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Managing Your Career With Mind Maps

It’s been said for the past couple of decades that many of us will change careers a handful of times. This was before the Internet access to the Web was widespread, when opportunities we more limited. Now, with the offline and online opportunities that are opened up online, especially for freelancing, career management becomes more of an issue for web workers and other geekpreneurs.

If you find yourself in the state of mind of not knowing what to do long-term, consider using a mind map for career planning. Whether you’re a freelancer trying to supplement your income with online and/or offline gigs, or you’re transitioning between careers, you can apply the method discussed below.

Career Planning Approach

The mind map above shows an initial approach, though this is refined in later. In essence, you want to list all possible opportunities, then filter the list with criteria that’s important to you. Pretty simple, right? (Note: the above diagram indicates a “realstic” measurement scale of 1.0-10.0, which I did not use in later diagrams. The idea is to refine your mind mapping approach as you go, and as it suits your needs. This is what I wanted to illustrate.)

Step 1: Brainstorm Work Options

Start by brainstorming all possible sources of income that you are currently involved in or have an interest in. Don’t “edit” mentally as you list items. By “source” I mean type of work, not a specific client. In the example below, I’ve intentionally included both offline and online opportunities to better illustrate the approach.

Step 2: Add Filtering Criteria

Now you can start the filtering process:

1. Which of these are work options are desirable to you?

2. What’s the $revenue potential/ month? You can be specific or you can just put down high, medium, low. You can also add in “very high” and “very low”, or switch over to a numeric scale. Remember that you are only apply your own frame of reference, in terms of the work currently/ possibly available to you.

3. How is realistic is it that you will get any work from this source? You can apply a high/ med/ low or a numeric scale. Use what you feel comfortable with. Keep in mind that over time, the “realistic” measure of an opportunity might change. That is, say, three months from now, you might find something is far more realistic.

4. What are the drawbacks of pursuing this work? Include any thoughts about time investment, physical or mental toll, training, etc. For example, you might want to do something and know that there’s a market for it, but there might not be any direct revenue. (One example from my list is WordPress plugin development.) Note that every opportunity can have its drawbacks. All that matters is whether something is a problem for you or not.

Step 3: Sort Your Work Options

To make this step easier to follow, the diagram above is the same as the one in Step 2.4, except that I’ve added color-coded lines (dotted) between column critiera. What we want to do is rearrange the list so that our best options are at the top.

I’ve put “Desirabilty” as the leftmost column of the filtering criteria. This comes from years in the workforce, and the realization that work enjoyment matters far more to me than money. The beauty of this mind mapping method is that you can rearrange the filtering criteria to suit your needs. For me, “Potential” comes after “Desirability”, followed by “Realistic”.

Consider: not being happy in what you are doing means potentially sloppy work, which means potentially unhappy clients, employers, or end users.  You can add other criteria to suit your needs. For example, you might put in a column of “Positives,” to compare against “Drawbacks.” I find that I’m intrinsically already thinking of positives, but if an opportunity is new to you, it might help to write them down concretely.

Rearrange the remaining items from most likely to least likely to bring you short-term income. The result will be something like this:

Step 4: Cull Your List

Now that you’ve arranged your options from what is the best course of action to the least, long-term or short-term depending on your criteria, you’ll want to cull the list down. Remove any items that have little possibility of bringing you revenue in the next, say, 6 months, or will bring you so little return and might interfere with more lucrative opportunities. Focus only on the short-term. You can work on longer-term goals separately.

Above, I’ve only removed a few items, regardless of what their desirability was: editing, podcasting, freelance diagrams, co-producing (film). I love podcasting and diagramming, but neither is likely to bring me much revenue in the short-term. As for film producing, that is a long-term goal, so I’ll revisit it in another year or two. On the other hand, I left a couple of options with low desirability simply becaus they are highly likely to bring me some short-term earnings.

Final Thoughts

This method isn’t perfect and you do have to adjust your filtering criteria according to your needs (short-term, long-term, freelance, entrepreneurial, contract, salaried). Overall, this approach to career planning allows you to see that something you thought you wanted to do might be better as a short-term, means-to-an-end opportunity rather than a long-term career path.

Still, going through this career management process with a mind map will give you a bit of a blueprint of where you might want to focus your career efforts. Just keep in mind that this plan can and should be organic. Revisit it every few months, or whenever you’re finding what you’re currently doing is unrewarding.


The maps in this article were produced with MindJet MindManager Pro. You can get a free, fully functioning trial for Mac (21 days) or Windows (30 days), but you do have to sign up.


  1. Adam Keck Says:

    Note that after the "source breakdown" node, you can use a spreadsheet for the analysis, since the map takes on tabular structure. This would allow you do some calculations, if you introduce further numerical scores.

    If you do need mapping software for further analysis, see
    for a free tool.

    Perhaps we need addressable nodes in a mindmap, so that we can do math between them ;).


  2. Raj Says:

    Adam, that's a great idea. You should put that into the Freemind wishlist (must be one somewhere). Maybe one of the professional packages will follow this up. Thanks for the tips.

  3. Viqi French Says:

    This is fabulous! A super thought-organizational tool.

  4. Sandy Santra Says:

    Great suggestions. I've been trying to set this up in OmniGrafflePro, but can't get the outline node dragability I desire (unless I use layers, I guess). Been wanting to buy MindManager for years (my trial ran out), but can't justify the cost right now.

  5. Sandy Santra Says:

    Now it's a month later. I am using this mindmapping org tool in earnest now to design a "projects plan" (which includes multiple career path initiatives). I have to say, though, that I went through quite a few software apps before I found the right one:

    MindManager (no horizontal aligning for work option attribute cells or row drag-and-drop to reorder)
    OmniGraffle (row drag-and-drop, finally, via Outline view--but too many problems with auto-layout)
    Microsoft Word (cell text for work option attributes won't "bind" with cell formatting for copying)
    Microsoft Excel (cell color + text binds via conditional format, but no row drag-and-drop)
    iWork Pages (cell color + text binds, but row drag-and-drop overwrites row near target drop)

    ...and the winner is:

    iWork Numbers (cell color binds w/ text, row drag-and-drop works, new rows/columns easy to insert)

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