Eric Mack is a personal and workgroup productivity specialist, who systematically applys information, communication, and action technologies to help business executives and teams to become more efficient at what they do. He also writes an engaging blog that is focused on the Tablet PC, business productivity tools and more. He’s a big fan of mind mapping software and is quite the evagelist for the Tablet PC platform. In this interview, I asked Eric some wide-ranging questions about mind mapping on the Tablet PC.
Chuck: What make and model of Tablet PC do you use? Slate or convertible?
Eric: I presently use a Toshiba Tecra M4 Convertible Tablet PC.
Chuck: What kind of work do you do?
Eric: As an eProductivity Specialist, I show people how to use technology to increase their productivity. This includes hardware, such as the Tablet PC, or software, link Lotus Notes and MindManager. I do much of this in the context of the GTD (David Allen’s Getting Things Done) methodology.
Chuck: How, specifically, do you use mind mapping software in your work?
Eric: I use mind mapping software to capture notes during meetings, brainstorm with others, organize my research and planning into knowledge maps, and to do project planning.
Chuck: What benefits or advantages does it provide you with?
Eric: I love the freedom of not being tied to a linear structure. If I have an idea while taking notes or brainstorming I simply add a new node to my map. If I want to create a new map from a branch of an existing map, I can do that, too. I love being able to rearrange nodes on a map at any time - something I could not do with pen and paper. I often use mind maps as project dashboards for my activities.
Chuck: How has the combination of mind mapping and mobility been an advantage for you?
Eric: I used to do my mind mapping with colored markers and 11x17 paper. Copying and reproduction was difficult. I actually purchased an 11x17 copier for this purpose. This meant that, in addition to carrying my laptop, I had to bring paper and supplies. With mind maps on the Tablet PC, I can take my mapping tools anywhere and I can retrieve my maps to show and share with others at any time. I have since purchased a wide-format color printer to allow me to print out my maps to share with others. In fact, for my business degree, I actually turned in several assignment as maps alone!
Chuck: Can you give me one or two examples of how utilizing mind mapping software on your Tablet PC has helped you on specific projects?
Eric: As an experiment, I challenged myself to "go paperless" for eight weeks without using pen, pencil, or paper, relying completely upon my Tablet PC. I used MindManager and Windows Journal as my two primary ink-enabled applications. I also used Acrobat to read the books and documents that I had scanned in. The mind mapping software allow me to create maps to plan the challenge, use my pen to click-launch related documents and applications. This was a big plus, as I kept my Tablet in slate mode much of this time. I created a map for each course and exercise, with links to all of my research. It worked very well. Check out this link and this one for examples of my work from this experiment.
Chuck: Do you convert the digital ink in your maps to text, or just store it as digital ink?
Eric: Initially I converted all of my digital ink maps to text; as I became more confident with ink, maps, and the searchability of the notes I had taken, I often leave many of my maps in ink, probably about 25%.
Chuck: How often do you use your M4 in tablet vs. conventional laptop mode?
Eric: I find that I use my Tablet in slate mode when I study - I like the large screen of the M4 because I can keep the document I am reading open on the left and then have mind manager in a window on the right. What I really want, of course, is an ultra wide-screen tablet PC, like this. When I'm at my desk, I use my tablet in laptop mode but that's only because I've not found an optimal solution for external monitor. I actually built a custom stand for my tablet docking station that allows me to leave my tablet in slate mode and use it as a tablet in conjunction with a USB IBM ThinkPad keyboard. I like this combination and plan to use it more often. Here's a picture of it.
Chuck: I’ve heard that some users of mind mapping software on the Tablet PC have found that it’s particularly advantageous for taking notes in small meetings - something about the Tablet PC being less invasive than a laptop. Have you found that to be true?
Eric: Absolutely. I used my Tablet PC for two years while I worked on a business degree. When my colleagues opened their laptops - I call it 'setting up their fortresses" - they put up a barrier between them and the professor. Meanwhile, working with my Tablet in slate mode, I had no artificial barrier between me at the professor. I found that the professor invested more time talking with me and The Tablet PC allowed me to maintain better eye contact with my professors; as a result, I think I received more from the courses.
Chuck: How did you used to work before you got the Tablet PC and mind mapping software?
I've used various forms of mind mapping and diagramming for 20+ years. During that times, I tried various drawing tools, always returning to paper and colored pen for ease of use and editing. For professional purposes, I used to draw my maps on paper and then, when necessary, redraw the final version in Visio or a similar tool. When I worked in my office, I used a digital white board - I don't think I've used it once since I got my Tablet PC and MindManager.
Chuck: What new capabilities does this combination of hardware and software give you?
Eric: I can diagram anywhere. I now produce more maps, sometimes several a day, than I would ever have created on pencil and paper. I no longer hesitate to create a map, even for something simple or for something that I might discard. the Tablet PC and mind mapping software have removed the barriers to mind mapping while working with my computer.
Chuck: What can you do better or more efficiently than before?
Eric: Create maps, find, organize and share my maps, use maps as digital dashboards with links to Lotus Notes, Documents, and web pages – very valuable!
Chuck: In summary, what are the biggest advantages of the Tablet PC version of your mind mapping software?
Eric: I’ve found that there are 3 main advantages:
1. Integration with the windows file system and awareness of third party programs via doclinks - with Lotus Notes and Internet Explorer for example - and file types, such as Acrobat, Word, etc.
2. Capture tools like GyroQ for rapid idea capture from anywhere
3. Digital Ink. There's something enjoyable about taking notes and creating a map with a pen. It's also less intrusive when mapping in public, such as a seminar.