Now for something completely different: MindManager importing tricks 1

As well as writing about social media and small non-profit and public sector organisations generally, one thing I always intended to do through this blog was to write the occasional article about mind mapping software and in particular MindManager (MM).

In fact I have written about mindmapping software before because of its particular usefulness to small organisations, but I thought I’d write something this time for the nerds this time especially those who are reasonably proficient users of MindManager which is the leading PC-based mindmapping software available on the market at the moment.

This exercise was prompted by an innocent query on an MM forum about creating maps from Excel files. While it is possible to link to an Excel spreadsheet, Mindjet (the publishers of MindManager) have so far refused to provide a facility to directly convert an Excel file into a mindmap (or vice versa).

While a number of third-party solutions exist for exporting to Excel, there are few that provide for importing spreadsheets in this manner. This shortcoming also affects other areas; while MM does have extensive capabilities for importing from and exporting to Outlook and Word, it doesn’t work that well with tables generally.

Now I don’t pretend to be an MM expert but I have used it for a few years and the following is the result of my experimentation with MM, Excel, Word and Outlook. I’d welcome any feedback if somebody has come up with simpler approaches.

OK, so you have a table of information that you want to turn into a MM mindmap. How best to approach this depends primarily on two things; the nature of the data (for example, whether it’s a straight-forward list of task-related information or a multi-levelled table of data) and the format of the table (mainly whether it’s in Word or Excel).

As a general rule of thumb, the easiest approach is to use Outlook as your intermediary. This applies especially to task information; all recent versions of MM are designed to handle import and export of Outlook items, albeit in different ways.

For example, you may have developed a table of actions in either Word or Excel which will look something like this (I’m using European/UK/Australian dd/mm/yyyy date format, but you can use others, so long as they are consistent with those available in Outlook):

Task Start Date Due Date Notes
Task A 10/03/2011 13/03/2011 Comments on task A
Task B 14/03/2011 17/03/2011  
Task C 17/03/2011 20/03/2011 Comments on task C

If the table is in Word, the best approach is to strip out all text apart from what is in the table, convert the table to text using tabs as breaks between fields and save the file in txt format (tabs are a safer bet than commas as your comments or other fields may have commas in them). This can then be imported into Outlook.

If the table is in Excel, you can export it directly into Outlook. However, you must do two things first; highlight and name the table range and then, if you are using Excel 2007 or 2010, save the file in 2003 format (unbelievably, Outlook 2007 or 2010 can’t import Excel files later than 2003).

Irrespective of which format you start with, you then need to go to File Open/Import in Outlook, select the option to import from another program or file and choose tab separated or Excel 97-2003 formats as appropriate. Choose the file to import and then the task folder in Outlook as the destination; you will then be asked to confirm the mapping of the imported table’s fields to those in Outlook.

Once imported into Outlook, it is an easy matter to highlight the tasks and export them to MindManager. You can then decide whether or not you want to retain the link between the tasks in MM and their counterparts in Outlook. A number of other fields can also be mapped and imported, including resource, priority, percentage complete, etc.

It’s important to note that MM and in particular version 9 has a very specific approach to the relationship between start date, due date and duration, which will be explored in more detail in a future post. In summary, however, if you have any two of the following, start date, due date and duration, MM will calculate the missing item.  Further, MM will base its calcuations on working days as identified in MM’s Task Info Options. If a due date falls on a non-working day, MM willl push it onto the next working day.

While the approach outlined above is an obvious choice for task-related material, it can also be used to import other sorts of tables, even those without date fields. In both cases, however, this approach is only suitable with a relatively simple table where the tasks can be imported as topics at the same level and the fields can be related to those in Outlook. In future posts I will look at importing more complex tables, as well as importing tables when you don’t want or are unable to use Outlook.

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