Neuroscience indicates that using mapping and visual software tools can help us cope better with information processing tasks. But what does it actually feel like to use these tools - does individual experience match the measurements?
Science Measures Activity and Stress
You may have seen reports recently that using mapping software can lead to improved performance and less stress (BBC: Pretty pictures: Can images stop data overload?).
In a test commissioned by MindJet, the results indicated:
- Less mental resources needed to perform a task
- More efficient information processing
- Greater recall of information after the task.
The tests involved neurobiological and skin conductance monitoring of participants whilst performing information processing tasks. Essentially the tests measured brain activity and stress whilst the subjects performed information processing tasks using Office software and MindManager.
(You can register to download a copy of the background to the tests and the results here.)
Yes – But How Did it Feel?
As one of the 12 participants I was eager to see how the measurements corresponded to my sense of the experience of performing the tests. Did the measurements support my feelings at the time as to when I was under pressure and when I was enjoying the work?
During the session I was pleasantly surprised to sense a marked difference in my experience, attitude, comfort and satisfaction when performing the tasks using Office software compared with performing the tasks using MindManager.
A Little Personal Background
Before relating my experience of the tests, some background. I have been using MindManager for many years - since version 6. The main uses include:
- Jotting down ideas
- Pulling together research notes for review
- Analysing and structuring information
- Maintaining links by which to access files, web pages, spreadsheets - relating to a specific client, project or subject
- Writing reports, business documents, blog posts
I also use Office products - Word, Excel and Access - on a daily basis.
The Human Experience
The tests were held at Mindlabs International offices at Sussex University, near Brighton. Participants performed a number of tasks collecting, recording and reviewing information. Whilst doing these tasks they were wired up to monitor brain activity and stress indicators through the skin.
It's worth taking into account that the tests themselves involved a little extra and unusual stress:
- A new and strange environment - not my office
- Performed after a long journey - nearly 2 hours by car, to a destination I'd not been to before
- Meeting new people - always fun but not without a certain tension
- Being wired up to a machine - only ever happened before on a visit to the doctor
- Using an unfamiliar computer, network and file folder structure
- Taking a test - no matter I'd volunteered, what if I messed up on the tests (Yoiks!)
Performing the tasks using Office was more uncomfortable than I thought it would be - it was a little stressful. In addition to finding, understanding and recording the information, I found myself having to make many decisions:
- Shall I use Word or Excel?
- How many files shall I create?
- What information shall I put in which file?
- How should I format the information?
- Where shall I save the files?
- What shall I call the files?
- Do I need new folders? What shall I call them?
I admit to feeling a little flustered and under pressure when using just the Office tools
Performing the tasks using MindManager was more comfortable than I expected:
- There seemed to be fewer questions in my mind
- It seemed to take less effort - it felt less like hard work
- I completed the tasks more quickly
- I felt more relaxed, more in control.
I am an experienced MindManager user and use it and similar software on a daily basis. It is the way I work so it is only natural that I would feel comfortable using it. However this comfort was presumably offset by the unusual circumstances of the tests.
I'm also an experienced Office user but I was surprised, by comparison, at how difficult it was to perform the simple tests using only these tools. It was really uncomfortable and I had more of a sense of being under pressure
I got a strong sense of the changes in my attitude towards the tests, the sense of comfort and the feeling of job satisfaction. This seems to be supported by the measurements.