Visual writing

I’ll let you in on a secret…I don’t like writing. Yeah, I blog. But I blog the way I talk, and I really like to talk. Not the same thing.

I can explain anything if I can talk it through, but once I sit there with the blank Word document I freeze up and I can’t seem to get my thoughts together.

I recently discovered the pure joy of mind maps. There are a lot of advantages to mind maps, but I tend to use it as a writing tool. I realized that my problem with writing is not in the idea, it’s in the sequencing. I think in images and blocks of thought, writing is too linear. So in my mind I “see” the picture of what I want to say and then I have to translate it to continuous sentences when I write.

There are lots of mind mapping tools out there, I quickly settled on Mindjet’s Mind Manager. Even got the nonprofit pricing for it.

Take the Database/Salesforce project…In its final form, I wrote a 8 page document to our Board and key players explaining the problem and outlining the proposed solution. It started out looking something like this:


I just let the ideas pop into my head, one after the other, trying not to censor myself. As I thought, I moved the disjointed ideas around to where they appeared to make the most sense in relation to other snips of thought. Suddenly, they weren’t so disjointed. Working this way, the snippets began to connect and take shape. Using images and icons, I could then “tag” the strongest threads and that built the structure of my document. Much easier.

Theikos asked for documentation on our current processes. Easier said than done. We’re new and young and many of our processes happen as we do them and aren’t fully documented. That’s part of this project and why I am so gung-ho about Salesforce to begin with.

So back to the visual drawing board, this time to OmniGraffle, the best diagramming application I have ever seen for doing flow chart-type documents (Mac OS X only). I could probably use OmniGraffle of Mind Manager on its own, but I prefer to use both and switch back and forth depending on the type of thinking I’m doing.

After I put together the diagram of how our current process works, I realized that it was self-explanatory and I didn’t need to write anything further.

Our current workflow showing how the different contact sources are typically brought through the organization is shown below. The green lines are the input that is automatically generated (through the website or other import process). The red lines are the input we handle manually. Too many red lines means that we are repeating entry which means that mistakes and dropped connections can happen.

(don’t worry…you’re not supposed to be able to read what’s in the little boxes…this is a “big picture” point I’m making)


This is how I picture things working once we have our CRM solution in place:


There’s still red lines, but less of them. If someone calls or hands you a business card, you have to type it in (nevermind using card scanners, not necessary at this point). But the process is far cleaner and streamlined. More importantly, we are closing the loop and setting up a means for continued interaction with the contact aside from just sending them our newsletter.

Too often, potential leads do not become opportunities because you chat about an idea, maybe exchange some email and then it falls through the cracks despite the players’ best intentions all around. I think we are doing better than most small non-profits in this regard. We have a reputation for being very responsive and carrying through what we say we’re going to do. I just want to make it a little less work for us to live up to that reputation.


One response to “Visual writing”

  1. Unlike you, I love to write, but I have the same problem – freeze up, can’t think of descriptive words, etc. I had decided that perhaps I was just stupid. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as “mind maps.” Thank you so much for your post. I downloaded the free trial of MindManager.