What is a mind map? Why should I care about? What does it offer that other tools can’t? These are questions you might address when you hear about mind maps for the first time. And there is nothing wrong with these questions.
In this post, you’ll learn what a mind map is, what the benefits are, how to create one, what the hack it is good for, and I’ll share some tips where to start.
So, what is a mind map? To put it simply, a mind map is a snapshot of how your brain works; it simply pictures the brain’s radiant thinking process. Radiant thinking assumes that thoughts and ideas aren’t formed as lists in your brain, and simple lists won’t boost memory recall and creativity.
A mind map starts with a central idea with thoughts flowing out from the
Mind mapping was invented and popularized by Tony Buzan in the 1960s. Mind mapping, as Liam Hughes, founder of Biggerplate.com puts it, is the missing link in business and education. I personally found that mind mapping is really a game-changer.
Create your own mind map
Think of a problem you want to solve or a project you want to launch.
Grab a pen and write down your central idea in the middle of a paper. Then add branches and sub-branches to your idea; use one word per branch where possible. If you have a long phrase in mind, break it down into sub-branches.
Add colour, images, dimension, and contrast to enliven your mind map. Make connections between branches; add notes, summaries, and more. Make your mind map personal and revisit it later to find out what could make it more engaging.
If you use a mind mapping tool, you could attach files, insert images; add comments, links, and even audio notes.
Mind mapping isn’t for tech-savvy folks only! Technically it’s nothing more than hitting the Tab and Enter keys a couple of times―most mind mapping software let you create a new branch by hitting the Tab key and then create siblings by hitting Enter.
It’s time now to see the seven reasons why you should learn mind mapping.
Reason #1: Brainstorming
Mind maps are particularly useful for brainstorming. Mind maps boost creative thinking, let you connect ideas, and gain perspective.
Next time you have a problem you want to solve, do a brainstorm via mind mapping. Begin with your problem as the central idea and then add as many branches and sub-branches as you can without any further analysis. Later, you can screen your mind map and throw out ideas that won’t work.
Reason #2: Project management
Clearly, there are much more sophisticated tools to use for project management, but you can make good use of mind maps for some projects, at least in the initial phase.
The most important benefit comes from the big picture view a mind map can provide. Some mind mapping tools offer built-in Gantt charts along with basic to advanced task tracking functionalities.
Reason #3: Creating a book summary
For me, creating book summaries is one of the most important elements of productivity. A book summary helps me engage with the book’s content and lets me define my next actions to incorporate any new ideas into my life.
Mind maps are perfect candidates for creating book summaries because they serve as visual cues and boost memory recall. Don’t approach book summaries as a mere list of TOC; they’re much more than that. Jot down the main takeaways which will best aid you in the coming years.
That said your book summary is a personal reflection of how you as an individual might benefit from the content. Make it unique.
Reason #4: Creating content
Creating great content, be it a blog post, a scientific article, or a report, requires that you do your homework behind the scenes and make an outline. If you take your time to jot down the major elements of your article and make it flow like a story, it will serve as a backbone for your content.
If you sit in front of a blank page, it’s hard to build engaging content. I always start with a mind map, which then I copy into my blog post template in Evernote to guide my writing step-by-step.
Reason #5: Goal setting
There are complete books dedicated for goal setting. I can’t cover the details here; Michael Hyatt is the perfect author to start with.
Mind maps, by their very visual nature, provide an excellent framework for outlining and managing your goals. Part of it is that, according to experts, you should check your goals each and every morning to engage with them. A mind map offers high complexity and at the same time, it’s easy to scan.
If you’re ready to kick-start your goals with a mind map, you may find this blog post helpful: Supercharge your goal setting with mind maps.
Reason #6: Note taking
Mind maps can be used for taking notes during lessons and meetings as well.
You can prepare the meeting agenda as a mind map, circulate it, and then pull out in the meeting to guide the conversation. Take notes right in your mind map during the meeting.
Alternatively, you can take notes during your English lesson in a mind map format. As you already know, mind maps help connecting ideas and boost memory recall. Try to involve your peers and your teacher.
Reason #7: Learning
This is strongly connected to reason #6. You could either make notes in a mind map during your lesson or convert your notes into mind maps later. The mere conversion will shed light on hidden links within your material because mind maps assume that you get a big picture view and want to see how different ideas connect with each other.
Don’t forget to make your mind map stand out by adding colour, images, dimension, and contrast.
Here is a list of my mind maps that hopefully will inspire you. I intentionally use the word “mind map” before each entry:
- Mind map for meeting agenda
- Mind map for organizing events
- Mind map for launching projects
- Mind map for a project timeline
- Mind map guideline for amendment of contracts
- Workflow diagram for tracking documents (yes, mind mapping software tools support workflow diagrams)
- Mind map for writing blog posts
- Mind map for comparing products (and guide my decision)
- Mind map for brainstorming ideas
We’ve covered what a mind map is, what the benefits are, how you can create one, and what you can make out of it. How and when you use mind mapping is only limited by your imagination. There are some pitfalls await you, though…
There are so many mind mapping tools out there. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of experimenting with a new tool each week―believe me, I’ve gone through all that stuff and it’s not productive. I suggest that you experiment with two or three tools then stick to the one you’re happy with.
The other pitfall of mind mapping is that you keep planning but won’t take action. Creating beautiful mind maps is kind of an artwork; it’s addictive and sometimes can be unproductive. There are times when a simple list will be more appropriate than a mind map.
Sometimes it’s hard to convert a complex mind map into actionable items. So make sure that you put your task into your task manager or track task progress in your mind map.
Finally, I want to share some tools with you that I happened to experiment with:
- iThoughts – love at first click, portable version included, nice price, perfect customer service.
- XMind – bit old school and slow but has very in-depth functionalities and it’s free.
- MindMeister – the most popular online tool.
- iMindMap – best choice (Buzan is the name behind) but a bit pricy and doesn’t support portable version.
To get more involved in mind mapping, you may find the following sources helpful:
- Tony Buzan’s page (inventor of mind mapping) – Buzan’s goal is to achieve “Global Mental Literacy.”
- Mind mapping software blog – home of mind mapping tools and tips for business.
- Biggerplate – home of mind mapping templates, tutorials, and training.
Buzan, Tony, and Barry Buzan. The Mind Map Book: Unlock Your Creativity, Boost Your Memory, Change Your Life. Pearson Education Ltd, 2010.
Your one takeaway: Next time you have a problem or launch a big project, brainstorm it in a mind map.