Mind Maps – Why & How to guide

What are mind maps ?

Mind maps are a visual representation of a topic and all of its sub topics. It usually evolve around a single main idea , subject or item.

Envy Generator 2013-03-08

Why should you use mind maps ? 

Mind maps are simple to use, simple to get used to, and extremely useful. I use mind maps to take notes during presentations, brainstorm new ideas, make decision trees and organize information. Mind maps are very simple to get back into, so even if you start a mind map, and leave it alone for a few weeks, you will find that a quick scan allows you pick up and continue where you left off.

Mind maps are also very useful for collaboration, one person can start an idea, and others can contribute and expand on it.

What do you need to create mind maps ?

At the very minimum, you need a clean surface, and something to write with, that’s part of the beauty of mind maps, you can create them pretty much anywhere with very little resources. There are also digital tools that can help you create mind maps (more about those later).

How to create a mind map ?

Very simple … write the main topic in the middle of the clean surface area, or put an image that relates to the topic at hand. Make a circle around the main topic, and start collecting data on the page, adding more and more information that relate to the main idea.
Each topic you add should be connected with a single line to its parent topic. If you brainstorm, do not stop yourself, simply keep adding more and more sub topics to the diagram. The beauty of a mind map, is that you can let your mind follow a certain path, and quickly backtrack to a completely different topic on the diagram and continue from there.
You will find that in a very short period of time, you will produce quite a large diagram. You will be surprised with the amount of information you can generate with mind maps.

If you are taking notes in a presentation, write the main topic of the presentation in the middle of the page, and as the presenter mentions topics, add those topics to the diagram. Any additional information that the presenter mentions about a topic, becomes a “child” node. Each node can become a parent for more information. I found that I can very easily combine notes from multiple sources as long as the topics are close enough, it also makes it very easy to take notes if the presentation is spread over multiple sessions, since presenters often come back to previous topics to add more in depth information. At the end of the process, you get a full picture of the topic at hand.

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Making your first mind map:

Try it now, take a large piece of paper, write your name in the middle, or put a picture of yourself in the middle, and start writing all of the things that you can think of that relate to you. Some ideas to get you going are:

Hobbies, Family, Work, Commitments, principles, vision, projects, friends etc …

Each of the above topics should be connected to the main circle (you), and for each of those start expanding more and more ideas.

Good habits to follow when making mind maps:

  1. Make them interesting – use colors, icons and images to convey ideas, this will help you remember where things are on the map, and will make them fun to look at
  2. Use lines to show associations between topics
  3. Develop your own style for making mind maps
  4. Add the date to the main topic, it will allow you to understand why certain things are in, and some are missing

Same information, different representation:

At their very essence, mind maps are simply organized lists. Most mind map tools can accept an OPML file, and represent it as a mind map, as well as the other way around – “convert” a mind map to a simple list. This makes mind maps very powerful. For example, you can brainstorm a list of items to take for a trip using a mind map, and when you are done, you can convert the mind map into a check list.

In the example below, I’ve made a mind map, with the tree representation on the right (automatically generated for me).

Colors-1              Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 7.05.38 PM

Tools that can be used to generate mind maps:

There are many tools you can use for mind mapping. Googling “mind maps” will produce a hefty list. Personally, I use two primary tools. Novamind on my macbook (it is also for the PC), and IthoughtsHD for the iPad and iPhone. I use DropBox to synchronize changes between them, so I can create and edit my mind maps on both my iPad and MacBook.

Words of wisdom:

Get into the habit of using mind maps. Use them to generate ideas (brainstorm), take notes during presentations, and collaboration.

Happy mind mapping !