Tool Review: Mindly

I've blogged a few times about the concept of mind mapping and tools that you can use to mind map electronically. Why the focus on this topic? I think it's because us PMs wish we could spend more time mapping our minds and less time putting out fires. There's something tantalizing about the notion that, if we only had the right amount of time or the right resources or the right fill-in-the-blank, we could unlock the knowledge that could help solve our projects. Ergo, the (digital) mind map.

Mindly is a mobile app for Android and iPhone that I've been meaning to try for a while now. It offers a simple, clean alternative to the minor catastrophe of being without your notebook and having five minutes to spare while waiting in line at the supermarket. You can create cutesy, solar system-type designs to help you map the universe of your thoughts without having to get the le(a)d out.

To illustrate how it works, I mapped the classic management problem of having to cook breakfast. What are the myriad steps that comprise this seemingly simple activity?

Mindly mind map, how to make breakfast

Mindly mind map, how to make breakfast

I appreciate the app's clean and elegant design. Adding a new planet to my solar system was as simple as clicking the plus sign. As someone who (not so secretly) wishes they could design nail polish colors for a living, I also appreciate the pleasant array of color options that Mindly offers. You have the option to use a classic or bright color scheme--guess which one I chose?--and either pick the colors out yourself or let Mindly choose for you. In addition to adding text to each planet, or plot point, you can also add icons. You'll see in the image that I added a money bag to the grocery store plot point above. Adding icons is another way to keep things fun and get your creative juices flowing.

After creating my basic solar system, the next stage was to expand the breakfast project and think more deeply about the sub-activities involved. To do this, I created an outer solar system specific to shopping at the grocery store. I like that Mindly visually reminds you how this cluster relates to your original idea by keeping the "Make breakfast" project visible in the upper left corner of the app.

Mindly mind map, outer solar system

Mindly mind map, outer solar system

As I brainstormed further about what was involved with each of the sub-activities, I started to generate more ideas. For example, when I drive to the store, I have to remember to get gas on the way. I was also able to add details to the sub-activities. For the plot point "make a list," I could add items to the list as ideas came to me. When I found myself wishing that I could organize the plot points into a hierarchy within the solar system, I simply dragged and dropped the plot points to move them around.

Both the free and paid versions of the Mindly app offer offline access and Dropbox sync, so you're not limited by lack of an Internet connection. So, what are the drawbacks? 

  • The free version of Mindly only allows you to create up to three mind maps, or documents, containing a maximum of 100 elements. This seems like a lot, but it's easy to run up against the limit.

  • The web version of Mindly is only available for Mac, with no plans to release for Windows. This restricts us PC users to mind mapping stealthily on the go or while in a meeting. Luckily, Stealthy Project Manager readers will not be strangers to getting things done in less than ideal circumstances.