Whether you are a student tasked with allocating time for a research paper, or an employee who has been delegated the job of estimating the schedule for a project, you can definitely benefit from the mind mapping technique when trying to estimate project time. How? Well, what is common between the two scenarios is that planning for a paper or a project will both require you to know the TASKS to be done and the TIME it will take for you to accomplish each task. The employee might differ from the student in that he will also have to figure out WHO has to do each task for the entire project as well. But mind mapping will still work anyway.
Let us take the first job which is figuring out what tasks have to be done. As usual, you start with a key central idea. If you are a student, this could be the main topic assigned to you by your instructor – like “The Differences between Monotheistic Religions of the World.” If you are an employee, this would be the project title – possibly “Installing a Computer Network for Company ABC.” Then, having put that down, you start free-associating on all possible ideas that the subject brings to mind. Bear in mind that at this point there is no right or wrong idea – you are simply trying to generate ideas.
After you have jotted down all the possible ideas that you can think of in the ‘tree branch’ where they belong, you are ready to create a list of tasks that have to be done. Each tree branch of ideas will help you narrow down the appropriate task that goes with it. For example, for “The Differences Between Monotheistic Religions of the World”, you might have written down “Judaism” and “Christianity”. Your task for “Judaism” then is to list all the features of that religion which make it monotheistic. Same goes for “Christianity” – you will also have to write down what are the traits of Christianity that would make you classify it as monotheistic. See how easy it is? You now have your first task. Each set of ideas that fall under each religion will help you decide which task comes next. You might disagree and say that determining the features of each religion should not be the first task – that is also possible. With mind mapping, remember that each person might think of different associations for each idea so it is possible that you could come up with a completely different set of tasks. It’s your call.
The next job at hand is to determine the time it will take you to finish each task. You do not have to be 100% precise at this, just give a ballpark figure as to how much time you need for every task. Obviously, not having done the task yet, you do not know the exact time you require. But giving a ballpark figure allows you to budget your time accordingly instead of being on “floating” status. It breaks the paralysis that comes when you panic and try to be 100% accurate at this stage.
Let us examine the case of “Installing a Computer Network for Company ABC.” If you listed the following tasks:
- Ask for client’s specifications for computer network.
- Canvass prices of appropriate personal computer models at computer stores.
- Submit estimated cost of personal computers to client.
Then you may start estimating how much time each of these three tasks would require to be accomplished. The first one might just take one day of meetings with the client. The second one could take a little longer since you would have to talk with the sales representatives of computer stores about their personal computer models. The last one might also take you an entire day of meetings with the client since he would have to consider your proposal closely before coming to a decision. Note that each task might possibly require more time than you initially budgeted for it. So integrate “buffer time” into your estimate – adding more time to accomplish each task so you have leeway to work without the stress of an imminent deadline making your work harder.
The last job for the above employee is delegating each task to the appropriate person on the project team. For example, as far as “asking for client’s specifications for computer network” is concerned, that could be assigned to Employee X. “Canvassing prices of appropriate personal computer models at computer stores” would be designated as Employee Y’s job. And to “submit estimated cost of personal computers to client” – that might be given to Employee X to do. Another possibility is that one person could do all three jobs – you will have to figure out whether delegating the tasks would make the project proceed more efficiently or not.
Do you see now how mind mapping can help you at each stage of your work? At each stage, creating a mind map can bring out a host of ideas which would be applicable. After you produce your mind map, you can then list the relevant ideas using a linear method (i.e. as Task #1, Task #2, and Task #3.) When you have narrowed down the details of your work, you can then put the relevant ideas in the format appropriate for your work. If it is a research paper, use the format recommended or desired by your instructor. If it is a project estimate, there is also a format that would best appeal to the client.