On my best man’s wedding, his best man gave a presentation. Because as a consultant, that’s what he’s used to do, in order to structure his thoughts. As a coder, I’m using my text editor with markdown to structure my thoughts. Alternatively, as a UX designer, I’m using pen & paper sketches. Previously, I experimented with mind maps, outliners (which are more limited than markdown) and todo applications.
Structuring our thoughts outside our mind is necessary for any problem more complex than making tea. I wonder why so few good tools exist. Let me consider some drawbacks of the above solutions:
- With the exception of mindmaps and pen & paper, they are linear and don’t allow annotating the all important links between distant topics.
- Most methods focus on prose, which is often cumbersome. More visual approaches can be much quicker.
- Presentation software is made to share thoughts, not to structure them for oneself, so the focus is wrong.
The ideal tool to support my thinking would meet the following three requirements:
- Non-linearity: Reordering topics and links between topics must be possible.
- Time-sensitivity: It must be possible to see in which order the separate parts were created in order to retrace the though process later.
- Visuality: There must be a way to incorporate sketches, scribbles or even pictures from other sources.
So far, I don’t know any tool that combine these three. Pen & paper sketches are non-linear, but not time-sensitive. Presentations are visual, but linear. Text documents are none of the above. Mindmaps are non-linear, but not time-sensitive and rarely visual.
The way we structure our thoughts is critical in order to solve any complex problem. I, for one, am gonna spend more time improving my tools and methods here, since that’s what’s worked in many other related scenarios, e. g. for coding, designing or presenting.