a transition to OmniFocus

After I have done the capture phase, and I try to do this at least every three days (equivalent of twice a week), I open the entire mind map, which I have saved in OPML format, on my Mac. This is still a bit labor intensive but it does the trick on making me focus on processing, I highlight the words/characters of the topic of the mind map, usually at the end of the branch since I find the basis for my capture activity there.

Using services, I can then easily export this to OmniFocus’ inbox or even in a specific context or a folder. Now, and this is an important bit, using the services, I need to rewrite the OmniFocus entry. This is processing as I decide at that moment what I aim to do with this entry. I have the freedom to decide at that point whether I want to file this away for later or even discard it. It is an approach that focuses me on my decisions to define next actions on stuff, as David Allen calls it.


In terms of tools, I already mentioned OmniFocus. A great tool, I just wish there was a way to work with it in Windows as my most important client uses that platform rather than OS X. The mindmapping I do, I do in Mindnode Pro on Mac and iThoughts HD on my iPad. I save the mind map in OPML on my Dropbox account so I can retrieve the latest version from whatever device I am working on.

There you go. I just wanted to share what works for me.