Sunday, October 15, 2006
I never liked Microsoft Project

I confess I never liked Microsoft Project. It didn’t seem to help me do my work, just added forms to fill out as I’d have to break the work stretching out before me into little horizontal bar chart rectangles that represented arbitrary start-and-stop points in time.

Whenever you are working on a project, there are parallel things to be done. For any action, there is generally some previous action that had to be completed and actions that can only be worked on after that action happens. Generally, I keep these trains of activities in my mind and work on them until a project is complete.

I needed a better way of mapping out all that is left for me to do on any given project. I recently downloaded a program called Inspiration used in schools across America to help children organize thoughts and communicate ideas.

Inspiration is an elegant outliner that lets you rearrange the outline easily and move items around in the sequence and hierarchy with simple drag-and-drop or toolbar button clicks. But wait. There's more.


As a brainstorming tool, I like being able to pop new symbols onto the design surface and link them together in sequence or as spokes of subordinate ideas to a central idea. Inspiration lets you capture and view items in a graphical shapes-with-lines-and-arrows-between-them. It looks a lot like Visio, but it's a bit more flexible.


The outliner is like Microsoft Word's. In fact, I would not be surprised if Microsoft Word outline view borrowed some ideas from Inspiration. It's hard to remember how inelegant the outliner in Microsoft Word used to be. It's still burdened as an outliner by being merely an interpreted view of the document the outline represents.

Switching between Outline and Diagram

The beauty and simplicity of this application is that you can click a toolbar button to switch instantly between outline view and graphical view.

For me, seeing my ideas as individual ellipses and rectangles and being able to draw lines between them to represent sequence or dependency has been immediately helpful. I wanted to give a presentation to demonstrate all the features of something I was working on and found the easiest way to script out the points I wanted to cover was to create an outline and diagram and switch between them, adding something here and rearranging something there.

I think this would work well with a tablet PC. I was pleased I could use Dragon NaturallySpeaking speech recognition to create my outline inside Inspiration. I assume this would be great for capturing ideas in a group activity.

As a spur to creativity, and getting the herd of cats of things I need to do on any given project down onto paper, I think the $69 to download the program (there is a 30-day trial) will free up my memory and help me follow up on getting information and decisions more effectively.
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