The Power of Sequence

Let’s compare two sentences with exactly the same words:

I’m going to eat apple sauce with my grandmother.

I’m going to eat my grandmother with apple sauce.

Point taken? Sequence matters! It’s not just about words. Take any tune and swap the notes around—you’ve lost the tune. On a practical level, whether you’re planning a vacation or building a ship, what comes before what is one of the most important decisions you’ll make.

Incidentally, this is a limitation of mind-mapping. It can be great to see all your ideas simultaneously, laid out in a radial map. But if you’re going to do anything with them, at some point you’ll have to set them in order.

First Simplify

Sequencing is a natural activity of the mind. It’s also a skill that can be developed. Because sequencing is such a spontaneous part of everything we think and do, it tends to be unconscious, which means we rarely challenge ourselves with the question: “Is the best possible sequence?” We jump into writing a blog post, or planning a wedding, or launching a business, with an easy confidence that we know what should come before what. If we’d only stop to think, we’d quickly learn that what we assume is the best place to start is often the worst.

In the Braincat process, sequencing is closely related to categorizing. Here’s why. If you’re looking at a list of 200 notes, or 200 tasks, or 200 pages of text, it’s effectively impossible for the brain to sort them in order. The limits of the working memory will defeat you. The working memory is comfortable with about four or five items at any one time. You can push that number a bit when you’re using software with a clean drag-and-drop function.  But only a bit.

Whatever the situation, we want to limit the number of pieces we’re shifting around on the board. That means that before we sequence, we have to simplify.

Especially for Writers

Here’s an example for writers where this principle can be very effective. Let’s say you’re the kind of writer (there are many) who don’t make a plan before starting. You trust yourself to just jump in and write. After a while, you’ve got several pages of text, and it feels like your piece is heading in a good direction. But you know that in writing of any length, sequence is critical.

Sequence is how you take your readers by the hand, leading them gently from one point to the next. It can almost always be improved.  But how?

Assuming you have Braincat, here’s what you can do. Drop your draft into the Copy & Paste window. Braincat’s “TextBreaker” function will disintegrate it into phrases. Effectively, you’ll turn your piece into the notes you never bothered to make! Now you can categorize the phrases: group them into buckets. (When you do this, ignore the “filler” language and just select the phrases where the meat is.)

Categorizing means asking yourself over and over, “What kind of thing is this?” or “What group should this belong to?”  Doing this will reveal to you the hidden structure of your draft. In a few minutes, you’ll have boiled your draft down to a few key headings. Now you get a whole new perspective on your own thinking.  Better still, you have a chance to rethink the sequence.

What to Ask

Good thinkers use good questions. Many of the questions we come up with are specific to the topic we’re dealing with, but there are some questions that apply to almost every situation or project. Here’s one of them: “Is this the best sequence?” If you get in the habit of asking this question, you’ll no longer be a victim of your own unconscious mental habits. You’ll become intentional about how you map things out, and you’ll have a new way to optimize everything you think, write, and do.

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