One of the problems of working online is keeping track of your life. It doesn’t matter whether you are researching for an offline job or are a hardcore web worker. In the past, a lot of us have used paper day planners, but if a significant part of your day is spent online, you likely have digital information to track. One of the most powerful and flexible ways to do this and stay productive is with a Personal Dashboard.
A Personal Dashboard doesn’t have to be just for your personal affairs but can include aspects of your life and work on or offline. There are actually a number of web applications that are considered a type of web dashboard, including Pageflakes and Netvibes. Some people even use an RSS reader such as Google Reader, or a calendaring tool such as Google Calendar as a sort of web dashboard.
The drawback is that these sorts of apps are very narrow in their feature set, especially Google Reader. Sure, you can track all the sites you like to read daily, but that’s about it. With portals like Pageflakes and Netvibes, you can do a bit more. Yet you cannot track other types of information, images, links, lists, etc. Most of all, it’s not necessarily in a handy format.
A much more suitable application choice for a proper Personal Dashboard is to use a mind mapping tool. You have your choice of desktop or web-based packages, and even the latter are starting to offer sophisticated feature sets.
What’s a Personal Dashboard For?
A personal dashboard is a sophisticated way to digitally track your offline and online life, both for work and personal. Here are some possible bits of information you might keep in your personal dashboard, in no particular order.
- Personal goals – career, relationship, etc.
- Tasks by time period – daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, long-term.
- Personal tasks – meetings, appointments, reminders.
- Work tasks.
- Work log – a record of what you did, by day or even by hour.
- Reading list – online (URLs), or print (list of magazines, books, authors).
- Notes in full text.
- Links to finished documents, including word processor or spreadsheet files.
- Design snippets
Why Mind Mapped Dashboards?
Why use a mind mapping tool? A mind mapped personal dashboard allows for high productivity, for all the same reasons to use a mind mapping tool at all: flexibility and diagrammatic representation, stimulation of thinking processes, and more. You can view mind maps in detail or at a high level, use different shapes, colors, line styles, text fonts and so on. Mind maps stimulate both sides of the brain, logical and creative. So you could take your personal dashboard and expand it to link to other mind maps where you’ve worked out solutions to work or life problems.
If you think you’ll miss your RSS reader app or your favorite portal, no problem. Most desktop-based mind mapping tools allow you to link a map node to an application. So a mind map becomes more of a meta-dashboard that can provide hooks into your desktop applications and documents, as well web pages, and store snippets or even large blocks of text.
So it doesn’t replace portals, calendars, to do lists, etc. What you have instead is a central area where you can access what’s important to you each day, arranged in some diagrammatic fashion that is optimum for your use.
Here’s a summary of the value of using a mind map for your personal dashboard in more detail:
- Radial thinking – the visual structure of many mind maps forms a radial pattern, which supports a more open type of thinking pattern.
- Hierarchical structure – any information that has hiearchy can be well-represented in a mind map.
- Flexible structure – easily reorganize information.
- High or low view – ability to expand/ collapse map nodes so that you can get focused view or a bird’s eye view, respectively.
An advanced mind mapping tool allows:
- Active linking to documents (web pages or on hard drive) and applications. Clicking a linked map node starts up the application associated with the attached document type.
- Synchronization with MS Office, including Excel, Word, Outlook, MS Project and other files.
- Inclusion of native spreadsheet blocks (as an alternate to linking to a spreadsheet file).
- Creation and linking to sub-maps.
- Attachment of notes to map nodes. In terms of workflow, this is a productivity boon. This makes it easy to find associated notes.
- Inclusion of images in map nodes.
- Floating nodes that represent peripherally related information which should not be part of the main map.
- A variety of map styles.
- A type of diagramming, using map node shapes, lines, borders and relationships.
- Building of complex mind maps, depending on the tool used.
A Sample Personal Dashboard Mind Map
Depending on which mind mapping tool you are using, you can get pretty sophisticated with a personal dashboard. A great example of a personal board is in MindJet’s library. The snapshot above shows an overview of this dashboard, but I recommend you see it in full. To view the mind map, you’ll need a copy of MindJet’s MindManager Pro 7 (free fully functioning trial) or their free MindManager Viewer 7 map viewer. The Windows version of MindManager offers a 30-day fully functioning trial. For Mac, it’s 21 days.
The drawback, at least as far as I found, is that MindManager can get addictive, and if can’t afford the steep price (which is worth it if you are a hardcore mind mapper like myself). What you might want to do instead is start with a copy of the free multi-platform (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux) FreeMind. Work with FreeMind, get used to the process, if you haven’t used mind maps before.
If you like the general feel of using a mind map, then consider downloading a trial version of MindJet MindManager (Windows, Mac OS X). This should give you enough time and feature variety to determine if you like mind mapping enough to purchase software or stick with FreeMind. Or a relatively expensive desktop option that I’ve used extensively, amongst several dozen, is MindApp, though it’s nowhere nearly as sophisticated as MindManager.
If you prefer using something web-based, there are several options, including Mindomo, Mindmeister, or Comapping. However, don’t always expect the full sophistication of a desktop, especially the ability to fire up desktop applications.