Mind-mapping - too effective?

I’ve seen several sources recommend mind-mapping as a more effective way to organize your tasks than the traditional bullet-point to-do list. (If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s a different way of taking notes, where you put the main topic at the center and all the sub-points branch off from it like a tree.) I was a bit doubtful it would help, but with several very long and complicated translation projects on my plate, I decided it was worth a try. I found a free mind-mapping app for my iPad and set to work organizing all the many tasks related to each project.

Well, it took a while to set up, but some time later I had multiple nicely organized mind-maps, so I got to work. And I was amazed at how effective it was! I didn’t realize how much time I wasted just muddling around trying to decide what I was supposed to do next with each project. Now I know exactly what needs to be done next, and I’m ready to just dive in and do it! Well, I admit the dishes are still piled up in the sink and the laundry basket is overflowing:blush:, but at least with the projects that really matter to me, I feel organized at last. I’m most impressed.

But now I have another problem. It’s too effective! Now I know what I’m supposed to do, I can’t find enough hours in the day to do it! I’ve worked two or three 12+ hour days this week, and I still don’t feel I finished half of what I wanted to do each day. I’m getting more done than before, but I actually feel less productive. It’s frustrating!

I suppose the solution should be to break up the projects into smaller portions, which I’ve tried to do with limited success. I tell myself I will work on this project for just half an hour, or check X number of vocabulary words in this list, or the like, and then I will move on to a different project. But then I fall into hyperfocus, and the planned half-hour becomes two hours, or the 20 words I was planning to check become 50… and before I know it, it’s past my dinnertime already.

So this mind-mapping technique is working great for organizing my tasks, but how can I use it to get done what I actually need to get done each day?


So let me get this straight… each of your mind maps are supposed to cover one task but it’s somehow also supposed to be done in one session?

I think you might be confusing the act of organizing your tasks with the act of organizing your days. Those are two very different challenges and one, sadly, doesn’t affect the other quite as much as we’d want that.

How you organize a task helps you a lot in getting it done. But it doesn’t help you structure your day. That can only be done by knowing in advance how long a task is going to take and only scheduling the ones you can actually do in that time. Or better, half of what you think you can do. The ADHD books I read all recommend never scheduling more than three tasks per day. I like to schedule five so I can choose three, knowing in advance I’ll have to re-schedule the other two.

Don’t be afraid of leaving a task half-finished. As long as you’re making progress and the project is still in the schedule (and on schedule), you’re good.

I’m not using mind maps myself - I tried that but got confused by the multidimensionality of it. I use nested to-do lists. I have the big list of my tasks for the day (or, realistically, for the week), and I structure each task into steps that are easy to take (or leave). It helps if every step comes with a realistic time estimate, but the main thing is to cross off each step once it’s done because that’s fun and I can pick it up at any step later and I get to see what’s next on the list.

I don’t know if that last bit works as well with mind maps. It might, though.

What I haven’t gotten to work yet is to actually remember to work from those lists. I use Trello to organize them and I also have a post-it book, uh, somewhere, but often I don’t really remember to consult them, so that’s a work in progress, no matter how neat my nested lists are.


Thank you for the good advice!

I think this is something I’ve also experienced, and I would guess that it isn’t uncommon among ADHDers, though I’m not really an expert.

In my experience, what happens is, that the act of creating task-lists becomes the task which overtakes all other tasks. I get excited about making a list; I get excited about organizing that list; I get excited about dividing, sub-dividing, and organizing each and every task within that list; and so on. Soon, all the aspects of behavior associated with MAKING the list of things-to-do becomes something I am hyper-focused on. For example, I’ll learn to synchronize my task-lists from laptop to cellphone. I’ll figure out how to make tasks dependent on one another, or how to make the right to completion of one task related somehow to the actual completion of another. I’ll tag them, calendar them, color-code them. And then …

… I won’t actually DO any of them.

I know that your story is not identical to mine. But it’s related, isn’t it? I mean, you’re a master of creating mind-maps, yet you remain unhappy about the degree to which you’ve actually accomplished the tasks in those maps, right?

For me, meta-thought is a never-ending fascination. It’s one of the reasons I like this bulletin board, and it’s one of the reasons I know a great deal about my own (and other people’s?) experiences with ADHD. I want very much to be involved in the THINKING ABOUT THINKING. And with that, goes the idea of planning to perform tasks. Not ACTUALLY performing them; just, meta-performing them, or, thinking ahead about how to best do them.

Recognizing all of this in myself is an interesting phenomenon, sure. But overcoming it? I dunno if I can. Perhaps I’m describing the cart before the horse, here. Perhaps, it is not that I am intrinsically fascinated with meta-performing tasks, at the expense of actually performing them. Perhaps, instead, I have throughout my lifetime noticed my failure to actually perform tasks, and then, subsequent to that failure, I have figured out a weak substitution, that of meta-performing the tasks. So, maybe it’s the case, as I first related, that my meta-tasking somehow precludes my actual taking. But maybe instead it’s been the case, to the opposite, that my meta-tasking is the only actual tasking that I accomplish precisely because I know I’m weak at actual tasking and simply want to fill my lost time with something that vaguely feels just a little bit productive. Knowing I probably won’t be very productive, I at least get a little productivity out of making a list. And then fail at the list itself, again. But at least I did that one little thing, of making the list at all.

I suggest that your mind-mapping could be the tip of the meta-world iceberg. For me, overly indulging in task-list-creating used to be a super huge tip of a super huger iceberg. Only when I realized that the tip of the iceberg was growing every time I indulged in it, did I also figure out, that the rest of the iceberg was also growing in equal proportion to the visible tip. I tried to stop indulging in it.

That doesn’t mean you have to do the same of course. Just what my own experience was.

Now, to (slightly) beat this, I do have one strategy. I MINIMIZE my task lists. I always do only the least amount of writing or color-coding possible (or anything else organizational) when creating a list of things to do. I make a bullet-point and stop. For example, yesterday I wrote down, “new health insur / vs. vyvan”, and I am deliberately NOT writing anything else on that sheet of paper; I know what it means; it’s not synchronized; it’s not color-coded; it’s not in any list anywhere except right there on that one page of paper. With minimal task lists, I find that I actually do some of the things on the lists, now. Some of them. Not all, but … uh … a little bit more than ZERO of them, at least. :slight_smile:


Thanks so much for all the helpful advice. I have kept my mind-maps but more as a reference, especially for the complicated projects. But I have the projects grouped into three major categories, so now instead of trying to do some of every project, every day, I just pick one project from each category each day. This is working so much better! I’m not getting as much done as I’d like to get done, but I am at least making some progress on some of the projects each day instead of running around like the proverbial beheaded chicken. :grin:

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And the beheaded chicken state achieves less, in my experience. I hate up admit this, but there seems to be some truth in the ‘less is more’ idea :confused:

Underscheduling is another intelligent less-is-more tactic.

By underscheduling do you mean think of a number and halve it, then halve it again? The number being ‘things I plan to do today’.

And, in the case of ‘the number of minutes I think this will take’, think of a number, double it, then double it again?

I Sooooo need to make that a habit :confused::woman_facepalming:

Honestly, I have felt generally SO MUCH HAPPIER now that I officially call myself an “underscheduler.” I simply do NOT allow things onto the datebook, whether you’re talking about a datebook that is merely conceptual or about an actual hard-copy or electronic appointment-minder datebook. Nothing gets in it.

It felt, at first, a bit like cutting all activities and responsibilities out of my life, but soon enough I realized that this wasn’t what was happening at all. I end up doing all the same old things, or pretty much all of them, and I end up getting to work or getting to play at exactly the same rate as previously. But I also get the benefit that, I no longer get the feeling of being harried and harassed, as though everybody wants a part of my time.

By underscheduling, all I’m really doing is, never taking on NEW projects. I already have so much going on – I want to write novels and stage-plays and so on; and I’m learning to watercolor paint; and I play blues harmonica sort-of good enough to get involved in a rock band; and I’m an adept draftsman at figure-drawing and similar dry-media; and and … the thing is, I would SIGN UP for EVERYTHING if I could. But by saying NO to things, I get to start to take control. I don’t actually end up limiting my life very much, and I certainly have never felt like I’m having to avoid anything enjoyable. I do NOT get the impression that my life is less full, or less vibrant, merely because the right to access my datebook is severely limited. I simply feel happier about all the things that ARE in my datebook. And in going to those (fewer) things, I’m on time, I’m happy to be there, I’m not limited in my ability to enjoy them, I’m not thinking about the next (harassing) appointment that’s coming up because there’s a huge buffer zone between the current behavior and the next required behavior. In that huge buffer zone, my little ADHD brain will actually succeed in set-shifting to the new activity without stress.

And, here’s a kicker – I don’t do less than anybody else! All those other people out there who don’t have ADHD are doing, umm, just about the same amount of stuff that I’m doing. They have work to X amount of time per week, and play to Y amount, and Z number of appointments and regular recurring activities and surprise parties and so on. And their X and Y and Z run up to just about the same amounts in total as mine do. I’m not out of the norm! But to get to that, I had to call myself an underscheduler and really go out of my way to underschedule my datebook.

It’s almost like the only thing that was making me need to be underscheduled, was the fact that as an ADHDer I got too easily tempted into oversheduling. Thus, when I reduced, all I was doing was cutting back down to normal amounts.

Let me reiterate: it makes me SO HAPPY to have very little to anticipate that I have to do. “Oh, I have to do this, and then this, and I really MUST do that, and it’s going to be squeezed in between the other thing here and THERE is the required …” there just are NOT ANY REQUIREMENTS any more. I am free to feel like I choose, instead of like I have my appointments forced upon me, chosen for me.

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I tend to take individual tasks and figure out how long each will probably take (and then add a bit extra, for breaks etc). Then I write that amount of time next to it, like 30 mins, 2 hours, whole day etc. Helps me schedule it realistically :slight_smile:

Yeah that’s a good idea about scheduling. Put the intended or expected total time-cost next to the item in the appointment calendar.

I wonder if I could do that? I have NO IDEA how long things might take. Worse, I get panicky if something is “supposed” to only take a certain amount of time. For example, I remember one law school exercise we were given, in which we had to accomplish a certain piece of research. I am very good at research. Then halfway through the project they came along and said everybody stop, let’s see how you’ve done. And they gave me a very bad grade! I was like, wait, I haven’t DONE it yet, you can’t mark me as having done a bad job! And they were like, no, you have to have made more progress at the beginning to do a good job, and we were only interested in what you did at the beginning. I felt like the rug had been pulled out from under me. All my good work was yet to come, and they had proactively prevented me from accessing the opportunity to do that good work. Anyway, the notion of doing research is, that, because you don’t know what you’re going to find out (if you did know, you wouldn’t have to research it in the first place! right?) you might take a long time, you might not. But they didn’t listen. They wanted things to go like clockwork and if you were not their form of automaton then obviously you were stupid. So they thought. I can’t believe these sorts of idiots are in charge of American legal education … humph …

Anyway, my own resentment about the medieval hieroglyphics of law school aside, I feel like almost all tasks have that kind of time-constraint on them. Just before I am ready to really shine, SHAZAM someone pulls the rug out, and ZAP I’m going to look like an idiot on the basis of totally mis-representative criteria and false assessments. Furthermore, all tasks are, to me, very much like research – I have no idea how long it’s going to take, because I haven’t started doing it. And if I did know how long it would be, then, I wouldn’t need to do it, right? Or, so it feels to me.

So, trying to put down an expected duration of a task? Before starting it? Impossibility. Wish I could do that. How do you know? How on EARTH do you know what time will elapse, before it has elapsed? I can certainly write down AFTERWARDS, yes, this took me such-and-so total minutes, that took me two and a quarter hours, but that’s only possible retrospectively, never prospectively, for me. Consequently, my own appointment calendar is simply a list of when the events will start: appointments with people or at places will start up at such and so a time and date. Appointments, not tasks. I can’t figure out how to put in tasks from my to-do list.


I feel exactly the same way about going into things open minded. However,I have made some improvement since my adhd coach got me to note down how long things had taken (after the fact) and how many of the tasks I had planned to complete actually got completed when I thought they would/should/had to be.

So I discovered that my to do list was usually a list of things I should have done yesterday, or earlier, which made me start with a bad feeling in the first place. It also had no bearing on how long things would really take me.

So now I can do two things:

  1. for the type of things I have done often, I am slowly becoming more aware of how long that might actalually take and admitting this to myself. So my planning of those tasks is getting more realistic.

  2. If I know that I cannot spend the amount of time that task will take me because I have other things I also want to use that time for, I can sometimes do the grown up thing and either reschedule some of those things to give me more time, or choose to cut some corners. That is still really hard for me though. I am better at the theory than the practice (what’s new?:roll_eyes:).


Mind Maps as a tool to get organized :thinking:. Were your keywords for search or the actual resources project-based, @Ronelh? I can’t think of a single other kind of resource that would try to sell this idea. And I have done an almost 2 years research on planning. Yeah I admit, hyperfocus included. Usually it is pretty common that they try to sell an app or program right with the idea. Found it not trustworthy and not useful, too.

I think, it is pretty save to say that I have tried every method and technique, which is put out there to be found. After all I have learned about planning and organizing myself, I couldn’t agree more with the Bruce Lee Planning Theory. Planning is a skill that can be learned. When learning about methods and techniques in general, the highest risk is to fall into mechanical state (for everyone, not just brains). A believe that something has to be done a certain way, the process starts to become a trap. Every step is put into consideration first and how it can be best executed. A person loses the intuitive abilities of a novice and also flow. Perhaps finally the person recognizes that there isn’t much to planning after all. From those methods and techniques remains not much left and the person is able to get into flow again. But this time with the flexibility and ability like water. Planning has become second nature.

I have gone through that journey. Oh yeah, I have been trapped in a mechanical state and finally let go of all false believes. I had a lot. During my journey I kept notebooks with me and noted down all my teachable moments. Thanks to these notebooks, I was able to invent my own brain-friendly planner and finished yesterday the last printable for it. After almost 40 years, 2020 will be the first year I have a planner, which I am actually able to use. And the best part, I will be ready way before first January. Wow, 2 years preparation just for 31 sheets of paper (not printables) lasting a whole year. It still blows my mind.

Well planning is good, but doing is better. My solution is not made for planning all out, it is made for getting stuff done.

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I suggest you give it a try, I have used Freeplane to organize my life for 2 years, it works for some tasks, failed some of them ( when they are too complicated and I just distracted by some trivial tasks, so the important tasks are neglected, results in a bad outcome). In total, I could have been worse without using mind map software, I use it everyday now, and I haven’t found another better tool for me.

PS: Freeplane is sort of complicated to use, I took a few months to be familiar with it.

Regarding your question, I think you can try to use Freeplane to create procedures to cope with daily tasks, following guides from ADHD experts, such as Dr. Russel.

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Which calender client are you using?

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I have a whole-shebang Microsoft Office 365 subscription from work so I use Outlook on my Windows PC laptop, and that coordinates (by means of whichever automatic phenomenon was installed at the start) with the Google Calendar that is the main calendar on my Android phone.


Ok! So hi, I’m sort of a tech geek, I built Pc’s with my dad as a kid and I’ve never stopped being intruiged by why and how things work.

So, Outlook/Microsoft has it’s own task manager, I don’t know what the downloadable programe looks like, but on my 360 cloud based version I can click on ‘‘my day’’ and then switch tabs within the window to ‘‘my tasks’’ So that’s option number one for you.

Option number two, is because your Outlook and GCal sync, it’s far simpler to add tasks to Google calender, and I think you can even download GTask, which is their app. You can add to on your phone, laptop, like anywhere that supports googlemail.

I hope tha thelps?

sorry, BTDT, many many disadvantages to those apps relative to the advantages, thanks though … :slight_smile:

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I’m sorry, hon. I must have misunderstood. I thought those were apps you were already using. They certainly aren’t my first personal choice but it sounded like they were working for you, never mind then hehe!

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No, you understood correctly, I AM using those apps. I’m just not going to start trying to implement their task-management functions because of their limitations.

In general, my experience has been that a simple written list is better for me. By de-cluttering, I’ve addressed my ADHD well, and one method of de-clutter for me has been to eliminate as many complex synchronizations as possible. Managing them would take up my mind and annoy me.

Here’s an example: I keep all my contacts in desktop Outlook, which means they’re stored in an Exchange server; but, my Exchange contacts appear as “people” but not as “contacts” on my Android phone, whereas if I were to convert all my contacts to the G-Mail platform then Android would find them and use them better. But I’m not going to give Google the victory. Therefore, when I use Outlook on Android, many of the people for whom I have a correct email address will not appear as proper contacts in the emailing app, so instead I have to open the Contacts app on the phone and then cut-paste the email address, rather than simply letting it pop up in the “to:” field on its own after I’ve typed a few characters. This is an annoying glitch, an overlapped sync thing, that I’m sure I could fix IF I WERE TO TAKE THE TIME AND EFFORT. It would cost so much effort, and would then put INTO MY HEAD a series of learned knowledge about how to continue to cause my Android phone to work properly, that it would continue to occupy my mind long after the solution had been attained. I don’t want the computer to occupy me in that manner. Instead, I’m not going to let it take me over. Yes, there are ways to master the zillion details which would, in fact, alleviate the sync problem and create a better and more seamless integration of Outlook-for-Android’s use of contacts that arrive via the Exchange server rather than the G-Mail server, and yes I could do it, and yes it’s minor … but solving that problem means occupying myself with the details. I choose not to do so. I would remember the solution and yet, much to my chagrin, the next platform or operating system upgrade might invert all the requirements and set up a NEW requirement that, in order to re-perfect the situation, I might AGAIN have to micro-manage yet MORE details. In other words, if it’s perfectly working and I’m committed to keeping it perfectly working, then I have just signed myself up for a continual perpetual lifetime going forward of constant new distractions. But if it’s broken a little bit already, and I allow myself to remain comfortable with that minimal level of imperfection, then, to preserve that level of imperfection, I never again have to fix it or even interact with it at all! By letting it be wrong, I allow any of a hundred possibilities, none of which I ever have to manage; whereas, perfect rightness is only attained by the one exact possibility, which I have to continually upgrade and micro-manage. I choose the former. :slight_smile: