This article is about how to manage your time for maximum effectiveness. Think of life as a journey. We are all on this journey, and we all know how it ends. Let’s make it a joyful journey, a meaningful one.

When you are going on a trip, you plan for it; you pack, get directions, make reservations. What about life; are you really on the journey you want to take? To make the journey through life effectively, you’ll need maps—mind maps.

Make a map of your priorities, so you can base your life on those and live in integrity. Break down any goals or dreams or projects you have that are too big using the same mapping technique. When you find yourself staring into space because you need to write, speak, or organize your thoughts for some other purpose—or when you are just worrying—map your thoughts to get them out of your head. You will also want to use mind mapping for taking notes; you will soon find yourself organizing the thoughts in your head in maps, so you can remember and use them.

Free on-line encyclopedia, Wikipedia, says mind mapping is “…a diagram used to represent words, ideas, tasks or other items linked to and arranged around a central key word or idea. It is used to generate, visualize, structure and classify ideas, and as an aid in study, organization, problem solving, and decision making.” It also says, “Software and technique research have concluded that managers and students find the techniques of mind mapping to be useful, being better able to retain information and ideas than by using traditional 'linear' note taking methods.”

The next section will take you through a series of exercises and instructions to get you started being a master mapper—and achiever.
Integrity: Start With a Circle
There is so much to do and so little time that, without a plan, we tend to do what comes up, which means we do what others impose on us.

Is that what it’s all about, letting life live us? What are you really all about? Because we can’t do everything, prioritization is the key. Before prioritizing our tasks, we need to identify our priorities in life. Our priorities come from our values. Our values make up who we say we are. Our integrity comes from living up to who we say we are.

Are there areas of your life where you are not really putting your time or energy into what you say is important? Are you being true to your integrity? When we live in disharmony with our values, the dissonance causes stress, even illness. To take control, put your money where your mouth is.

So many people say they want to attain life balance, but what do you want to balance? If the answer is work and home, rethink. Is it reasonable to only have these two facets in life? What if something happens at work or in your home life, what’s left? What constitutes the “life” aspect of you?
Map and Master
On a scratch piece of paper, make a small circle and write the word “life” inside. Take about two minutes to brainstorm your life priorities. A good way to figure these out is to ask yourself questions like, “What’s most important to me in the world?” or “What are the main areas of my life?” Popular entries include family, career, health, spirituality, friends, wealth, self, fun, giving back, hobbies, travel, home, etc.

Draw “spokes” off the circle and write the priorities at the end of the lines. Please avoid making it linear, keep it looking like a child’s picture of the sun. The reason for this format is explained later. It takes about 2 minutes, so do it now.

Congratulations, what you have now is at least a partial list of your values—the basis of priorities. Only by beginning with what is most important to you can you live life on your terms, a life Naturopath Dr. Rick Brinkman calls a Life by Design . Integrity means being who you say you are, so you still need to do two things: systematically take action in each priority area, and set and protect boundaries. Branch goals off each of the values—things would you like to accomplish in each of the areas.

Stay with the spokes off of a circle technique. It is called mind mapping, clustering, spider webbing. You may have been fortunate enough to have a teacher introduce it to you for planning something like a writing project. The reason for this technique is multifold. First, brainstorming from a circle makes you think outward, while lists lead to thinking downward. The circle expands your thinking, listing narrows it. The mental process is quite different; lists are linear while maps are random access.

With a list, you tend to look only at the last entry before adding the next one, so it is easy to go off on a tangent. A map has the main idea or goal in the middle, so you keep focus. Also, maps have no priority order; you can organize after you get all the ideas written down.
Mapping Guidelines
There is more to a map that its shape and format. One of the main purposes is to allow us to capture all the thoughts and information that comes to us in random order as quickly as it comes. When mapping, please follow these guidelines:
• Write just a key word or two, not long phrases or sentences
• Write everything that comes to mind, it is brainstorming
• Be random, you can organize later
• Put like things together
The reason for the key words is that memory studies have found that taking notes in full sentences leads the brain to think, “I don’t need to remember that; I’ve got it written down.”

A great source of information about mind mapping is a man named Tony Buzan. He has written books, created software, and developed a Web site on mind mapping.
His guidelines are more specific, and focused on structure:
1. Start in the center with an image of the topic, using at least three colors
2. Use images, symbols, codes, and dimensions throughout your map
3. Select key words and print using upper or lower case letters
4. Each word/image must be alone and sitting on its own line.
5. The lines must be connected, starting from the central image. The central lines are thicker, organic and flowing, becoming thinner as they radiate out from the center
6. Make the lines the same length as the word/image
7. Use colors—your own code—throughout the mind map
8. Develop your own personal style of mind mapping
9. Use emphasis and show associations in your map
10. Keep the mind map clear by using radial hierarchy, numerical order or outlines to embrace your branches

Repeat this exercise for work. Write “work” in the middle of the circle, and with spokes around it, identify your job priorities. Off of those priorities, branch off goals for each area. Doing this will get you started managing many priorities at once, instead of just doing the ones that are the most obvious.

The Scratch Sheet
In math class, we needed a scratch sheet to figure out complicated problems. In life, when we need to compile, organize, and present complicated ideas and actions, we also need a scratch sheet. The brain can only hold onto seven plus or minus two things at a time. To get things done, mind maps are the perfect multi-purpose tool. After all, where is it easier to organize your thoughts, inside your head (where you can’t see them) or outside?

Try using mind maps as scratch sheets for absolutely anything you need to organize. Here are instructions for four areas: thinking, writing, note taking, and project management. Remember, it’s okay if it looks like a mess, it is a scratch sheet.

Every time you catch yourself staring into space, you are probably trying to organize multiple thoughts in your head, so start a map. In the middle of the circle, identify the thought process—worry, idea, anger, etc. or the object of thought—person’s name, event, “shopping list,” etc. (or leave the circle blank).

Randomly dump out every thought as fast as you can; don’t stop to think, just write. Step back and look for solutions, patterns, and things you could subgroup together. Cluster like things by color coding, numbering, or (if you have mind mapping software) dragging.

Writing, Presenting, and Conversing
Do you ever have to give a presentation, write a document, or initiate a difficult conversation? Do you ever get nervous or have writer’s block? Mind map your way through it. Put the topic in the middle and brainstorm the main things you have to say or write. Branch off the main topics what you need to say under each of those, then branch off of the subtopics until you have reached the desired level of detail.

It is already somewhat organized, but add numbers, cross off unnecessary items, and move to subgroup as necessary. This is your outline. Working from this, you can put your speech, document, or conversation together quickly and painlessly.

Taking Notes
When a customer, boss, or colleague gives you instructions—is the conversation organized? How long does it take to put these sentences into some kind of action plan? What if you mapped it? Write the name, date, and topic in the middle, then branch according to broad topic. As the speaker skips around, add branches to the applicable topic.

For meetings try putting a slash across the middle of the page with the meeting date and topic on it. Starting at the bottom, yes the bottom, write the agenda items in branches off of the slash. As the meeting progresses, add subtopics to the main slashes and more subtopics off of those according to where each comment fits. You can color code or put who said what as well. I learned this technique from the famous Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics speed-reading program.

At the end of the meeting you can recall who said what without looking. This is because we used key words, not full sentences (your brain says “I’d better remember what these key words mean.”) and because a mind map is visual. Look at the map you made earlier, then look up. Can you picture the map in your mind’s eye? With a little practice, you can “see” the words you wrote on the map and recall all the information. Teach this to anyone in your life who has to study for tests.

Project Management
“Human beings cannot do projects, they can only do tasks,” that’s what my boss told me on the first day of a project management job. “Our job is to break the projects into tasks, so they can get accomplished.”

Are you seeing how mind mapping could be the best way to do this? Take any goal, dream, or project you have not yet accomplished and write it in a circle, then think, “What steps do I need to take to achieve the goal.” Branch the main steps off of the center, then break the large pieces down, breaking the large sub-tasks down—continuing until the last layer of every branch is a task.

How do you know you’ve reached a task? You know what to do—you have no questions. For example. If you wanted to write a book and started mapping out the steps but got stuck, that would indicate that you probably don’t know what to do next. In that case, write, “How” (short, keyword entry for “find out how”) on the map, then branch off the ways to research what to do.

Perhaps you would come up with, “book,” “group,” and “Internet” as entries (short, keyword entries for “find a book,” “join a group,” and “search the Internet”) Going to a bookstore to get a book on how to write a book is a task.

As a side note, what is a task to one person may be a project to another. I could search the Internet and it would be a task, but if I asked my mother to do it, I would have to explain some steps. Keep this in mind when you ask someone to do something at work. If you have been doing it for a long time, you might not remember that there are steps it needs to be broken into for a beginner.

Once the project has been broken down, it is easy to decide what order to do the tasks, what can be done simultaneously, and what resources you’ll need. Without the map, we just start . . . and stop . . . and realize while we are doing it what the steps are. Rather than work on a project with the steps hidden, get them out and organized.

So far, we have been mapping. Maps are a great way to conceptualize, strategize and organize thoughts and information—they are not the best format for reviewing the information, however.

Once it is all out there, it makes sense to convert project breakdowns into to-do lists, Gantt charts, and presentations. Mind mapping software does these conversions simultaneously; you may need to manually make lists of tasks.

Author's Bio: 

Sherry Prindle truly lives the theme, “Life is a Journey.” In a different city every day and a different part of the country every week holding training seminars; certification classes for prospective life and executive coaches; or business process and performance consultations—her focus of energy and experience is always on the cutting edge and in the moment.

She is a Certified Master Coach and Vice President with the Certified Coaches Federation. With ten years’ experience as a seminar leader and trainer, she now trains all new speakers for Fred Pryor Seminars. Her consulting business is known for its affordability, adaptability, and insight.

Co-developer of a Web portal called New Voice Training. Sherry also maintains a travel and life-experience blog at .

Visit one of her Web sites for insight inventories, training modules, exercises in mind mapping, and opportunities to invest in valuable tools like mind mapping software.

Success in her current business ventures comes from relevant experience. Sherry has a B.A. in Communications and International Relations from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri and an M.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies (Business and Linguistics) from the University of Texas at Arlington.

She lived in Fukuoka, Japan for four years where she taught English, assistant directed and starred in television news magazines and documentaries, and did news correspondence for RKB-Mainichi Television in Japanese.

She also lived in Moscow, Russia where she produced and hosted her own “Morning Zoo” radio show on Radio 7.

Every day is a new opportunity to gain valuable insight and experience. You’ll never find Sherry in her hotel room. Look for her walking from one end of town to another, singing karaoke, riding her motorcycle, or attending cultural events.

Life is short, we have a choice as to how we invest our time, money, energy, talent, intellect, and passion. Look for the highest return on investment to make the most of your journey!