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How to Quickly and Easily Create Family History Mind Maps

Do you struggle with planning your genealogy research and storytelling projects? You aren’t alone; that was me too, or at least until I discovered how easy it was with family history mind maps.

Whenever I have a new idea, I’m always in a roaring hurry to start. I have a clear picture in my head of how it will turn out, so I dive straight in.

Unsurprisingly this doesn’t usually work out very well. Because I can see the outcome so clearly, I don’t focus on the steps involved to get there. It starts out okay but then the momentum runs out, and I fuss about working out what to do next.

It’s not that I don’t reach my goals. I do, but I’ve always taken the least efficient and most stressful path to get there. I DO NOT want to add up how much time I’ve wasted because of that particular habit!

Like the time I wrote a memory book for Mum’s 70th birthday. My focus was entirely on the end goal of putting the book in Mum’s hands. Somehow, I managed to achieve that goal but not without learning a significant lesson along the way.

That lesson? Before you start any project, create a roadmap of what you need to do from the beginning to the end. No matter what the project is. Whether it’s to research your ancestors or plan your storytelling. Seems simple enough, right?

Stop overthinking family history mind maps

What I never realised was that planning doesn’t have to be time-consuming. I never connected all the ways that we already plan every single day. That all those lists we make for shopping, packing or chores are creating a roadmap to achieving a goal.

And we can apply that same process to our research or storytelling. Start every project with a quick 15-minute planning session by:

  • Creating a mind map of everything you need to do
  • Breaking down each category until you have a list of actionable tasks
  • Scheduling all of the jobs on a timeline or calendar.

For the first two, don’t waste time on your computer. Grab a pad of sticky notes, a marker and find a notice board or wall.

Brain dump onto family history mind maps

Elements of family history mind maps are the foundation, branches, twigs and leaves
The four categories of mind map elements

Like the example above, a mind map starts in the centre with ideas or tasks branching off from there. The critical elements of a mind map are:

  • the foundation/centre:  the core keyword or goal
  • branches: secondary keywords or categories that branch off the foundation
  • twigs: ideas or tasks that relate to the branches
  • leaves: ideas or tasks that relate to the twigs.

You’ll use this design to create the basic structure of your overall plan.

The first step is to do a brain dump of everything you have to do to achieve your goal:

  • Start by adding your primary goal in the centre.
  • Next, are the branches. These will be the primary categories or mini-goals of the project. Add these in a circle around the centre.
  • Finally, add the twigs off each of the branches. These are the steps you’ll take achieve the goal.
  • Add leaves to break down any twigs that are not a single task or action.

Examples of family history mind maps

Book content mind map

The overall goal for the project was to write about Mum’s seventy years of adventures. So the categories/branches were the decades from then to now. Finishing with the twigs which were the events that occurred during those decades.

Use family history mind maps to breakdown the content of the project or book
Breakdown of the content of Mum’s memory book

Book production mind map

The overall goal for the project was to put the book in her hands. In this instance, the branches are the main components necessary to make that happen. And the twigs are the steps to bring the project to life.

family history mind maps can be use for  for the big picture planning of family history or memory books
Breakdown of all tasks required to create the book

You can draw your diagram on a page, but I suggest using sticky notes for the first draft. You’ll want to be able to move the ‘branches’ and ‘twigs’ around when deciding where everything should fit.

Another great thing about sticky notes is you can buy different shapes, sizes and colours. So, you can use the variety to visually create the hierarchy of tasks.

Plan your storytelling by breaking down the tasks

Complete mind map for storytelling project
Example of a complete mind map for a project

High five, you’ve finished the first draft. Now, look at what you can break down to be multiple tasks. The goal is for each job to require only one action, which will help with both focus and efficiency.

You’ll do this by adding ‘leaves’ to the twigs that require more steps.

For example, if one twig is ‘photos’, then you may add leaves for:

  • Scan
  • Resize
  • Retouch/recolour
  • Check copyright/credit, etc.

Some twigs will be single tasks and can’t be simplified further. Add leaves only where you need too because the goal is to find the tasks, not to create extra work.

Schedule on a timeline or calendar

Now that you’ve defined what you need to do, you can schedule the time to make it happen.

That is something I wish I’d done when I created Mum’s memory book. I gave myself nine months for research but only two weeks for writing AND design. Yes, you read that right. Two weeks!

Scheduling your tasks is critical when you plan your storytelling. This step will let you see if you have enough time or need to shuffle things around.

  • Add the milestone deadlines (e.g. start and end date) to your calendar.
  • Include any secondary deadlines such as proofreading review etc.
  • Fill in the gaps with the remaining tasks.

Questions to ask as you fill in the calendar:

  • Is that enough time?
  • Are the deadlines flexible?

If you don’t have a deadline, then build a timeline to determine how long you’ll need.

You may prefer to head back to the computer for this step. Try an app like Asana, an online calendar or create a list in Word or Excel. Or software where it’s easy to move the tasks around

TIP: For efficiency, batch similar tasks together even if they are for different categories. Particularly for jobs that require a setup like scanning or taking photos.

Visible plans keep you on track

A visible calendar is your accountability. You want to see everything at a glance whenever working on the project, so you can keep to the schedule. It’s a great way to test whether or not you’ve allowed enough time for each task.

  • Where you find yourself going over the timeframe, then the deadline is too tight.
  • If you finish everything quickly, then you tighten up the calendar if you want.

Do you have multiple monitors or an iPad? Then you can open the digital calendar when you sit down to work. If not, print out a copy and stick it up in your workspace.

Celebrate the done

This method to plan your storytelling should only take you 30 to 60 minutes per project. Don’t overthink the process. The goal is to remove the clutter from your thoughts so you can clear the path to the finish line.

Remember that this should save you time, not create more work. So

  1. Brain dump everything onto a mindmap
  2. Define each task
  3. Schedule everything once

Then the only thing left to do is tell your ancestors’ stories.

So not only will you have a clear roadmap to your goal, but you’ll also have a bonus motivation boost. Because by scheduling the tasks then you are also creating a system to help you celebrate each success. Every time you finish a step, then you can cross it off. Yet another reason to keep the schedule visible in your workspace.

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